Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Found this little behind-the-scenes vignette. Of course, she was probably exposing umpteen people to rubella at the time, so maybe it would have been wiser to heed the medical advice....
How Graf saved McNamee - HOPMAN CUP SPECIAL - THE LEGEND
The Sydney Morning Herald
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Paul McNamee knocked on the door of Steffi Graf's Burswood suite with his heart pounding and a desert in his mouth.
As he made the long walk from the Burswood Dome courts, through the tunnel, up the stairs and into the lift to the hotel rooms, McNamee was desperate, pessimistic and anxious. The result of his mission would determine whether Hopman Cup IV (December 27, 1991 to January 3, 1992) was a financial success or a spectacular flop.
McNamee was beside himself earlier in 1991 when he completed the biggest recruiting coup of the cup. Graf and Boris Becker were a match made in heaven for the tennis promoter of the mixed event, two leviathans of the courts who had never played alongside each other. Germany went berserk at the prospect. There was always a romantic notion in Germany that the king and queen of tennis might one day share the same throne. Television network SAT 1 signed a six-figure deal with the Hopman Cup, providing live coverage to Germany of each match involving Becker and Graf.
"It was such a big deal in Germany," McNamee said. "They had never been on court together and it was by far the biggest television deal we had ever done. It was well into six figures, a massive deal. It was really big. For Germans, it was something like the Bobby Riggs, Billy Jean King battle of the sexes, it transcended tennis."
But the terms of the contract would be met only if Becker and Graf appeared together on the same side of the net in the tournament. Germany enjoyed a bye in the first round and then met France in the quarter-finals, when Graf downed Julie Halard in straight sets and Becker made short work of Henri Leconte. Graf, though, was feeling off colour and bailed out of the mixed doubles, a dead rubber.
In the semi-finals, Graf beat Czech's Helena Sukova in the first set but then lost the second before illness again forced her to retire. Becker beat Karel Novacek, and McNamee found himself outside Graf's door because if she didn't make the live mixed doubles, there was no deal. No play, no pay.
"There were minders everywhere when I knocked on the door, and eventually Steffi came to see me," McNamee said. "I said, 'Steffi, how you feeling'? "She said, 'No good'. I told her Boris had just won and that we'd be starting the mixed in 20 minutes. I told her how important it was that she played and she said she'd think about it."
McNamee's stomach was churning as he went to the hotel lobby where he kicked the patterns off the carpet for 20 fidgety minutes. When Graf emerged from the lift with her party, McNamee blended into the wallpaper as she started her walk to the stadium. But just as the Graf entourage was 60 metres from the Dome's entrance, an almighty din broke out. Suddenly, McNamee thought, this is not good.
"There was a lot of arguing," McNamee recalled. "It was about whether she should play or not and the trainer obviously thought she shouldn't. It was very heated."
McNamee was frozen to the spot as the verbal battle unfolded but much to his everlasting relief, Graf kept walking towards the entrance.
"It was a big deal to see Boris and Steffi walk out on court together. They lost in straight sets and Boris did a great job in trying to carry her, but she was really sick," he said. "She knew what it would do for the tournament if she had withdrawn. It was a gutsy gesture against advice within her camp."