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tennisIlove09
Apr 28th, 2004, 10:23 PM
The Class of Her Class: As Hall Of Fame Induction Nears, Steffi Graf Discusses Her Life And Career
http://www.sportsmediainc.net/tennisweek/GrafwatchA.Seitz.jpg
Photo By Art Seitz By Richard Pagliaro
04/29/2004

The balls fly by fast, slow and with the occasional slice she once imparted to spinning shots slithering through the grassy grounds of Wimbledon. An absorbed Steffi Graf watches every single one with a knowing smile of someone who's spent a lifetime chasing down bouncing balls before thousands of fans on courts across the world and is now content to watch.


Nearly five years removed from her retirement that concluded one of the greatest championship careers in sport, Graf is finally back in the ball game and has never sounded happier.

It's not a training session for a return to tournament tennis, but a day in the life of an attentive mom that brings the 22-time Grand Slam singles champion close to the bouncing balls — basketballs, baseballs, footballs and yes even the occasional tennis ball — tossed around by two and a half year-old son Jaden Gil Agassi, whose famous father, Andre, made history as the oldest man to hold the No. 1 ranking last April.

As a player, Graf often requested early start times for her matches as she loved playing beneath the bright sun. As a mom, her typical day begins before the sun rises as she's up with her two kids: Jaden Gil and daughter Jaz Elle.

"The daily routine is waking up, probably quarter to six a.m. The day starts really early with very little sleep," Graf said. "Jaz is six months old. She is an absolute sweetheart. She's really the quiet one of the two. She smiles a lot. Apart from waking up early, she's a great sleeper during the night, but it's a big thing especially with our traveling.
Jaden, he is an absolute sport nut. You can go to the biggest toy store and he can come out with a ball. Doesn't matter what size, what shape, as long as it's a ball, basketball, football, baseball, tennis ball... He loves to throw the ball, play basketball, golf. Whatever ball sport it is, he loves it. He's extremely active. He'll probably catch up with something in the sport, I doubt it, who knows, maybe tennis?"

How can you start a story about a woman widely regarded as one of the game's greatest players by talking about a play day at home with her kids? Because children have replaced championships as Graf's greatest concern and raising Jaden Gil and daughter Jaz Elle with Agassi is clearly her primary passion and pursuit now.

In a conference call with the media today to discuss her impending induction into the International Tennis Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 11th along with Stefan Edberg and Dorothy "Dodo" Cheney, the 34-year-old Graf spoke with genuine joy and honest humility about her induction and her career.

"It's like a dream come true to be recognized for what you've done in your career by the Hall of Fame. It's incredible. So thanks again and I appreciate it a lot."

The induction of the trio of champions coincides with the Hall of Fame's 50th Anniversary Celebration presented by Campbell’s, which will feature some of the greatest Hall of Famers from around the world reuniting on the hallowed grounds of the historic Hall of Fame on the weekend of July 9-11th. Part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration will include a once-in-a-lifetime "Parade of Hall of Famers" welcoming back tennis champions Chris Evert, John McEnroe, Rod Laver and more than 40 others to participate in a lively ceremony on Saturday, July 10th. Graf said she's looking forward to seeing some familiar faces.

"It's going to be such a privilege to be part of it," Graf said. "You know, tennis has been so extremely good to me, and it's been something that I've had such a strong passion for and obviously, I've watched and got to meet a lot of incredible, incredible tennis players of the past. And to be part of this and to meet some that I may not have met before, it's going to be very special to walk out there on the court."

The woman who held the top spot a record 377 weeks made tennis history by becoming the first player to win the "Golden Grand Slam" by winning the singles gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul after sweeping all four majors that year. It remains one of the most awesome achievements in tennis, yet the accomplishment took a physical and mental toll on Graf.

"In 1988, I was so exhausted I had nothing left," said Graf, sounding slightly drained just talking about the year. "Obviously, I was happy when I won and I remember match point and beating Gabriela (Sabatini) at the end of my physical ability during that match (a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win in the 1988 U.S. Open final), starting to cramp and then winning that match was just incredible. But after that I just went through a stage where I had to get ready to leave for (the next event). It was so much for me at such a young age (19) that unfortunately, I was just exhausted to really soak it in and know what I've done. I just didn't have fun and with tennis the tough part is that you win such a big tournament and you're off to the next one...It was crazy. But if anything, I would say that winning the gold medal meant more at that point to me and I enjoyed it it so much more than crazy enough winning the Slam because I was a lot more relaxed."

