Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
"Pressure, pressure, constant pressure." Pressure makes diamonds. It also makes unidentifiable crushed smears. If anyone has ever wondered why Steffi Graf was sympathetic to Capriati and Seles (yes, really) from very early on and warned from the start that they might not survive "the process," this article makes it clear.
Here, Steffi is in "the process" of becoming, nolens volens, a 24/7 international celebrity commodity, a full time "unit shifter" of everything from tennis tournament tickets to shoes to newspapers and magazines of varying degrees of repute. And she replies, "Oh, hell no." I can only think that she has seen the examples of Michael Jackson and Princess Diana and might already have, even at this relatively tender age, an inkling that it cannot end well. Her battle to preserve some of her privacy and normalcy against the Market Forces and their servants is more epic than any match she ever played.
THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 6 : AFTER THE SLAM : Graf Has Place in History, No Place Just for Herself
September 22, 1988
BILL DWYRE, Sports Editor
Los Angeles Times
SEOUL — To watch the life and times of tennis star Steffi Graf is to witness the erosion of youth, the invasion of privacy.
Everyone wants her--newspaper reporters, fans, photographers, sponsors, bobbing heads in front of TV cameras. She lives her life in a fishbowl. She might as well be called Wanda.
She is here to play for West Germany in the Olympics, and she and her contingent are trying to play down the importance of this tournament. After all, just weeks ago, she completed only the second [sic] tennis Grand Slam by a woman, matching Margaret Court's feat of winning the Australian, French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in the same year.
So what purpose does an Olympic title serve? Would she then have achieved a Grander Slam?
Her coach, Pavel Slozil, said: "There is no pressure here, except maybe from the German press."
Ah, the German press. And the American and Korean and British press, and on and on.
She arrived at the airport last Thursday night, and as were track and field superstars Carl Lewis, Ben Johnson and Florence Griffith Joyner before her, was mobbed and jostled by photographers. It became so chaotic that she finally broke into tears.
Both the mob scene and the tears are significant.
To put the mob scene in perspective, Chris Evert arrived here in virtual privacy.
Graf's superstar performances on the court have caught up to her off it. Her life, for the foreseeable future, is not her own. Right around the corner are appearances on the front pages of those magazines they sell near the checkout line in supermarkets. The headlines will scream: Does Steffi Have a Boyfriend? Can Steffi Serve Up a New Romance?
To put the tears in perspective, Graf turned 19 on June 14. Most others her age are just leaving the nest, perhaps for college or jobs. Graf has traveled to virtually every country in the world, makes so much money she doesn't even think about it and can conduct interviews easily while switching from German to French [sic] to English without so much as pausing to reload her mental Berlitz.
The tears may be those of confusion. She is 19, but the world asks her to be 30, to handle herself with Evert's poise and Pam Shriver's wit. The world forgets how she has been forced to cram for this exam that has become her life. It forgets that, when she won the gold medal in the Olympic demonstration tennis event in Los Angeles in 1984, she had just turned 15.
IT IS TUESDAY NIGHT, somewhere along a narrow back street in Seoul's Socho district. Adidas, the West German athletic shoe and clothing company, has rented a large home and put up its signs everywhere.
Taxi drivers squeeze down the tiny street, cursing each other as they jockey to deliver their human goods to this strange Western-looking place called Club '88, tucked out of the mainstream of everything in Seoul. There isn't even a subway stop nearby, and there are subway stops near everything in Seoul.
The guests pour in, most of them reporters. The line goes slowly at the front door as each is offered trinkets and T-shirts, all with the company's name displayed prominently. Most accept the offer.
There is a spacious yard next to the home where the guest of honor, Stefanie Graf, sits in a far corner, brooding.
"She is really angry about this, really angry," said Claudia Kohde, her West German teammate and a star player on the tour in her own right. "We were not told there would be journalists here. We were not told about any interviews. All she wanted to do is come here and have a nice quiet dinner, in private."
A reporter approaches her and returns quickly, spurned. "She just blew me off," he said. "She said she didn't come here for that tonight."
The shoe company pays her a great deal--the specific amount is impossible to get from either side--to wear its products and do a few promotional things. She is currently among its biggest stars. And at the moment, its most temperamental.
A company representative paces nervously, as one reporter after another seeks specifics on when this promised meeting with the press will happen. It is already 45 minutes past the scheduled time and Graf shows no sign of moving from her dinner table.
