Dec 6th, 2012, 07:40 PM
Join Date: Jul 2012
Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Boris Breskvar, the man who ran the tennis center in Germany where Boris Becker, Anke Huber, and occasionally Steffi Graf trained as children, passed away this week at the age of 70. Here is an article from 1989, which probably has been posted before in edited form at least, but it's a good way to commemorate him.
Deutschland double play Federation coach doesn't agree Graf, Becker are a coincidence
The San Diego Union
Sunday, July 30, 1989
At the Baden Tennis Center in the Heidelberg suburb of Leimen, the most productive of 13 regional training facilities operated by the West German Tennis Federation, coach Boris Breskvar finishes hitting with three youngsters and invites a visitor into his office. The wall behind his desk is covered with photos, a couple of which he points to with particular pride. There he is with Steffi Graf and Boris Becker at the European junior championships in 1981. And five years earlier, a group photo of the Baden kids, when Graf had just turned 7 and Becker was a lad of 8.
Surely soon there will be another picture in the gallery: Graf and Becker, now 20 and 21, the day three weeks ago that she won the women's singles title at Wimbledon for the second straight year and he recaptured the men's crown he held in 1985-86. It must have been destined they would reign together, for rain dictated that both finals were played the same day for the first time in 16 years. If you perused newsstands in Germany the week after this extraordinary "Deutschland Doppel," they dominated the covers. One magazine even had them dressed in full regalia like king and queen.
"Before the tournament, Boris and I went out for dinner, with his girlfriend and my coach, and we met a couple of times during the tournament and talked quite a bit," said Graf, who is playing for the first time since Wimbledon in the Great American Bank Tennis Classic, beginning tomorrow at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club.
"In other tournaments, we saw each other and said hello and that was it. This was the first time we communicated more than before, and we both came out as the winner. Afterwards, we hugged. It was a great moment for both of us because we have known each other quite awhile."
A fairytale come true, Becker says, "I used to be the worst in the boys and she used to be the best in the girls, so when I was almost 9 and she was 7, I all the time had to hit with her. From then on we more or less went through the same tournament and matches and we all the time kept a relationship...It's impossible to think something like this can happen."
It also was gratifying for Breskvar, who worked with Graf occasionally and casually, and coached Becker daily, from the time they were barely out of kindergarten until they were teen-agers. He had them hit against each other sometimes -- not only because Graf was then the top girl in Baden and Becker the runt of the region's promising boys, but also because he saw in them the similar stuff of champions.
"Steffi was exceptional talent, and also mentally very, very strong," he said. "She was never afraid. You know, when it is 5-all in the final set, they are all afraid a little bit. They push the ball a little bit. Not Steffi and Boris. They were never afraid. They also lost matches, 5-7, in the third set, but they never pushed their shots.
"Also, they liked to compete. Steffi and Boris asked me all the time, 'Can I play a set? Can I play a match against this one?' They always wanted to play the better one. A lot of children want to practice , to hit balls, but if I say, 'Now we make a match for a drink,' they say: 'I would prefer to practice.' Steffi and Boris worked hard, hours every day. If you made them take half an hour to do work from school, they wanted to come back to the courts. Now this is normal, but for that time, it was something new."
Breskvar, 47, who played internationally for his native Yugoslavia and has been employed by the German and Baden federations for 18 years, was at Wimbledon the second week of the fortnight with a team of German juniors. He watched the men's final at Centre Court, guest of Becker's Romanian manager-svengali, Ion Tiriac, an old friend from their touring days. An outgoing, expressive man with burning brown eyes, Breskvar saw Graf and Becker hold their trophies aloft and thought back to the kids on his wall.
"For a coach," he said, "this is a super feeling, something really special."
Becker grew up in Leimen, a town of 20,000 previously best known for producing cement. His home was less than a mile from the Blau-Weiss (Blue-White) Tennis Club, where the indoor courts are now called Boris Becker Halle; he started hitting against a wall at age 5. After the Baden center was built across the street in 1976, Boris practiced almost exclusively there.
