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Old Jun 26th, 2013, 12:50 PM   #2715
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

No food or drink when reading this one, mainly for the zingers directed at Gaby. If you recall, back in the spring Gaby's star status was "upgraded" to include more tournament perks. Well, those perks come with implicit and explicit strings attached, and judging from the way Gaby was being treated by the press at the French Open and Wimbledon, she has not come through on her side of the bargain or she has otherwise rubbed some people in high places the wrong way.

Of course, the most ironic thing about this one is that Steffi and Gaby are going to win the doubles tournament, even though they are "doing it wrong." Gaby would go on to become very popular with her fellow players and a conventional doubles player.

I immediately thought of the attached picture (which I named "Why Are These Chairs So Close") when I first read this article.


Sabatini, Graf: Oddest couple playing doubles
Houston Chronicle
Sunday, JUNE 26, 1988
ED FOWLER

WIMBLEDON, England - They shatter the stereotypes. Playing doubles, the little dialogue that passes between them almost always is initiated by Steffi Graf. She'll make a brief remark and Gabriela Sabatini will respond with an even shorter answer and they'll quit their chairs and head back onto the court.

The Prussian flamenco and the Latin waltzer. They hail from West Germany and Argentina and their partnership was forged somewhere in between, perhaps in the Sea of Necessity.

Actually, any whimsical quality can only be ascribed to Graf in juxtaposition to Sabatini. Two doubles matches Friday proved instructive.

Normally, no one pays much heed to doubles but these early round exercises served to throw a spotlight on the future shape of the women's game. On court No. 2, Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, probably the best female tandem ever, fought off three match points to work through against Jenny Byrne and Janine Thompson, a pair of plucky Australians.

Starting a bit later, Graf and Sabatini had scarcely an easier time holding their ground on court No. 1 against Aussie Anne Minter and Hester Witvoet of the Netherlands. It wasn't so much winning or losing that mattered, though, as how they played the game.

Navratilova and Shriver discussed strategy on-court, commiserated, swapped smiles and applauded one another. Graf and Sabatini went about their grim business with an economy of communication. A few terse words, a rare nod were all that passed between them on court. On the sideline during changeovers, mostly they stared silently straight ahead.

Between points, they took up positions marionette-style, evincing no trace of bonding either between themselves or with the crowd. They're a team in the sense that their names are listed together, their fortunes are linked and they know the principles of doubles play.

Otherwise, they go together like wiener schnitzel and empanadas.

Even within the context of their own match, the contrast between them and another team was striking. Minter and Witvoet held constant conferences between games, complete with quips and grins. It looked like a pajama party on one side of the net and a chamber music recital audience on the other.

And Virginia Wade, the former British champion who is now a BBC commentator said, "Talking on court is a very essential element of doubles."

Unless, perhaps, you're that good. Laurel and Hardy never saw eye-to-eye but they always played well. Graf and Sabatini don't feud, of course, they simply maintain an icy co-existence, like partners in a marriage gone sour.

"Pot roast for dinner."

"OK."

Their relationship, such as it is, stems from their interaction, such as it is, in the very different world of singles. In the women's locker room, Sabatini is as popular as lice. She is considered uncommunicative, aloof and haughty, except by those who think ill of her. The locker-room diagnosis: "tennis elbow of the personality."

Part of this image is attributable to her quiet nature - shyness, she insists - and part, undoubtedly, to her status as the tour's glamour queen. If she could absorb either Chris Evert's easy warmth or Graf's nose her stock would rise, if not soar. The nose is out of the question and many call her plea of shyness a copout. Evert tagged her "arrogant" and Ted Tinling, the women's tennis fashion designer and historian of the game, sniffed, "She uses her shyness as a shield as it's not excusable.

"She's the biggest crowd-puller in the women's game and as a public entertainer she has a duty to be more outgoing. It's time she came out of her shell."

In fact, Sabatini wouldn't make a cover girl. She has broad shoulders and, overall, a thickly athletic build. A candid photo of her in a cutaway midriff bathing suit in one of the local high-brow publications shows as much. In the realm of international female sports stars with built-in name identification and following, though, she is undeniably a marketing superstar. Her silky silent mien, often called a Garbo mystique, is no hindrance whatsoever. Call her sultry and she won't care.

Consider that in Europe and Latin America a female athlete's converting a well-turned ankle and well-placed dimple into an extra buck isn't considered a felony against feminism. References to same in the media don't elicit a deluge of mail suggesting anyone who notices such attributes when he should be riveted on the backhand volley is a sexist pig. Human nature is more human.

C'est la vie.

If this were only about tennis, endorsement incomes would be reversed. Gorgeous Gaby makes well over $5 million a year, Steffi considerably less. Graf, halfway to a Grand Slam, ranks No. 1 in the world, Sabatini No. 5.

She sells Perrier, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Fuji film, Prince rackets, Ebel watches, Sergio Tacchini shoes and clothes and the rest of the Walgreen's/Tiffany's/Abercrombie & Fitch inventory. A line of Sabatini perfume and cosmetics is scheduled for next year.

Graf isn't without endorsements but she has her limits, most externally imposed. Ebel turned her down in favor of her doubles partner and American marketers reportedly whispered a suggestion that she check in for a nose job. Jade cosmetics, with whom she has a contract, made her up and got designer Gerry Weber to vamp her up for photos. The result was that the exercise wasn't repeated.

While not unfriendly or unpopular, Graf is nevertheless relentlessly businesslike and a hard woman to partner. Her game is so strong that it requires a special talent to complement it. For most of this decade, the top doubles teams have been composed of a dominant partner and a lesser one, witness Navratilova-Shriver and John McEnroe and Peter Fleming, who always said McEnroe and anyone made the best pairing in the world.

Once, Graf enjoyed that kind of differential vis-a-vis Sabatini and could find in it balm for any wounds inflicted by her lower position in the vixen rankings. She won the first 11 matches they played.

Then last spring, Sabatini beat her twice in Florida. Women's tennis held the promise of a sizzling rivalry for years to come. Graf is 19, Sabatini 18.

Graf won their semifinal match in the French Open. They could meet in the semis again here. Meanwhile, the uneasy alliance of mousey blond Teuton and resplendently remote Latin continues in doubles.

Lest anyone assume their on-court cartel suggests warming relations, Graf declared in a signed article for a West German newspaper, "We are not friends."

They celebrated putting away Minter and Witvoet with a brisk handshake. Maybe they play together simply because neither of them fits with anyone else.
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