The passion, perfection, professionalism and purpose Graf brought to her practices and matches undoubtedly helped drive her to become the only player — male or female — to win each of the four major singles titles at least four times, but it may also have contributed to the chronic injuries that forced her to travel with a trainer and ultimately contributed to her retirement at age 30 when the third-ranked Graf became the highest ranked player to ever announce her retirement. In retrospect, the difficulty she had in giving herself a break from her demanding regimen remains her sole source of regret though Graf is quick to add she wouldn't alter any aspect of her career.

"I practiced extremely hard, and I think looking back, I wish that I would have just taken it a little easier," Graf said. "I think, you know, what can I say? I have no regrets and I wouldn't change a thing. But I just wish that I would have had an easier time of getting away a little bit from the tennis and, you know, I always wanted to play. I wish I wouldn't have had that desire as much, because I think that would have kept me probably a little healthier. But I worked always hard and that took a toll at times physically, but other than that, I have to say, what kind of regrets can I have? I was very fortunate with my career, so I wouldn't change a thing. Look where I am right now, you know, through my career, I got to meet my husband. So I don't want to change one thing."

Watching her kids play ball is a pure pleasure for Graf, while watching her husband compete can evoke another emotion.

"You know what: you're just helpless when you watch," Graf said. "That's the tough part. I'm a very active person and I want to be able to control things, and I can't. So in a sense, it's harder watching (than it was playing). An obviously, you feel love: it's for him and that makes it even harder."

A popular topic in tennis today is the insistence that the game needs more personalities to attract new fans, but there is sometimes a tendency to confuse crassness with charisma. Graf competed with a quiet dignity for much of her career, and while she may not have been as emotionally accessible on the court as rivals such as Navratilova, Seles, Sanchez-Vicario, the perception of Graf as a distant Diva who kept her emotions as tightly confined as her blonde hair pulled back tightly from her face isn't accurate. This was a woman who deeply felt the pressure of immense expectations, the pain of body that was pounded by years of playing until it wracked her knees and back and the personal anguish of a private person whose father's embarrassing episodes of tax evasion charges and reported dalliances were played out in public.

Despite all she endured off the court, Graf was determined to be at her best on the court.

"I think most of it is just life. Obviously, as a younger person, there's less responsibilities, less weight on you, and it's just, it grows as you get older, responsibilities come up and independence, as well as, I think everybody was aware, which I was struggling at times physically," Graf said. "There were a lot of other things, struggles with that I had to cope with that not only had to do with tennis, but a lot of questions that I had to answer and trust that I had to give and believe. And as you just get older, I think you're more aware of things and you think harder."

The native of Mannheim, Germany succeeded Martina Navratilova as the world's top player and fans still debate which woman was a better champion. In a career that saw her claim 107 titles, Graf established rivalries with Navratilova, Gabriela Sabatini, Monica Seles, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and played many of the Open Era's top players ranging from Chris Evert to the Williams sisters. Asked to identify her top rival, Graf said Navratilova's serve-and-volley style made her the most interesting opponent.

"The great thing is that because of the longevity of my career, I got to almost go through a few generations of players, and starting with Martina. I think Martina was a player that had such a different style than most of them that it made it most interesting to play against," Graf said. "Being a left-hander, coming in, you know, and me being someone that played from the baseline, you could always expect an exciting match.
I feel like she put me on the edge probably the most, and then following up, like I said, with Gabriela, we had some incredible battles. The same I do have to say about Arantxa. We have played so many great matches, finals, Wimbledon final that I think back, and Paris. And then you can move to Monica, and then later on to Martina (Hingis) at the end and Lindsay (Davenport). I feel great about it, that I got to play against such a different mix of players, that it obviously made it bring more out of me."

Years after her retirement, Graf continues to exert influence on the game today. Current No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne has often recounted the life-altering moment when she at next to her mother watching her hero, Graf, play Seles in the French Open final.