His father, architect Karl-Heinz Becker, designed both the tennis center and Breskvar's house. The coach discovered the young Boris at a talent search at Heidelberg's Schwarz und Gelt (Black and Gold) Club in 1974, and worked with him for 10 years. At 16, Becker was turned over to Gunther Bosch, a Romanian-born friend of Tiriac, a year before Becker became the youngest man ever to win Wimbledon.
"His father told me, 'Take care of my boy, and I don't interfere. You must do everything,' " Breskvar said. "Before he went to Bosch, he asked me three times to travel and coach Boris. I told him I prefer to stay in Leimen. I don't want my boss to be one young guy. Nothing against Boris, who is a very good friend, but I prefer to work with a lot of juniors."
His relationship with Graf is decidedly cooler. She is from Bruhl, a town of 14,000 a few miles northwest of Leimen, closer to industrial Mannheim. In his instructional book -- Boris Becker's Tennis: The Making of a Champion, which has been published in Germany, Yugoslavia, Japan, England and Holland -- Breskvar recalled his introduction:
"She was only 6 when she first came to us, but she already had a fairly reasonable technique. She had learned the basics from her father, who was a tennis coach. I can clearly recall the first time we met. Peter Graf came up to me and said, 'I've found out as much as I can about you, and I think you're the right man to train Steffi -- because one day she's going to be No. 1 in the world.' I don't think I can be blamed for assuming that I was talking to yet another of these ambitious fathers who think the whole world is just waiting to see their child play... By the time we had completed the half-hour training session I was greatly impressed, and inwardly asked Peter Graf to forgive me for thinking ill of him, for Steffi really did have talent."
Her father groomed Graf's game and is still her principal adviser, although former Czechoslovakian Davis Cup player Pavel Slozil also travels with her as hitting partner and coach. Breskvar believes the Baden center played more of a part in Graf's ascent than the family is willing to admit, but Steffi said: "My coach was my father. When he didn't have so much time because he was giving lessons himself, I went to the center. I played there until I was 12 or 13 -- maybe 15 or 20 times a year."
Breskvar is an energetic left-hander who puts an intriguing variety of spins on tennis balls and converses in six languages (German, English, French, Italian, Serbo-Croatian and his native Slovenian). He does not dwell in the past, which in his case includes being the third man on Yugoslavian Davis Cup teams that featured two players ranked in the world top 10: Nikki Pilic (now the German Davis Cup captain) and Zeljko Franulovic. At the Baden center, which he calls "the most beautiful and important in the country," he has a number of promising prospects.
Invited by Tiriac to West Germany's recent conquest of the United States in the Davis Cup semifinals in Munich, he took along two girls for whom he has high hopes: Anke Huber, 13, already the best junior girl in Germany and considered "the next Graf," and recent Romanian defector Mirela Vadulescu, 12, who has moved to Leimen with her family and was signed to a contract by Tiriac six months ago. Breskvar smilingly predicts, "They will be playing each other in the Wimbledon final in five years."
These days, however, the coach is frequently asked to reminisce about Graf and Becker, and he happily obliges. They were both exposed early to a sophisticated program that incorporates not only traditional training in technique and tactics, but physical and psychological conditioning. Breskvar works closely with Prof. Hermann Rieder, director of the Sports Science Institute at Heidelberg's celebrated university, the oldest in Germany and inspiration for the operetta "The Student Prince."
"He is a top teacher and has written about 30 books, and he was also German champion in the javelin and is the national trainer in that event, so he is not only theoretical, but very strong in practical," said Breskvar. "For five years he helped me with Boris and Steffi, making psychological tests, motivational tests, studies. He agrees with me that it is very important to train children not only in tennis, but in other ball sports."
Breskvar pointed to basketball hoops and goals for soccer and field hockey on an area paved in asphalt, adjacent to the four red clay courts at his center. Here players develop their sense of space, movement and what it is possible to do with a ball and bodies.
"We play these sports a lot, as well as sprints and jumps and other athletic drills for conditioning," Breskvar said. "I think this is very important when children are 9, 10, 11, because you must play a lot of combinations in your head. How to beat the opponent, move, set up a score. If you can transfer this to tennis, you can improve a lot. Steffi is a wonderful basketball player. Boris is good in basketball and very, very strong in soccer."