"She damn well better do this," the shoe company man said. "We pay her lots of money."
So they do. And, eventually, so does she.
One by one, the bobbing heads in front of the TV cameras get their audiences. The questions are the same. Should tennis be in the Olympics? Did you like marching in the opening ceremony? What's it like, when you are used to living in luxury hotels, to live in the Olympic Village, 2 to a room?
Like a light bulb, she turns on for each interview. And off with the TV lights until the next crew parades in for its 3 minutes.
Only once does she react to a question in a manner other than that of a smiling robot. When a Mexican woman asks her if she has a boyfriend, she laughs a little, almost wistfully, then says: "I would like to, but I can't. I don't have the time. You cannot have a boyfriend and be gone somewhere else every week. You cannot carry on a relationship on the long-distance telephone."
After the TV charades, she is escorted upstairs to do radio and newspaper interviews. She doesn't walk there, she stalks. She grimaces. She sits on a couch, a German radio man starts his question, the photographers in the back of the room start snapping and her face lights like a Christmas tree.
It's not that she's a phony. She's simply tired of the routine, tired of being everybody's 2-minute showcase on the 6 o'clock news.
English-speaking reporters get 2 minutes. A news-service reporter asks all the questions, and before anybody else can get a word in, she is escorted back to safe harbor, her corner table in the yard.
Just before she sits down, her father and constant companion, Peter, reaches for her hand, pulls her toward him and gives her a gentle kiss on the cheek. If one were to translate, one would take the gesture to say something like: "You are such a wonderful dear for putting up with all these jerks."
Included in that group, it would seem, would be the people putting on the party, the same people paying her 6-figure salary in U.S. dollars every year.
On the way out, after stopping for another couple of T-shirts, 1 news-service guy says to another: "You know, she is kind of sexy, in her own way. There is really something there."
IT IS WEDNESDAY MORNING and there's another bright blue sky in the Land of the Morning Calm. On a back court in the Olympic tennis complex, Steffi Graf is practicing. Only Graf never just practices as most people practice.
Her opponent is Slozil, the Czechoslovakian who has been her coach since November, 1986. He is 32 years old, just a few years off the tour, where he was among the world's best clay-court players. She is beating him like a drum.
"I think in a match situation, I would still beat her," Slozil says after the session, speaking in gasps as he tries to get his breath back. "But right now, she beats me 70 to 80% of the sets we play."
At a point in their practice session-slugfest, they got into a baseline rally that went for about 10 strokes before Slozil made his way to the net. Graf hit a screaming backhand down the line, but Slozil lunged and sent a perfectly angled volley shallow and wide to her forehand side.
She streaked after it from the opposite side of the court, somehow reached it, flicked her wrist and hit a passing shot just inches long to his left. When she saw it miss, she let loose a string of angry German. And this was practice.
"She doesn't like to lose points, any points, anytime," Slozil said.
In many ways, her practice sessions are like the rest of her life. Slozil, a small, quiet man off the court, is a bulldog on it. He pressures her. He serves and volleys. He returns and comes in. He hits his baseline shots as if Pancho Gonzalez, not Steffi Graf, were on the other side. Pressure, pressure, constant pressure.
And the pressure from the outside never stops, either. As she plays, a Korean security guard leaves his post at the nearby gate and walks to the side of the court. He is one of those here who never smiles, who appears to live in his uniform.
But the sight of Graf is too much for him. He reaches into his pocket for a tiny camera, and quicker than you can say "Panmunjom," snaps off a couple of pictures. Then he hitches up his holster, checks to see that his gun is still in place, and marches away. Smiling.
When Graf is done, a few Koreans ask her to pose with them for pictures. The smile clicks on, then off. For those moments when it does click on, when she stands there in her MTV T-shirt, long silver earrings and stringy blond hair, she looks 19.
A few more pictures and father Peter steps in to whisk her away. But not before another affectionate peck on the cheek.
Graf won't play her first singles match here until Friday. Her anticipated final against Evert, assuming the seedings hold true, won't be until Oct. 1.
"When she first got here, she was tired, we were all tired," Slozil says. "But the last few days, she has practiced very well. Better, I think, than anytime in the last 6 months."
In the last 6 months, she has won the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. She has also won the hearts of millions of tennis fans. In fact, at this stage of her life, it could be said that Steffi Graf has it all.
Except, sadly, her teen-age years and her privacy.