Already an accomplished junior player herself, the young girl was so enthralled with excitement, she made a verbal vow to her mother on the spot. Someday, Justine Henin promised her mother Francoise, she would return Roland Garros as a professional player and take home the title to her family. A year ago, Henin-Hardenne did just that and spoke of Graf's influence on her. Today, Graf returned the compliment and cited Henin-Hardenne as her favorite player (aside from Agassi, of course).

"I'm impressed with what (Henin-Hardenne) has achieved the last few years, and I love her game. She's the only one that I haven't played kind of, so maybe I'll pick her," Graf said when asked to pick her favorite player. First of all, she has a one-handed backhand and that's not around much anymore."

In addition to the one-handed backhand, both Graf and Henin-Hardenne are adidas and Wilson players who both earned respect for their work-ethic and intensity.

"She's somebody that really, she works physically hard, she's very committed to the sport," Graf said of Henin-Hardenne. "She tried different aspects to make herself better. She maybe doesn't have the physical stature; she's not as tall as other players, but she'll make it up with speed, with working out a little more, and you can see it. I find little similarity in that sense in how I approach the game, and I guess that that's where I look at her and say, well, it's great to have the desire, and then obviously, there's a passion in how she plays and the dedication."

In the home of the Magic Kingdom — Orlando, Florida — tennis royalty met as the former No. 1 came face-to-face with the woman who now wears the crown last month.

"We were both there for a big convention for Adidas, and we were kind of waiting for our parts, basically, in that event," Graf said. "So we were just sitting around and so I just came up and said hello. We got to talk a little bit and I was asking how she's enjoying the game, and I thanked her because she did mention before that she was looking up to me as a player when she grew up. She mentioned that she was in the same airplane in Australia but she didn't feel like she wanted to intrude. I'm like, please, you can always come up and talk to me. I hope that I'm always approachable.
So we had a nice conversation, and I was just telling her that, you know, I've been watching her and been really impressed in what she has achieved."

While the Graf-Henin-Hardenne connection is clear, perhaps the most surprising tennis-related revelation was Graf's selection of two players she admired most while growing up: one-time Wimbledon mixed doubles partner John McEnroe and the Wimbledon winner's fierce rival Jimmy Connors. It's somewhat surprising to hear a champion who competed with such composure to pick two of the most combustible characters of the Open Era as her favorites — sort of like seeing Sleeping Beauty starring in a Quentin Tarantino film — but Graf said she admired the way both aggressive Americans played the game.

"I can't say that I've had heroes," Graf said. "But who I really admired for their talent and the way they played was John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors."

The call began with Graf recalling her career and fittingly it concluded with the champion expressing her desire to get off the phone and get back to her kids. Tennis has always been a big part of Graf's life, but hearing her speak it's clear her family is her life and that the life experiences she's gained from tennis will be passed on to her children regardless of what sort of ball they choose to play with as they grow older.

"Life makes you who you are," Graf said. "And my career in tennis and my travels, the people that I've met, the cultures, I think that makes me who I am. Hopefully, that helps in taking care of my children and being all that I can be for them. I think it's who I am that makes me pass on what I have. (Tennis) doesn't make me who I am. I'm sure, or I hope, that it helps me be all I can be for my children."

DA FOREHAND
Apr 28th, 2004, 10:47 PM
thank you great article...and I plan on attending the ceremony.

DelMonte
Apr 28th, 2004, 11:36 PM
thanks for posting the article. for me, steffi will always be THE GREATEST. she got me into tennis when i was about 8 years old!

joaco
Apr 28th, 2004, 11:38 PM
thank you, excellent article

maximus82
Apr 28th, 2004, 11:44 PM
Great to see that Graf is an Henin-Hardenne fan too! :) :bounce:

Kart
Apr 28th, 2004, 11:56 PM
That is a lovely article.

Steffi :hearts:

Smackie
Apr 29th, 2004, 12:08 AM
Wonderful article.

Thank you!

raquel
Apr 29th, 2004, 01:42 AM
with Gabriela, we had some incredible battles. The same I do have to say about Arantxa. We have played so many great matches, finals, Wimbledon final that I think back, and Paris.