He pointed to the photo from the '81 European juniors. With Graf and Becker, there was another boy whose name is unfamiliar.
"This guy was also European champion, same age, also from here," Breskvar said. "He is nothing now. I told his parents, 'After practice, we have additional training -- a little bit basketball, soccer, hockey.' They said, 'No thank you, Mr. Breskvar, we take our child and go to our club and practice more tennis. It is much better.' So he practiced only tennis, and at age 14 he stopped getting better. He plays so simple, so mechanical -- without combinations and feeling. He is very predictable."
Breskvar encourages an all-court game, with particular emphasis on the style for which a given player is suited by physique and personality.
"We take all the children to a medical center and make an X-ray here," he said, pointing to the wrist, "so we can see how tall they will be when they grow up. We can tell within two centimeters. We did this also with Steffi and Boris. This is very important, because Boris was small when he was 9 years old, but since I know he is going to be 190 centimeters (6-foot-3), I must practice a lot of service and net with him. If I know someone is going to be 166 or 168 (about 5-foot-6), we must practice a lot of topspin and groundstrokes."
Despite his diminutive size, Becker already was aggressive the first time Breskvar saw him, lunging and diving and making the horizontal leaps at the net that have become a trademark from the grass at Wimbledon to less forgiving hard courts.
"We wrote to all the clubs in the region that the federation was searching for talent. We do this three or four times a year. In Heidelberg, there were about 22 children, and Boris was one," Breskvar remembered. "I played with each one 20 minutes. I play hard balls, to test them, because if I am playing only easy balls, all I can see is how many lessons they have. I am not interested in that. I want to give them impossible balls, new situations, on the wrong foot, to see how they move, think, react. This is only way you can judge potential.
"Boris tried for everything, but his technique was not so good -- tennis or jumping. He didn't know how to roll. Knees and elbows scraped, blood everywhere. I said, 'Hey, stop, don't do this. You hurt yourself.' He said, 'No, no, it's OK,' and again he does it. I liked him from the first moment, but I stopped the session because I was afraid he would break some bones. I told him, 'OK, in two days you can come to the center and begin training with me,' but I thought to myself, first I must teach him first to jump properly."
Breskvar ordered gym mats, which still hang on the walls alongside the center's three indoor courts, and taught Becker how to land like an acrobat.
"After, I encouraged him to jump," said Breskvar. "This is his personality and important part of his game, for three reasons. First, he can reach more balls. More important is the psychological effect. When Boris jumps and gets the ball, the next time the opponent thinks, 'I must play exactly on the line.' He tries to hit into an area half as small, and that is very difficult, and often he is hitting out. The other advantage is this jumping is very attractive for the spectators, and pretty soon they are all on Boris' side. This is a great plus."
Graf has improved her volley, but favors playing from the backcourt, winning with a lethal topspin forehand and quickness and concentration that are almost as intimidating. She combines the strength and athleticism of Martina Navratilova, whom she succeeded as the dominant force in the women's game, with the mental toughness of Chris Evert, who withered opponents with laser-beam groundstrokes and brain waves.
"Steffi is the fastest player on the circuit," Navratilova said after losing the Wimbledon final. "She's a sprinter, a track and field athlete, more or less."
Breskvar begs to differ: "People often send outstanding runners to me on the basis that a good runner also makes a good tennis player," he wrote in his book. "Now footwork is important in tennis, but it is only one requirement among many. I can't remember a single outstanding young runner who has turned into a really good tennis player. In most cases it is ball sense that is lacking. On the other hand, I have only rarely been disappointed by good handball, football or basketball players."
He remembered the first time Graf picked up a plastic field hockey stick and joined in one of his post- practice scrimmages: "The others looked on in astonishment as she stopped, dribbled and hit the ball as if she had practiced the game for years."
Graf has outstanding hand-eye coordination, reflexes and racket control to go with her speed afoot. She loves basketball, but said she was disappointed that Breskvar wouldn't let her play soccer "because I could easily get injured." Breskvar said that tests showed Graf had weak ankles, for which trainer Erko Prull designed a special exercise program. She still works on conditioning with Prull, whom she calls "a very good friend of our family."
