Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Another demonstration of just how observant, analytical, and collected Steffi was, even as a teenager.
GRAND TIME FOR GRAF TOP-RANKED WOMEN'S TENNIS PLAYER DEALING WITH GREATNESS AT YOUNG AGE
Sunday, August 21, 1988
Beneath Steffi Graf rages a constant battle among the essential human elements of success, privacy, and acceptance. Never in the history of sports has so much come so quickly to someone so young. But at 19, she is entrapped by the numbing pace of international superstardom, and she deludes herself with the notion that an end to that battle is in sight.
Her match record the last two years (125-4) suggests that she is the most dominant tennis player of this or any other era, but the local yokels of the global village want more. Particularly those in her native West Germany, where she equates the majority of fans and members of the press as a species closely related to the jackal.
A recent post-match fiasco in Hamburg was typical: Graf, stepping to the microphone to accept her trophy after another monotonous 6-0, 6-0 victory against the patsy of the day, was greeted with whistles and demeaning barbs by the so-called fans of her homeland.
"What is it you people want from me?" she said, before the microphone was yanked away.
Call it Chapter 1 in the Life of Graf: How to Endure Greatness. But the intriguing part is that Graf has a future which includes the awesome prospect of being the fifth player to win the Grand Slam of tennis to endure. One wonders whether the future has come too quickly.
"In Germany, it's hard to be good at something. People get bored, I guess," Graf said Friday at Ramapo College, the site of this week's United Jersey Bank Tennis Classic. "They're not [following the sport] the right way. I don't know what they want anymore. But I'm learning to ignore them. I've just got to worry about myself. And the media doesn't know what to write about. Either the matches are too fast, or too slow. Like in Hamburg, someone screamed, `I want my money back.' I just don't know what people want."
Her manner suggests someone extremely uncomfortable with the spotlight, and one who vigorously defends and cherishes her time away from a game that has given her wealth, security, and comfort. It would be easy to feel sorry for Graf if she didn't display such poise and maturity for someone so young. She is not the type to get caught in the eye of her hurricane.
Still, there is enough to become concerned about her emotional health: the 10 months a year she spends away from her home in Bruhl; the constant badgering from media and fans; the fear that her destiny in the next decade is to monopolize a game that only recently has gained acceptance as a viable competitive entity.
She treads a narrow emotional corridor, speaking in the same tone about such unrelated topics as the Grand Slam, her recent vacation in Spain, and a family she rarely gets to see. But it is clear that she believes her love of Germany is often tested.
Her compatriot, Boris Becker, has said that he often thinks he might have been more appreciative had he won Wimbledon past the age of 20, something about too much happening too soon. Graf doesn't admit to having such feelings, partially because only now is she experiencing what Becker has, though on a grander scale.
Plus, they're different. Becker practices an almost promiscuous curiosity with all people. Graf's life is controlled by an almost obsessive reclusion, with good reason. Two years ago, a study revealed that Becker's recognition factor was in the 90th percentile in Germany higher than chancellor Helmut Kohl. Graf's, it is believed, is even higher since her Wimbledon victory.
"Sometimes, I feel like getting away from other people," she said. "I don't have many friends on the tour . . . But sometimes, even if you aren't homesick, you feel there's something missing."
But can it get worse? "It won't," she said, and then she laughed. It was deep and pleasant, not a giggle, but it sounded as though it took some effort. "But that's thinking positively."
"It's perfect now in Florida," she said, referring to her second home in Boca Raton. "Very few people recognize me. When I'm away from Germany, I feel much freer. Much more like myself."
* * *
"Playing tennis is easier than everything around it," she said during lunch, which consisted of a half sandwich and three cookies, all of which she ate one crumb at a time. "The other things make it much tougher."
But Graf makes tennis look easy too easy, some say. The Grand Slam victories in the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open, which begins this month at Flushing Meadow appears to be her inevitable fate.
Or is it curse? Well, no matter. What matters is after steamrolling eight-time champion Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon, Graf has become an undisputed champion in need of a challenger.
Almost every match she plays is a mismatch; the only set she lost at Wimbledon was to Navratilova. Her only defeats in nine tournaments this year have come against her doubles partner, Argentinian Gabriela Sabatini, who at 18 lacks the serve and consistency to beat her regularly.
"The only thing that can stop Steffi," Chris Evert said recently, "is boredom."
That's not likely to happen, even if she wins the Grand Slam. Motivation has never been a problem for Graf.
"I don't think there's ever been anyone who loves the sport more than she does," said her coach, Pavel Slozil, a Czech hired two years ago by Graf's father, a tennis teacher himself. "If there's a day when she's late for practice, I know something's wrong."
Slozil's task: fine-tune a game that is believed to be three to four years away from peaking. For now, Graf's style needs no tinkering. It brings together the three most feared weapons in the women's game today: her unparalleled speed, hard serve, and her signature stroke a cannon forehand.
Rather, it is keeping people interested that concerns Graf most, and maintaining the credibility of her sport. "It has occurred to me," this notion that she should actually try to make her matches closer, Graf said. "In Berlin, it was so easy and fast, I tried different shots, to make rallies longer. I lost a few games because of it. Nobody was happy about it. So you can't please anyone. In Paris, after winning a match six-love, six-love, people were asking, `Why didn't she give the opponent a game?' "
Don't expect Graf to be so accommodating at Mahwah, Flushing Meadow, or Zurich, her last three tournaments before the Olympics.
"The Grand Slam is important, I guess," she said. "It's the best you can do. I'm sure Martina and the rest will be psyched to beat me in New York because they never acheived it," said Graf, attempting to be the first to win all four Grand Slam events since Margaret Court in 1970. "And I'm sure two years from now, another good player will come up. There will always be a player starting the tour with the same success I've had."
She didn't sound convincing, but what could she say? It's been said that the pinnacle of success is measured by loss of interest in money, compliments, and publicity. Graf is unique; she seemingly has no interest in any of those things, never has.
"Do I have indulgences?" she said, repeating a question, then turned to a Ramapo official and asked him what the word meant. "You mean something special?"
Her face was blank, until a profound thought wrinkled her brow. "No," she said. "Nothing I can think of."
The Grand Slam is an indulgence, of sorts. The trouble is, her own fans may look upon it as nothing more.