Nice to see Steffi mention her rivalry with Arantxa :) I know some people think the rivalry was pretty one-sided, and the head to head lead of Steffi shows she was the dominant player, but Arantxa always pushed Steffi close. The Wimbledon 1995 and French 1996 finals are proof that even though Steffi dominated after Monica's stabbing, her big wins were not all easy matches. Steffi always spoke well of Arantxa and Gabriela. Even though she achieved a lot more then them, she always spoke with respect for them.

She sounds really happy with life. I loved ASV in the 1990s, so now I look back and really admire Steffi and only wish I appreciated her more when she was at the top. I did want her to win the French in 1999 though. I know Irma (:wavey: ) sometimes mentions people who only became fans of Steffi at Roland Garros 1999. Not only was I on that bandwagon, I was driving it! But it is never too late to appreciate a great champion :)

Congrats to Steffi on her Hall of Fame Induction :worship: and I hope we hear from her a bit more often :)

JLDementieva
Apr 29th, 2004, 04:27 AM
she is so great!! Nothing I say will express how much I respect her! :D

Philbo
Apr 29th, 2004, 04:45 AM
Nice interview from the 2nd best player ever...

irma
Apr 29th, 2004, 05:27 AM
Steffi :worship:

here is the whole transcript

http://www.tennisfame.com/PressCenter/grafTranscript.html

Allez-H
Apr 29th, 2004, 07:28 AM
It's so nice hear that justine finally realised one of her biggest dreams:to meet Steffi.But also quite typical that Justine didn't went up to hear but Steffi who did.I guess she was still to nervous/shy to go up to their and talk to her :angel:
I hope Justine will read this.It will give her even more confidence than she'll already has.It's great to know that there's a mutual respect going on between the two :worship:

pigam
Apr 29th, 2004, 10:40 AM
steffi :hearts:
Really nice article. And for me -as a Justinefan- nice to read what she has to say about Justine :)

Gandalf
Apr 29th, 2004, 10:49 AM
Nice words from her. Steffi surely has one of the most attractive personalities of the WTA.

Andy T
Apr 29th, 2004, 10:53 AM
She comes across as a real class act, someone who has much humility and respect for her contemporaries. It's a nice read, thanks.

tennisjunky
Apr 29th, 2004, 11:21 AM
Thanks TennisIlove.
Steffi :worship:

here is the whole transcript

http://www.tennisfame.com/PressCenter/grafTranscript.html
Thanks for the link Irma. Here's an excerpt from that link.

Q. Given the extremely competitive state of women's tennis today, can you see any of the current players approaching your 22 Grand Slam singles titles?

STEFFI GRAF: There's certainly so much talent out there, you know, you can see it probably with Serena and Venus Williams. They have got incredible talent. They are physically so strong. You know, it's a matter of, also, the desire and there's a lot of options for young girls, if it's attractive enough to stay around tennis as long. But I think that the talent is out there. It's a question of desire, as well as physically how they are able to keep up.






Steffi likes Justine but when asked who has got the game to challenge her records she mentions Serena and Venus. I used to think she was a great player but never really liked her. I now have changed my mind, shes a really cool lady and I like her.

tennisjunky
Apr 29th, 2004, 11:35 AM
Here are more comments from Steffi about Venus and Serena.
Source (Irma) : Steffi Interview (http://www.tennisfame.com/PressCent...Transcript.html)

Q. What about the Williams'?

STEFFI GRAF: Well, I think they are incredible -- the talent that they have, the chances of winning more than they have even done so far. Now lately with Serena's injuries and obviously, I'm not well enough informed about what they do outside of tennis. But in terms of Serena's power and talent and physicality, I would like to see her achieve more than she has done so far.

:worship: STEFFI :worship:

.

DelMonte
Apr 29th, 2004, 12:17 PM
Here are more comments from Steffi about Venus and Serena.
Source (Irma) : Steffi Interview (http://www.tennisfame.com/PressCent...Transcript.html)

Q. What about the Williams'?

STEFFI GRAF: Well, I think they are incredible -- the talent that they have, the chances of winning more than they have even done so far. Now lately with Serena's injuries and obviously, I'm not well enough informed about what they do outside of tennis. But in terms of Serena's power and talent and physicality, I would like to see her achieve more than she has done so far.