Graf has lost only seven matches the past 24 months -- to Navratilova in the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1987, to Gabriela Sabatini twice and Pam Shriver once last year, and to Sabatini and Arantxa Sanchez this year, the latter in the final of the French Open, ending Graf's streak of five straight Grand Slam titles. Still, many tennis experts think she could improve 20 percent if she lowered the toss on her serve, which practically dusts the clouds, and learned to hit over her backhand more the way she does on her forehand, rather than reverting so often to a defensive slice.
It is difficult to make major changes when you are the Grand Slam and Olympic champion and a heroine in your homeland, but Breskvar made an interesting observation in his book:
"Steffi Graf has always relied heavily on strokes which she is absolutely sure of. This is of course perfectly correct in a match, but it did cause problems during her early training, when small adjustments often needed to be made. It always took ages to convince Steffi of the need for such changes. She held obstinately to any stroke which had given her success in the past. Sometimes it even ended in tears, simply because she refused to acknowledge that it was all in her best interests. Not until she was fully convinced would she seriously apply herself to the task of learning the new technique. But when she did, she set about it with such enthusiasm that she was bound to succeed."
It was in large part because their ambition was so similar that Breskvar had Becker hit with Graf, who to this day practices only against men.
"Boris was not the worst of the boys, like he says, but he was not very, very good," Breskvar said. "Steffi was the best girl, but almost two years younger than Boris. They practiced together sometimes, but not a lot. This was better training for Steffi than Boris. I liked him to play with older, stronger boys. It is important to find the right sparring partner -- somebody who is a little bit better, but not too much."
Graf remembers hitting with Becker, and realizes now that they have some similarities. "Temperamentally, yes," she said. "I have always been somebody who criticized myself a lot. When I didn't play well, I was getting mad. Boris was the same."
At the time, though, she didn't sense how much alike they were. "Anyway, we were kids," she said. "At that age, nobody really expected Boris would become the player he is. They thought I had much more chance."
What gave Breskvar a vision of the future was that Becker, like Graf, had uncompromising determination. One of the coach's friends manufactured Capri-Sun, a fruit-juice drink made in Heidelberg, which became the unofficial currency of training wagers.
"Boris would ask all the time, 'How many will you give me if I win?' " Breskvar recalled. "He was already a real professional. It was incredible. The more drinks at stake, the better he was playing. When he was 14 or 15, I was still stronger than he was, but we had good matches -- 6-3 or 6-4 every set. One day he asked, 'How many drinks will you give me if I beat you?' I said, 'The whole box.' He was trying like a madman, and he beat me, first time. Boris is a born competitor."
This begs a question that is widely debated, within Germany and abroad: Was the emergence of Graf and Becker from the same corner of a country without much previous tennis tradition a quirk of history or the result of a program capable of producing more like them?
Becker said at Wimbledon it was a "fairy tale," so improbable that they will be grandmother and grandfather before their countrymen realize what they have accomplished. Graf agreed: "What else can you call it? I mean, you can't build up two players like that. I don't see it happening again. It's just luck, coincidence."
"They are great talents. Without talents, you cannot work. But I also think that we have done a lot with those players," he said. "You ask Mr. Graf, it is only him. This is difficult. But I think this center was very important. It was the first in Germany, and without the opportunity to practice every day without paying one Deutschmark, over eight years, it would be very, very difficult."
The chief coach of the German Tennis Federation calculated that Becker's court time, coaching and travel as a junior had been subsidized to the tune of $500,000.
"It is too much money for most families," Breskvar said. "We pay everything. This is very important. A champion must be born with talent, but he must also have the environment. You can have a great natural talent for skiing, but if you live in the Sahara, you cannot win an Olympic gold medal in skiing. This is the same thing. We have a lot of talents in Germany, but many of them live far away, 200 or 300 kilometers. They play tennis there, but not so professional as here. They don't have the coaching and the opportunities, so they do not become Graf and Becker."
Good genes and God-given gifts need to be nurtured. Raw potential needs to be recognized, molded, motivated.
