Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
TENNIS; Shriver Ends Graf's 46-Match Winning Streak
November 20, 1988
New York Times
The invincible one was felled by a common cold and an uncommon performance by Pam Shriver yesterday. Shriver stood sentry at the net and achieved a 6-3, 7-6 victory in the semifinals of the Virginia Slims Championships that snapped Steffi Graf's winning streak at 46 matches.
''I had no chance,'' complained Graf, who felt poorly before the match and resigned after it. ''I wasn't myself.''
Graf, who used 1988 to solidify her hold on women's tennis by capturing the Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal, won every major tournament she entered this year until this one at Madison Square Garden. She had hoped to defend her championship here, but instead she suffered an indignity her game had not seen since last spring. This was just the third time in 73 outings that Graf failed to win a tournament.
Her only other losses this year came against Gabriela Sabatini, who won yesterday's other semifinal. Sabatini, who has beaten her challengers like sparring partners, defeated Helena Sukova, 6-4, 6-2, to send herself into today's final, which will be three of five sets and be worth $125,000.
Sabatini was defeated in four sets by Graf in last year's final, but Shriver, rarely a singles finalist in major tournaments, said she hadn't ever played a match under that format. Shriver, seeded fifth, holds a 5-3 career edge over Sabatini, who is seeded fourth.
Graf was the third highly seeded player in three days to lose. Martina Navratilova, seeded second, lost to Sukova Friday night and Chris Evert, seeded third, was beaten by Shriver on Thursday.
''What I already achieved this year is incredible to me,'' said the 19-year-old Graf, who had defaulted from her doubles match in order to prime herself for another singles title. ''Sure, I wanted to have a better ending to my year, but it was not my choice.''
The shots launched by the ailing Graf were a pale version of the real thing. The ashen-faced Graf, still running a temperature from the cold she caught earlier this week, only sporadically produced the sort of firebrand tennis that had outdistanced her from all challengers.
Her backhand slice lacked its usual punch, and often didn't clear the net. Her serve was adequate but not, as Shriver demonstrated as early as the second game, unbreakable. Even her renowned forehand was unreliable.
Graf said her weakened condition, and not Shriver's insistent serve-and-volley, was the cause of her downfall. ''I was trying to play more topspin but it didn't quite work at all,'' she said.
Breakthrough in a Tie Breaker
Graf said she didn't notice heightened aggression from Shriver during the second-set tie breaker, which Shriver won by 7-5, reversing a tradition of tie-breaker collapses.
''She did it for the whole match,'' Graf said of Shriver's incessant charges on the net.
Graf's various letdowns were exactly what Shriver needed to let herself into the match. She was unperturbed by losing the first game, in which she twice double-faulted, because she broke back in the second.
''I was concentrating as hard as I've ever concentrated,'' said Shriver, who entered the match with a 2-7 record against Graf. ''I've been trying to work on my emotions for quite a while. Never once did I rehash something.''
After testing each other early, both players held serve until the eighth game, in which Shriver again broke Graf after earning a double break point against her. Graf overhit two returns, a lob and a forehand, to lose the first two points, and sent a forehand wide while playing the second break point against her.
Shriver, encouraged at the chance to play the aggressor, then served for the set. It was just the 11th set dropped by Graf in 1988.
Backhand Is Exploited
In the second set, neither player yielded her serve, and a tie breaker was required. Shriver exploited Graf's backhand, dueled handily at net, and then fired an ace to take a 3-0 lead. Graf worked her way back to a 5-4 advantage, but Shriver used two big serves to force errors from Graf, and at match point, Shriver galloped toward the net as soon as she had returned Graf's serve, and Graf, under pressure, sent a forehand long.
''I won because I thought I could win, and because after I lost my opening service game I never lost my serve again,'' Shriver said.
Shriver, acknowledging the raucous support from the fans, made a victory lap around the court and hugged every ballboy and ballgirl in sight.
In the doubles final, Shriver and Navratilova retained their title and won for the fifth time in six years, defeating Larisa Savchenko and Natalya Zvereva, an unseeded duo from the Soviet Union, 6-3, 6-4.
There was some concern that Navratilova, who twisted her right ankle when she tripped over a television cable leaving the grandstand during Shriver's match, might be unable to play, but she made a quick recovery.
A classics doubles match featuring Tracy Austin and Virginia Wade against Billie Jean King and Rosie Casals will precede today's singles final between Shriver and Sabatini. It begins at 1 p.m., with the final at 2 p.m.