:worship: STEFFI :worship:

.

even though venus is my favourite, i have to agree with steffi here and say that serena- if healthy and if she puts her mind to it- can accomplish great things. i don't think we'll ever see a player who can win the amount of slams that steffi or navrativola won, but if there's a current player who can join the greats of the game, it's serena williams.

Nikki
Apr 29th, 2004, 02:04 PM
Great article:)

graf630
Apr 29th, 2004, 02:32 PM
Simply the best!!

Thanks for the links to her interview. I was long over due for a Steffi fix!!

moo_ont
Apr 29th, 2004, 03:25 PM
Steffi :hearts: I really miss her and always will. Really glad to read her interview and know she is fine and happy. :D Thanks so much for the article.

RAA
Apr 29th, 2004, 04:36 PM
great article, thanks...

SelesFan70
Apr 29th, 2004, 04:39 PM
Stephanie Maria Graf! :worship: Simply incredible!

Shuji Shuriken
Apr 29th, 2004, 04:50 PM
My first run-in with tennis was as a Steffi fan, so this brings back so many memories for me :sobbing:. When I was much younger, Wimbledon was being shown on HBO and I saw Steffi playing. I fell in love with her. I was like, "mommy mommy...there's something really cool on TV with a pretty, long-nosed lady" :lol:. And I was into tennis forever after that. I worshiped her. I actually rooted for Steffi when she played Venus :eek:. I still love her,a nd this was a wonderful read :hearts:. Steffi :kiss: :worship: :bowdown:.

GogoGirl
Apr 29th, 2004, 10:17 PM
All,

I just love Steffi. She was my favorite player before the Sisters busted on to the scene. I enjoyed watching others - but Steffi was the bomb IMO. She meant business on each and every point. She was just so mentally there and tough.

Steffi deserves this tribute - and any other accolades and acknowledgements paid to her, indeed.


"WAY TO HAVE CARRIED IT STEFFI" "CONGRATULATIONS"


http://www.newindpress.com/Newsitems.asp?ID=IES20040429103851&Title=Sports&Topic=0&



Graf says no comeback on the cards
Friday April 30 2004 00:00 IST
AFP

LOS ANGELES: Steffi Graf still enjoys hitting a ball now and then, but don't expect any Martina Navratilova-type comeback from the German tennis great.

"No, no. I'm not coming back," said Graf, whose husband Andre Agassi is still playing on the men's tour. "That's not going to happen. That would take a lot of time away from my children and I would not do that. "

Graf, who spoke on a conference call on Wednesday to discuss her induction in July to the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, Rhode Island, said that with two children - 2-year-old son Jaden and 6-month-old daughter Jaz - she had little time for tennis.

"Actually I didn't play for almost a year," she said. "Just in the last few weeks I picked up the racquet here and there.

"I still love it," added Graf. "I love to be out there and hit around and have fun."

Even so, Graf said, she doesn't plan to join her husband in a mixed-doubles dream team.

"Extremely slim," Graf said of the chances of such a possibility, which had been put forward by Agassi in 2003 before the couple knew they were expecting Jaz. "Extremely, extremely slim."

Graf, who won 22 Grand Slam titles, married Agassi in October 2001.

She had retired from tennis in 1999 following her sixth win at the the French Open.

Agassi is one of only five men to have won all four Grand Slam singles titles - Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.

GogoGirl
Apr 29th, 2004, 10:33 PM
All,


I've also felt that Venus admired Steffi tremendously when watching her in person or on film, and that she has patterned some of her aggression after Steffi. I can't remember if Venus has ever praised Steffi in the press like she has Monica, but in my wisdom chest - I just feel that VV learned some great things from watching Ms. Graf. Plus - they are both Geminis - and IMO - that perhaps has some to do w/it.

I also think Maria Shaparova (SP?) - has picked up some of Venus's mannerisms on court. She slaps her hip like Venus - as if to say - "Come on Maria." She also walks to the back of the court and looks and picks at her racket, like Venus. Anybody notice that? Or is it just me? Lot's of players walk/stroll way back behind the baseline critiquing their rackets, and w/their backs turned for a few secs - right? LOL!