"Boris was not the best in Germany when he was 12, 13, 14. He was about No. 10," Breskvar reminded. "But when our federation was deciding where to put the money, I told our president, 'I think Boris will be the best. We try with him.' I don't think it would have happened without our help. There are so many players now, a champion must be something special, and he must be very well managed. The times are over when talent alone will rise to the top."
Says Tiriac: "Boris Breskvar is a guy who had, and has, very good kids, so the results prove that he knows what he is doing.....Boris and Steffi emerging from the same area at the same time? That is an accident with ingredients that helped. Like tennis courts to play (on). Like parents connected with tennis. Like Breskvar to discover and develop the talent. If there are no courts and coaches, it is impossible to recognise a gift for tennis."
Outside, girls with tennis rackets tied to their bicycles rode past pens of chickens, rabbits and other animals at the German equivalent of 4-H camp. Beneath the overhead gondolas that transport the makings of cement over vineyards, sunflower fields and forests to the factory, two toddlers were tossing a tennis ball.
Becker said after leading his country past the United States, into the finals of the Davis Cup, which it won in Sweden last winter and will defend against the same opponent at home in December, that tennis has become bigger than sport in West Germany. It is a positive symbol of patriotic pride for which guilt-wracked Germans have been searching since World War II.
"I think with both of our success, it's a huge thing," Graf concurred. "The German people see each other in us. They say, 'What they are doing, that's Germany.' Maybe because of the history behind us, it's a good thing. And the sports-wise, I think there is going to be even bigger development in tennis the next four, five, six years. You see boys and girls playing tennis in the streets now, whereas a couple of years ago it was only soccer."
The Baden tennis centre where Becker and Graf hit against each other as kids - must be recognised either as the setting of an extraordinary fairy tale, an "accident of history," or as a contemporary cradle of champions.
Dec 29th, 2012, 05:18 PM
Join Date: Jul 2012
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."
Jan 6th, 2013, 12:12 AM
Join Date: Jul 2012
Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Posting these here as well, because some of these have priceless drollery. "I asked the guy..."
Graf, Navratilova Gain Slims Semis
February 14, 1992
Top-seeded Steffi Graf glided smoothly into the semifinals of the Virginia Slims of Chicago tennis tournament Thursday afternoon. But 11-time titlist Martina Navratilova had to rise above some night-time turbulence in the UIC Pavilion.
It took a second-set tie-breaker for the second-seeded defending champion to get the best of her friend and doubles partner, Pam Shriver, 6-2, 7-6. In the tie-breaker, Navratilova went back to playing the way she did in the first set and won 7-2.
Graf defeated Manon Bollegraf 6-2, 6-1, punctuating the performance with a 103-mile-an-hour ace for match point.
``I asked the guy what the hardest serve was so far, and he told me 104, so I went for it,`` said the No. 2-ranked player in the world. ``I almost made it.
``Bollegraf started off really well. She went for her shots and didn`t miss. It took me a few games to get into it.``
Once Graf got ``into it`` Bollegraf quickly was out of it. Graf complemented a strong serve with an assortment of well-placed strokes. She was especially effective with her backhand.
Unlike Graf, Navratilova didn`t have the luxury of indulging in impulsive experiments such as serving a rocket for the fun of it. She faltered after a powerful start and had to surmount second-set deficits of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2. It wasn`t until game 11 she managed to take the lead.
``It was sort of an up-and-down match,`` said Navratilova, trying for an unprecedented 158th singles victory. ``I wasn`t as consistent as I`d like. It`s difficult playing her. We know each other`s game so well.``
Nineteen of Navratilova`s points came on passing shots, most of which were on return of service. Her backhand play and 74 percent success ratio on first serves also were important ingredients.
``Martina started incredibly well,`` said eighth-seeded Shriver, who has a 3-38 lifetime record against Navratilova and has lost to her 28 straight times. ``I was pleased I didn`t become overly intimidated by her start. She plays the same style as I do, but she`s just that much better.``
Navratilova and Graf will have Friday off, then engage in semifinal matches Saturday.
