Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Slam Is the Next Step for Graf
By Peter Alfano
"New York Times"
Wimbledon, England, July 3 -- The pool of young talent includes Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, Natalya Zvereva of the Soviet Union, Mary Joe Fernandez of the United States and, undoubtedly, a child prodigy who has yet to make her presence felt on the women's tour. Whether anyone can challenge Steffi Graf for the No. 1 ranking in the near future is considered doubtful, with Martina Navratilova -- an old-timer by comparison -- still having the best chance.
West German reporters, speaking to Graf in her native language during Saturday's postmatch interview, asked whether she felt like Mike Tyson, the unbeaten heavyweight champion who has apparently run out of legitimate opponents, and last week announced his retirement.
Graf laughed at the comparison, answering in English: "I'm not going to talk about retirement. No one would believe it."
Graf's first Wimbledon singles title certified her, at 19, as the top player in the world, a distinction she has already held in the computer rankings since last August. Wimbledon, though, stands apart in the minds of most players.
"I'd rather win Wimbledon than be number one," Navratilova said.
If Graf wins the United States Open in September, she will become the first woman since Margaret Court of Australia, in 1970, to win the Grand Slam.
Rod Laver, who won the Slam in 1962 and 1969, thought that Graf had an excellent chance to win the four major events (the Australian, French, and United States Opens and Wimbledon) because her principal adversaries were past their peak. "She's got two great champions in Evert and Navratilova who are getting older," he said. "Steffi is getting better. She also will play her game. You have to have that attitude. You can't fear losing."
Graf said this was the approach she would take to the United States Open. She will take some time off, then play a tournament or two in Europe before crossing the Atlantic to begin her hard-court preparation for the Open.
"Everyone is talking about the Grand Slam," she said, "but I am not going to change anything I do when it comes to Flushing Meadows. I'm not going to be thinking about the Grand Slam when I get to the States."
In addition to her natural talent -- the signature topspin forehand that is the most feared shot in the game, her improved serve and net play, her speed and quickness -- Graf is mentally strong, virtually unflappable.
She has a no-nonsense approach on the court, never dallying between points, focusing her attention on the matter at hand. When she lost to Navratilova in last year's Wimbledon final, she appeared unnerved after dropping a close first set. When she lost the first set and was down a break in the second on Saturday, she found resolve gained through a year of experience and maturity.
Navratilova said that Graf's potential was still untapped, that she can be as good as she wants to be. "Steffi is better than a year ago," she said. "She has good hands and volleyed well. She can be a serve-and-volleyer if she wants. It depends on what she wants to do.
"She also has incredible spring in her step," Navratilova said. "She is the fastest player out there."
Father Knows Best
Thus far, Graf has been shielded from distractions by her father, Peter Graf. His autocratic manner has put off some people in women's tennis but he has helped her handle the expectations of her countrymen. In West Germany her popularity rivals that of Boris Becker, and a recent poll by a West German magazine disclosed that Graf had a more positive image than Becker.
Essentially, it is because Becker has enjoyed more personal freedom, which meant he would make some mistakes while growing up. Peter Graf has kept his daughter's mind on tennis, although she is a strong-willed individual who gradually should become more independent.
Peter Graf, as is his custom, wagered against his daughter with a few West German journalists, which he does for good luck. He also arrived at the guest seats after the match began, another custom. When it ended, he was seen wiping tears from his eyes.
Overlooked in the attention given a Navratilova-Graf singles final was that Graf and Sabatini were in the women's doubles final, against the team of Zvereva and Larissa Savchenko of the Soviet Union. The partnership between rivals has helped both become more complete players: doubles competition has improved their net games. But it is a marriage of convenience. Graf and Sabatini are friendly, not friends.
Sabatini is still the logical choice to move up and contend with Graf for the No. 1 ranking. She defeated Graf twice earlier this year, but then lost to her at the French Open. Sabatini followed that disappointment with a premature exit here, losing to Zina Garrison in the round of 16.
For the time being, Graf stands alone, with the prospect of a Grand Slam very real. "If she does it, I'd say, 'great job,' " Navratilova said. "It would be an incredible achievement. She's a champion."