Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Sports of The Times; The Foregone Conclusion
July 2, 1988
The New York Times
THIS was as close to a sure thing as there is in tennis. Even though Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf had been in three tournaments this year without crossing paths, everyone knew they would finally meet on Centre Court at Wimbledon in the final. According to London bookmakers, people bet so heavily on the likelihood of this happening that there was no second choice worth mentioning.
All the elements are there for a memorable match today. Graf, the 19-year-old West German, is ranked No. 1 in the world and is seeking her first Wimbledon title and the third leg of the Grand Slam. Navratilova, 31, is the former No. 1, trying to win a record ninth Wimbledon singles championship, and her seventh in succession.
''The lefty serve-and-volleyer against the booming righty,'' was Pam Shriver's assessment of the match. ''And for Martina, Wimbledon is the last thing she's holding on to, the last thing she dominates in tennis.''
Not everyone, though, is captivated by the final. That it was so easy to predict this matchup is seen as an indictment of women's tennis, exposing the lack of depth in the draw and the paucity of close matches.
In a rather unflattering column in The Times of London on Thursday, David Miller suggested that the women were taking the prize money under false pretenses. He said that surveys disclosed that most spectators come to watch the men at Wimbledon and that the women are short on personality, drama and endurance.
Miller lamented that the women's game had become a poor imitation of the men's, with players lifting weights, running sprints, trying to be like Boris Becker and Pat Cash. Then he contradicted himself, suggesting it was a travesty that Shriver could earn so much in this sport while being so unathletic.
Tennis may not be strictly a country club game, anymore - a round of quiche and Perrier, waiter - but in Europe, and especially at Wimbledon, there is still a belief that this is an endeavor for gentlemen and ladies. And ladies, of course, do not sweat. The British, or Miller at least, appear to prefer dainty little buttercups, camped on the baseline, playing interminable rallies.
IT simply is a matter of preference, Jimmy Connors said. There are those who find men's grass-court tennis equally boring, a macho exchange of serves and volleys, the game's equivalent of ''in your face.'' Other shot-making skills are not required.
Others think there is nothing more sleep-inducing than watching two baseliners slug it out on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris for about five hours.
A more valid criticism of the women's game is that it lacks the overall depth of the men's and probably should not have a 128-player draw in the Grand Slam events. Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander, the No. 1 and No. 2 male players, are only marginally better than the rest of the top 10. Among the women, though, Graf and Navratilova are now head and shoulders above the rest, which accounts for their matches ending so quickly.
And much was made of the fact that Shriver managed to work her way to the semifinal while playing with mononucleosis. The implication is that none of the men seeded that high could afford even a case of the sniffles.
If there is a major upset early at Wimbledon, it usually occurs in the men's draw. Boris Becker was a second-round casualty last year; John McEnroe packed his racquets early this time. There are also more close calls, matches like Lendl versus Woody Woodforde of Australia, who is ranked only No. 54 but took Lendl to five sets, holding a match point. When Connors lost, it was to Patrick Kuhnen, a little-known West German ranked No. 90.
The upsets among the women may have been less dramatic, but Gabriela Sabatini, seeded No. 5; Sylvia Hanika, No. 15; Lori McNeil, No. 10; Natalya Zvereva, No. 8, and Hana Mandlikova, No. 9, all were beaten at least one round earlier than anticipated. And Navratilova's narrow escape against the unseeded Ros Fairbank was as gripping as any of Lendl's close calls.
In general, form held among the men and the women this year. Grass is called the great equalizer by the players, but the French Open provided the upsets, with Navratilova, Evert, Sabatini, Lendl, Becker, Yannick Noah and Stefan Edberg all losing relatively early.
SO while Navratilova-Graf has been a foregone conclusion, it does not lessen the anticipation of seeing them slug it out in the final today. It may not be Borg-McEnroe, but it is the women's equivalent.
Navratilova is the best serve-and-volleyer of her time, without peer on grass. Graf, according to Ted Tinling, a consultant to the women's game and member in good standing of the All England Club, is a tennis yuppie with a ''go for it'' mentality.
He compared her philosophy of trying for winners on almost every shot to the all-or-nothing philosophy of the modern-day brokers on Wall Street. Sometimes, Graf and the stock market crash.
Navratilova's comfort on grass -and the feeling that she has a divine right to the Wimbledon title - will make her tough to beat. In last year's final, she exploited Graf's backhand, slicing her serve and ground strokes to that side. Graf kept returning into the net in the 7-5, 6-3 loss.
Graf has worked on her backhand, she said, and can now hit it with more authority, almost as hard as her forehand, if not as consistently. Graf's serve has also been improving, Evert said. She thinks it is as good as Navratilova's.
And with one more year of play on grass, Graf may now have enough experience to take the championship Navratilova covets most. It won't be a shock if she does it in straight sets either.