Graf will meet the winner of Friday afternoon`s clash between third-seeded Jana Novotna and seventh-seeded Amy Frazier.
Navratilova`s semifinal foe will be the winner of Friday night`s match between fourth-seeded Zina Garrison and sixth-seeded Lori McNeil. Garrison was last year`s runner-up and the Chicago Slims champion in 1989.
Frazier and McNeil had to work hard Thursday. Both succeeded by coming on strong in the final set, McNeil beating Ginger Helgeson 7-5, 6-7, 6-2 and Frazier defeating Debbie Graham 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Shriver was asked to speculate on the outcome if Navratilova and Graf advance to Sunday afternoon`s final as expected.
She hedged. ``Steffi obviously is playing very well,`` said Shriver, alluding to the fact that Graf has lost only three games in her four tournament sets.
``But Martina is a lefty and can attack that backhand really well. When you try to find weaknesses with Martina you have to think a lot.``
The top-seeded doubles team of Navratilova and Shriver is another enigma for opponents. Immediately after their match the adversaries became allies and defeated their quarterfinal foes Peanut Harper and Cammy McGregor 6-4, 6-2.
Also advancing to the semis was the second-seeded team of Garrison and Chicago`s Katrina Adams, 6-4, 6-1 winners over Mary Lou Daniels and Rosalyn Fairbank-Nideffer.
Jan 6th, 2013, 12:17 AM
Join Date: Jul 2012
Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
This one might well be one of the most wry Graf articles. As Jim Sarni quipped, Steffi Graf might be ranked #2, but "she's certainly more fun to write about than Monica Madonna."
TENNIS; Finally, Graf Gets To Start Her Year
February 16, 1992
New York Times
CHICAGO, Feb. 15— Another new year, another new catastrophe for Steffi Graf.
"At least, the year is finally starting for me," she said Friday, lounging in her hotel suite here after an evening of watching John Malkovich emote onstage. Tonight, she was to play Jana Novotna in a semifinal of the Virginia Slims of Chicago, her first tennis tournament of 1992.
"I had such a bad start last year that I had no problems in motivating myself for this one," said the 22-year-old German, who began 1991 with a disappointing quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open to Novotna, then eventually lost the No. 1 world ranking to Monica Seles last March.
Graf went so far in her pursuit of a fresh start that she dismissed her longtime mentor, Pavel Slozil, to start from scratch with a new coach, Heinz Gundhardt.
First, the Flu
"I was training hard, I was even lifting weights," she said. "I really meant for this year to start different."
Graf, mistress of malady, began 1992 in typical fashion. Four days after a complete physical checkup that informed her she had finally achieved maximum resistance to the allergies and viral infections that seem to follow her around the globe like an unwanted personal aura, she came down with a maximum version of the flu on a flight from Germany to Australia, where her new year was scheduled to begin.
By the time her flight landed in Perth, her ears were blocked and her equilibrium had vanished. After she played several Hopman Cup matches, the doctors ordered her to rest, and the rumor mill traced her illness to several dramatic sources.
"They said I was sick because I was depressed and not happy with myself and tennis and felt so locked into my life," said Graf, who holds 10 Grand Slam singles titles. "No kidding, I'm not a person who jumps out of bed in the morning and says how great everything is, but the truth was, I got the flu from my brother. Simple."
And as soon as she recovered from that, she came down with a harsh case of the German measles. She still can't figure out where she caught that.
"I was feeling better, and then one night I felt a bump on the back of my head and I started getting red marks on my chest," she recalled. "But then there were eight bumps, so I knew I couldn't have banged my head that many times and not known it."
Australian physicians, unsure of just what ailed her, sent Graf home to Germany, where her mother, meeting for her at the airport, almost didn't recognize her.
"My hands and joints were swollen and everything hurt so much that I was walking like a very old lady," Graf said. "My mother took one look at me and said, 'What have you done to yourself now?' "
Once the measles subsided, Graf got back to the business of starting her year with a new coach, new methods, and something of a new attitude. Sequestered in Florida with Gundhardt, she submitted to a practice regimen that at first was nearly as painful as her measles had been.
