Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
If I were to tell them Steffi would not win any of the next four Slams, they would call me crazy. If I were to tell them Steffi would win only two more tournaments in 1994, they would call me an idiot. If I were to tell them Steffi would lose in the first round of Wimbledon, they would ask me what drugs I was on. I would also be correct.
TENNIS; Graf's No. 1 Challenger Is a Player Named Steffi
By ROBIN FINN
Published: March 20, 1994
New York Times
Fortunately Steffi Graf has always been intrigued with the notion of herself as her greatest competitor, because this year there is nothing else to inspire her to greater heights save her own internal touchstone, the one that demands perfection.
These days nobody but Steffi defeats Steffi, and in her last 32 matches, not to mention her last four Grand Slam tournaments, that simply hasn't happened.
Today, Graf captured the Lipton Championships, a title second in importance only to the Slams and the year-end Virginia Slims Championships, by wearing down ninth-seeded Natalya Zvereva, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2. The match lasted 1 hour 48 minutes, twice the workout Graf has become accustomed to, and she blamed its length on her impatience, and Zvereva's buoyancy, in the first set.
Zvereva, a talented if undisciplined technician whose deceptive shot repertory has been honed by a formidable doubles career, came out swinging. Graf, as usual carrying the burden of producing a victory by rote, came out tense, hence her first-set woes.
Consecutive-Set Streak Ends
But after an hour, a weary Zvereva was soaked from her efforts while Graf was just hitting her stride, and the final two sets showed the first to be just an aberration.
Zvereva, who last month in Chicago won her first singles title in four years, did end Graf's record run of 27 matches without surrendering a set, but that was the only aspect of the Graf momentum she was able to stop.
As the score suggests, this was not a victory that satisfied the Graf touchstone: she committed 35 unforced errors, the same as the panting underdog; twice dropped her serve, and summoned only a single ace. Throughout the first set and three games into the second, her body language gave ample evidence of what she thought of her play: she repeatedly disowned her shots with a dismissive and derisive flick of the hand.
Zvereva, by contrast, was her own best friend and cheerleader, and she was egged on by a partisan crowd that made it clear it wanted to see what no crowd had seen in Graf's last 31 matches, and what only 39 crowds in the last 9 years have seen at all: a Graf loss.
'I Can Do It'
Instead, the 24-year-old German, who's already being mentioned in the same breath with a 1994 Grand Slam, extended her unbeaten streak to 32 matches, improved her record against Zvereva to 14-0, and captured her fifth final in as many tournaments this year.
"I don't expect to win everything, but I know I can do it," said Graf, who won the Grand Slam, and an Olympic gold medal, in 1988. "That's what's important, to know you can."
Then she announced that she is taking a temporary vacation from tennis.
"I'm really tired of tennis, to tell you the truth," she said. "It's been tennis, tennis, tennis: I need a break," said Graf, who planned to unwind with some wind-surfing and beachcombing.
But it will take more than this mini-hiatus for the rest of the field in women's tennis to catch up to Graf, who right now appears invincible and, as Zvereva pointed out, leaves her challengers believing they have little more than "a two-percent" chance of detouring her.
There is no active player in the world who has been able to dominate Graf, and not even Monica Seles, the woman who three years ago ended Graf's epic 186-week stand atop the rankings, has posted a winning career record against her.
Graf, who recovered the No. 1 ranking last June, is 6-4 against Seles, 23-5 against second-ranked Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 9-1 against third-ranked Conchita Martinez, 9-9 against fourth-ranked Martina Navratilova, and 26-11 against fifth-ranked Gabriela Sabatini. Against Jennifer Capriati, the WTA Tour dropout to whom Graf ascribes some of the hardest-hitting in the business, the German is 9-1.
Since neither Seles nor Capriati has committed herself to returning to the circuit this year, and since Navratilova has declared her intention of retiring from it after this season, that leaves Graf with a most familiar archrival: herself.
And should boredom set in, there's always Pete Sampras, the world's No. 1 male player, who has opened an unprecedented rankings gap between himself and his nearest challengers, waiting in the wings with a plan.
"I'd attack her backhand," he said.
In Sunday's men's final, PETE SAMPRAS will test his serve and a 4-4 record against the brash returns of 31st-ranked ANDRE AGASSI, who has exploded back onto the ATP Tour this spring after a five-month injury timeout. Agassi has reached the final of two of the three events he has entered this year.