Who else has noticed/picked up that some players seem to have copied someone else's mannerisms - trademarks - and the like, whether consiously or sub?

Smackie
Apr 29th, 2004, 11:00 PM
It's Sharapova ;)

I don't think she is copying Venus, more like a common gesture to heighten one's spirit. Even I do that in a badminton match and I don't watch Venus' match often to notice that.

DA FOREHAND
Apr 29th, 2004, 11:02 PM
All,


I've also felt that Venus admired Steffi tremendously when watching her in person or on film, and that she has patterned some of her aggression after Steffi. I can't remember if Venus has ever praised Steffi in the press like she has Monica, but in my wisdom chest - I just feel that VV learned some great things from watching Ms. Graf. Plus - they are both Geminis - and IMO - that perhaps has some to do w/it.

I also think Maria Shaparova (SP?) - has picked up some of Venus's mannerisms on court. She slaps her hip like Venus - as if to say - "Come on Maria." She also walks to the back of the court and looks and picks at her racket, like Venus. Anybody notice that? Or is it just me? Lot's of players walk/stroll way back behind the baseline critiquing their rackets, and w/their backs turned for a few secs - right? LOL!

Who else has noticed/picked up that some players seem to have copied someone else's mannerisms - trademarks - and the like, whether consiously or sub?

I became a full fledged Venus fan after watching Steffi defeat her in the 99 Wimbledon Quarter

schris
Apr 29th, 2004, 11:14 PM
:worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship: :worship:

Stefwhit
Apr 30th, 2004, 12:05 AM
I had a really hard time finding joy in tennis when Steffi retired. My "heart" and reason for caring about the sport was never going to play another match again, and although she definitely put in her dues, it didn't make it any less difficult to see her go. Her intensisty, her desire, her motivation were traits that were always on display and easy to see when she battled on court. There were quite a few times where she really should have lost matches, but because she had this awesome ability to will herself to victory most of the time she would pull the win off. Steffi is tennis. My biggest regret is never seeing her play live but I have a nice collection of videos so that will have to do. Steffi actually played a large part in me liking Serena. Those awesome qualities that I loved in Steffi I thought would never be found in another player (at least at the level that Steffi had em',) but I actually see a lot of similarities between them. The qualities I admire most in her are those same qualities I see in Serena, so in a way a part of Steffi lives on in Serena, as far as I'm concerned... ;)

Steffi is the greatest! That was an extremely nice read, thank you!

Smackie
Apr 30th, 2004, 12:59 AM
I had a really hard time finding joy in tennis when Steffi retired. My "heart" and reason for caring about the sport was never going to play another match again, and although she definitely put in her dues, it didn't make it any less difficult to see her go. Her intensisty, her desire, her motivation were traits that were always on display and easy to see when she battled on court. There were quite a few times where she really should have lost matches, but because she had this awesome ability to will herself to victory most of the time she would pull the win off. Steffi is tennis. My biggest regret is never seeing her play live but I have a nice collection of videos so that will have to do. Steffi actually played a large part in me liking Serena. Those awesome qualities that I loved in Steffi I thought would never be found in another player (at least at the level that Steffi had em',) but I actually see a lot of similarities between them. The qualities I admire most in her are those same qualities I see in Serena, so in a way a part of Steffi lives on in Serena, as far as I'm concerned... ;)

Steffi is the greatest! That was an extremely nice read, thank you!



I hear ya. I was actually quite sad when Steffi retired. She was the reason I started liking tennis and a part of me died a little when she decided to call it a day. There was no replacement at the time and although Hingis was number one, I didn't like her THEN and she could never come close to Steffi.

However, Justine emerged and like you, Stefwit, with Serena, I see certain quality in Justine (and I didn't know Steffi was her hero till much later) and I have supported her ever since.

Steffi is the greatest in my opinion and it's going to be hard for nowadays players to achieve as much. But you never know! Maybe Justine, Serena, Venus or few others could....it will take some miracle though....but it's possible....