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Old Sep 6th, 2012, 04:50 PM   #2351
country flag Ms. Anthropic
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

This is only marginally related to Steffi, but it has a lot good parts about the "behind the scenes at the WTA," even if the humor is very American-centric. Loved the IMG parts!

Sports of The Times; Graf's Back Aches, And Tennis Feels Pain
Published: September 11, 1994
New York Times

THERE goes the franchise. The trouble with women's tennis is that the best battles often take place off the court, but yesterday there were two gripping matches in the finals of the United States Open.

The arcane world of women's tennis could have done without the duel between Steffi Graf and her aching back, but the other match was delightful. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the human trampoline from Catalonia in Spain, chased down enough balls to win her first major-major (Wimbledon or the Open) championship, 1-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.

This match captivated the packed house of tennis fans that included Richard Ravitch, the baseball owners' front man who was appearing in public while baseball is dying. The fans were so thrilled by Sanchez Vicario's brave play that they even booed good old Tony Trabert for asking, on national television, heard all over the stadium, if Graf's back had bothered her.

Graf said she wasn't about to make excuses, and that was the sporting thing to say. But, of course, her aching, inflamed back still bothered her, as it has all summer. Why did Graf suddenly start flexing and stretching between points in the eighth game of the second set? Why did the trainer go out there during the change-over? Good question by Trabert. The fans should have booed Ravitch, instead.

Yesterday's exciting shift of fortunes made up for nearly two weeks of politicking off the court and massacres on the court. While Graf was pulverizing everybody, there was much better hand-to-hand combat going on in the back alleys of the National Tennis Center, people attacking each other with attache cases rather than racquets.

The public never got to see the best infighting. We only saw the flashes of distant fire and heard the rumble of distant artillery and saw the paper trail of skulduggery.

The combat must have been pretty good, since the International Management Group -- which has the fourth largest standing army in the world, according to Jane's Fighting Ships -- sent its assorted tanks, submarines, agents, snipers, lawyers, chemical-warfare technicians, medium-level carpet-bombers and fax machines and photocopiers rumbling right up to the borders with alarming neo-cold-war intensity.

For some strange reason, I.M.G. observed the Geneva Convention by calling a press conference on Tuesday to announce its plans to arrange a rival women's tennis tour. Since I.M.G. often simultaneously represents individual players, specific tournaments and corporate interests, running the whole tour seemed like the next logical move in their land-shark mind set. But suddenly I.M.G. pulled down its announcement for a press conference, and the war was waged behind the scenes.

By Friday, amidst the acrid fumes of gun powder and the lachrymose odor of tear gas, the Women's Tennis Council finally got around to naming its first chief executive officer, Anne Person Worcester, a seasoned insider of 34, who immediately began talking of restructuring the women's tour.

"I'd like to think our friends from the different management groups will be pleased with our plans," Worcester said. "I think they're frustrated by the lack of action."

Worcester also had kind words for Billie Jean King, who had been identified with the attempted coup. "Billie Jean and I have sat down and talked," Worcester said. "Billie Jean has given a great deal to the game; she's not really political."

None of this bureaucratic arm-wrestling reminded anybody of the good old days, when you had Court-King-Goolagong jostling for position, or Evert-Navratilova-Austin, or even the recent glory days when you had Graf and Seles, with Navratilova still dangerous and Capriati on the way up. Tennis needs its rivalries.

Graf gets bored with the easy matches and she had seemed to like the idea that Sanchez Vicario had a chance against her yesterday: "Well, you know, just the last two tournaments we played, we both played each other and it went each way," Graf had said on Friday, adding, "This court suits me better."

But that was only while Graf was able to scamper around the court. This is no nervous prima donna, feeling gagging motions in her throat. After the back began to hurt, Graf's first serves suddenly dipped from the low 100's to the mid-80's, and her mobility was limited.

"I don't like talking about it if I lose," Graf said in her news conference, but she added that she was going to see a doctor in Germany and take time off. She might have told Trabert that.

"I know she has a hurt back," Sanchez Vicario said, "but I never tried to think she was hurt."

If Graf is hurt, women's tennis is hurt. There aren't enough big-timers on the tour. Worcester said the women's tour must be restructured, fewer events, smaller events, so the best players are challenging each other. "I love the rank-and-file," Worcester said, "but your top players are the engines who pull the train."

During this dearth of talent, women's tennis has promised to stop devouring its young, by limiting the number of tournaments that women under 18 can enter. But the new rules conveniently begin in January, in time to include Martina Hingis, who turns 14 this month. Hingis is an I.M.G. client, but you already knew that.

Nothing against Sanchez Vicario, but she is at her best when matched with an excellent player. And there are not many of them around, what with Seles still reclusive following the ghastly stabbing in the back. The women's tour has botched its relationship with Seles; that might be among the first call on Worcester's yellow legal pad for Monday morning: "Monica, what can we do to get you back?"
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