Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Possibly a repost, but worth reviewing here. On the September 7th entry, I think Steffi has misunderstood "choking" for "tanking." I can imagine Jaden and Jaz asking, "Mom, what was it like winning the US Open for the Grand Slam?" and Steffi replying, "Well, I watched a lot of movies..."
On Her Own Time
Wednesday, August 31
Steffi Graf climbs the stairs from the catacombs of the stadium court at the USTA National Tennis Center onto the main walkway that leads outside to the indoor courts housing the player locker rooms. Fresh from a 6-1, 6-1 opening-round victory over Elizabeth Minter, she walks briskly through the bright sunshine, tries to pretend she is not being noticed by every spectator she passes, and ponders whether the public expects perfection from her on every shot she hits. "Sure, they expect me never to miss the ball," she explains as she walks. "That's more fun for them. The problem, though, is that it's more fun for me too; sometimes I expect it as well."
This is Graf's first day at the tennis center since the tournament began. Rain forced cancellation of play on opening day and since Graf was scheduled to play Tuesday, her opening-round match was postponed. She's been staying in Saddle River, New Jersey, at the private home of the Kiss family, whom the Grafs met while Steffi was playing a U.S. Open warm-up tournament in Mahwah two years ago.
"I didn't even want to be here before," she says, explaining why she and her family enjoy being shielded from the inevitable media and fan blitz surrounding her Grand Slam bid. Instead, she shops, watches movies, plays pinball and spends time in her room, sometimes turning the radio up loud, the lights down low, and dancing by herself. "I feel good," she says, disappearing into the locker room for a shower. "I'm ready for this."
Thursday, September 1
Graf beats Manon Bollegraf of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-0 but says she didn't play well. The grandstand court is a little faster than the stadium, she remarks, and her timing was off, forcing her to hit late and spray some forehands long. She is also slightly grumpy at the press conference and seems annoyed every time the Grand Slam question is raised. Skipping out of the interview room quickly, she heads for her first doubles match with partner Gabriela Sabatini.
Saturday, September 3
Standing at the entrance to the stadium court, Steffi spends almost as much time signing autographs as she does on court against France's Nathalie Herreman. This is nothing compared with West Germany, she says, where hours still won't satisfy all the requests. Herreman, who has played on center court at Stade Roland Garros in Paris, admits to being "a little bit afraid" of Graf; against Steffi, "you always start a little bit behind," just because of who she is and what she's going for.
Graf is asked if she is bored with such easy matches. "You can't get too excited about playing 6-1, 6-0 and 6-0, 6-1," she says. "It's hard, but I know the matches will get tougher." By now the Graf family has moved into a New York City hotel. Father Peter Graf doesn't want his daughter too relaxed in New Jersey; now that his wife and son have arrived from Bruhl, West Germany, they opt for Manhattan's hustle, and a more pressurized existence. But Steffi is still calm. Yesterday she saw a concert at Madison Square Garden, featuring Keith Sweat and Earth, Wind and Fire. In the afternoon, she and coach Pavel Slozil saw the movie "Betrayed." "Very interesting, but pretty unbelievable," Steffi says. Slozil is asked if Graf is recognized as she enters movie theaters in midtown Manhattan, where anonymity is a God-given right. "Sometimes people recognize her," he says, "but usually we walk so fast that they don't have the chance to do anything. It's not as bad as in Germany, but we can often hear somebody behind saying, 'That was Steffi Graf,' and their friend saying, 'Oh, no it wasn't.' "
Monday, September 5
While Steffi prepares to play Patty Fendick, an upset winner over No. 15 seed Sylvia Hanika, Peter Graf does some talking. Graf is dissatisfied with a computer change the Women's International Tennis Association has adopted that would alter the number of points awarded to tournament winners, thereby cutting Steffi's lead and allowing No. 2 Martina Navratilova to come within striking distance. Unless the rule is changed back, says Papa Graf, Steffi will not sign her commitment for next year. Steffi says she won't discuss the matter until after the tournament.
On the grandstand court against Fendick, a former two-time NCAA singles champion from Stanford, Steffi has her hands full. Despite trailing 3-0 in both sets, Fendick keeps serving and volleying, ultimately breaking Graf and serving to tie the first set at 5-5. Though Fendick loses her serve, the first set takes 48 minutes, longer than any of Graf's previous matches.
"The impression everyone has," says Fendick, after she's fallen 6-4, 6-2, "is that when you're playing somebody like Steffi Graf, there's absolutely no pressure on you. But I think it's quite the contrary. The first thing is you don't want to be humiliated so you want to get on the scoreboard as fast as you can. And the second thing is hopefully to settle into your game.
