Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Tennis; Graf Is Seeking A Happy Ending
November 14, 1988
New York Times
The pecking order in women's tennis is well-defined. Steffi Graf, a 19-year-old West German, holds a match record of 71-2, has won a Grand Slam this year, and is the defending champion of virtually every event of consequence on the women's circuit.
The $1 million Virginia Slims Championships, which begins tonight at Madison Square Garden and runs through Sunday, is no exception.
The top 16 players from the 55 tournaments in the yearlong Virginia Slims circuit gather here. Eight doubles teams, including the defending champions, Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, will also compete. The singles title is worth $125,000; doubles winners each get $45,000. The singles final has a three-of-five-set format rarely used in women's tennis.
Graf, who is on a 45-match winning streak and has been ranked No. 1 in the world since August 1987, won the singles title last year. It was the first time in the last five years that Navratilova, who defeated Graf in four sets here in 1986, failed to win the tournament.
Spotlight on Young Players
Last year's final was a battle between the two teen-agers who represent the cutting edge of women's tennis. Graf needed four sets to defeat Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4.
The erratic Sabatini, 18, remains the only player capable of beating the West German this year. Graf is no fan of Sabatini's reliance on topspin, and on occasion has been unnerved by it. However, each of the defeats by Sabatini came last spring, at the final at Boca Raton, Fla., in March and the semifinals on Amelia Island, Fla., in April.
Graf has performed nearly flawlessly against every opponent since, Sabatini included. She overpowered Navratilova after a slow start at Wimbledon and methodically eliminated Sabatini at both the United States Open and the Olympics.
Seeking Happy Ending
She said she intended to continue as the defending champion of this championship, the final event on the women's calendar for 1988.
''Nobody can take away what I've already achieved this year, but it would be nice to complete the year by winning the Virginia Slims,'' Graf said.
She has not considered resting on her laurels. ''I'm trying to get stronger, to work on coming to net more, on my serve, and on my backhand,'' she said. ''I'm trying to be as good as possible.''
Graf, who will continue to hold the top ranking regardless of her finish here, skipped a tournament in Chicago and arrived in New York early to practice with her coach, Pavel Slozil, acclimate herself, and take in some sights.
Although Graf credited this championship with offering the toughest first-round matches of the year, she wasn't especially concerned about drawing Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, another West German, as her opponent in tonight's opening round.
Kohde-Kilsch, a doubles specialist, has been runner-up here with her partner, Helena Sukova, for the last four years. She is not expected to provide Graf with much more than a warm-up in the singles competition.
''Steffi is playing at a level above the rest of us right now,'' said Chris Evert, who was defeated by Navratilova, 6-2, 6-2, in the final at Chicago yesterday.
Looking for a Comeback
Navratilova is hoping to use this event to salvage 1988, the first year since 1980 in which she failed to capture a Grand Slam tournament. She believes her best tennis lies ahead, and has been victorious in all three events she entered since the United States Open in September.
Navratilova will face Stephanie Rehe on Tuesday. Evert will meet Barbara Potter on Wednesday; Sabatini, seeded fourth, will play Katerina Maleeva on Wednesday.