"I was just looking to have fun," continues Fendick. "It's a spectator sport and the fans should enjoy it, especially on a show court like this. I'm an entertainer and I was having fun. I don't think Steffi was, though. She doesn't look like she's ever having fun, and that's a shame. Maybe that's why she's No. 1 and I'm not."
Wednesday, September 7
Graf crushes Katerina Maleeva (who earlier upset No. 7 Helena Sukova) on the stadium court, tossing her out like an old tennis ball. But tension - and potential upsets - abounds on the grandstand. In the day's first match, Larisa Savchenko tries to become the first Soviet woman to reach the semifinals of the U.S.Open as she serves for 5-3, ahead a set, against Gabriela Sabatini. But Savchenko chokes, double faults her serve away, and never recovers, as Sabatini escapes 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. Later, Chris Evert comes back from a set down against sixth-seeded Manuela Maleeva, 3-6,6-4, 6-2.
Although no one would accuse her of doing so lately, Graf is asked if she can ever remember choking in a match, even back in the juniors. "No," she says quickly. "When I'm in a match, I'm trying to do my best and not give up until it's over. Even if I'm playing bad, I'm still trying. The thing about me is that everybody always knew that even when they were ahead, they never knew if they would win because I'm always sticking in there." Steffi makes no mention of her 1986 French Open quarterfinal with Hana Mandlikova when she led a set and 5-4, with a match point, only to lose 6-1 in the third.
The biggest news of the day, however, is Zina Garrison's stunning upset of Navratilova. Despite saving four match points and rallying from 0-5 to win the second set, Navratilova. cannot hold off Garrison's charge and goes down 6-4, 6-7, 7-5. It is the first time since 1982 that Navratilova has not reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open, and she is disconsolate, walking with head bowed from the locker room to the interview room afterwards as though she were attending her own funeral.
Friday, September 9
The quiet buzz begins in the press box long before the 11 A.M. scheduled start of the women's semifinals. "Chris Evert is sick and may not play," is the word. Food poisoning, some murmur; others say the flu.
Husband Andy Mill answers the phone at their hotel suite. "We've got big problems," he admits, now reporting Evert's illness as gastroenteritis, a stomach disorder she first noticed during her doubles match following her singles quarterfinal two days earlier. "Then she was having a massage," explains Mill, "and she got really light-headed and said she had to go home. I was out playing tennis with John Oates [of the rock group Hall and Oates] and Chrissie came and found me. She said, 'Oh, I feel awful,' and the next thing I know she's throwing up all over the living room."
Graf learns of Evert's default via television, just as she's preparing to leave the hotel for Flushing Meadows. "I couldn't believe it," she says. "In a way it's bad because I really needed to play her. She makes me hit a lot of balls and would have really tested me." Instead, Graf spends the day practicing extra hard with Slozil and sees two movies. But she leaves "Deceivers" after seven minutes, unhappy with its plot, and goes around the corner to watch the Tom Hanks comedy, "Big." Meanwhile, doubles partner Sabatini beats Zina Garrison 6-4, 7-5, setting the stage for a classic final - Steffi against the only player to beat her all year.
Saturday, September 1
Even Graf admits: "Today is one of the biggest days of my life." Steffi is in a good mood, posing politely for obligatory pre-match photos with Sabatini, but inside she is thinking about the past.
Both players are tight throughout, and the match is not particularly well played. Gusty winds force groundstrokes outside the lines and neither player is bold enough to take too many chances. Even when Graf loses the second set, rebounds in the third, and clinches the coveted Slam with a backhand pass at Sabatini, she is controlled, unable to loosen up and enjoy her accomplishment. She pumps her fist ever so slightly, shakes Sabatini's hand, and retreats to a chair to put on her jacket. But then she trots across the court to embrace her family, particularly her father, whom she says has sacrificed everything to attain this goal.
After the final, Graf is presented with a gold bracelet with four diamonds, one for each of her Grand Slam triumphs, and greets Don Budge, who completed the sport's first Slam 50 years ago. She inadvertently drops the bracelet on the ground as she leaves the stadium, recovers it, and heads to the locker room to shower and change for yet another post-match press conference. But there is little time for celebrating. The Graf family is on an 8:30 P.M. flight to West Germany that won't land until early the next morning. There she can relax for two days before heading to Seoul, South Korea, where Steffi will compete for her country. Before leaving, as she climbs the stadium stairs one final time, Graf suddenly turns back and hands a huge bouquet of flowers to a ball girl who has worked many of her matches during the tournament. The ball girl looks stunned, then appreciative, and humbly thanks the newest Grand Slam champion.