Moving Around the Court
"He has a different way of doing things from Pavel and me; he had me hitting from the corners for 15 minutes, and then hitting from the net for a half-hour straight," said Graf, who is continually bombarded by suggestions that she volley more often.
The latest such adviser was a fan who spoke with her as she signed autographs during a Kraft Tour promotion here on Thursday.
"Come to the net more," urged the fan, and received a classic Graf shrug in reply. "Come to Chicago more," he added. "That's better," she said.
But Graf hasn't been able to dodge Gunthardt so easily.
"He doesn't listen too much to what I say," she said. "If I say I can't do it, he tells me I can. I'm the kind of person who needs to be pushed, and sometimes Pavel was too close to me to push hard enough, I think. Heinz doesn't just push once, he keeps at me."
The changes he has imparted to Graf's game are, so far, "small differences, but they are there," she said.
"I'm using my hips more to bring power to the serve, and I'm hitting my forehand a little earlier," she added.
As for her volley: "I know what the right thing to do is, but I don't always make myself do it."
In Chicago, Graf has kept to herself, as usual, accompanied to Bulls games and the theater by her mother. The stiff shoulder that prohibited most volleys and overheads and forced a myriad of "tablets and injections just to make it through Wimbledon" last spring is gone, as is wrist strain that made it "hard to even hold the racquet" last fall as she claimed three straight tournament victories after her loss to Martina Navratilova in the United States Open semifinals.
"At last, all is fine -- so far," Graf said. Navratilova Rallies
The city that named a day in her honor only Wednesday seemed on the verge of retracting the welcome mat Saturday.
Martina Navratilova's quest for a record 158th singles title as well as a record 12th title at the Virginia Slims of Chicago almost came to a premature halt in the semifinals this afternoon against Lori McNeil. But after being "just killed" in the opening set, Navratilova regained her composure, broke McNeil in the first game of the second set, and emerged with a 1-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory.
"It was like she had a radar and knew what I was going to do even before I did," Navratilova said of McNeil's first-set assault. "But when I broke her to start the second, that broke the spell and I was back in the match."
Navratilova, 35 years old, shares the record for most career victories, 157, with her retired contemporary, Chris Evert.
Jan 6th, 2013, 12:19 AM
Join Date: Jul 2012
Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2
Steffi lives it up - New Graf steps out in style
Sunday, February 16, 1992
Steffi Graf's first visit to Chicago wasn't memorable. Many of the people who put on the Virginia Slims of Chicago tournament didn't even remember she was here in 1986.
"I was a much different person then," Graf said. "I was by myself, and I walked the streets a lot."
That Graf played only doubles, pairing with Gabriela Sabatini. They reached the final before losing to the then-famous "Twin Towers" of 6-1 1/2 Claudia Kohde-Kilsch and 6-2 Helena Sukova. Graf also was starting with a new coach, Pavel Slozil, at that tournament.
The Steffi Graf visiting for this Chicago Slims - in what well could be her last appearance here - is a different person indeed.
Instead of walking the streets alone, she is seeing the sights. All the sights.
On Monday, it was the Art Institute; on Tuesday, the Bulls' game; on Thursday, the Steppenwolf Theater to see John Malkovich in "A Slip of the Tongue." She also found "a couple of nice restaurants."
"I watch a lot of basketball matches," she said. After watching the Bulls, she acknowledged Michael Jordan "really nailed 'em."
That's hardly a comment you would expect from an athlete portrayed by the international media as insular and one-dimensional.
The player who held the world's No. 1 ranking longer than anyone else - man or woman - does guard her privacy, a lesson learned with difficulty in Europe after her father was charged in a paternity suit by a German model. She calls the German press "horrible."
While she fulfils her media commitments, she makes no effort to enhance her charisma.
"I do not care about public images," she said. "I do not work on this at all."
Graf, though, is not one-dimensional. Driven, yes.
She loves photography, skiing, movies and impressionist art. She enjoys all music, but especially Phil Collins and Bruce Springsteen. She enjoys reading, primarily works of German authors. She has three dogs.
Though she has no steady boyfriend, she has been known to enjoy the company of men.
Vogue magazine used her as a model, but she isn't likely to pursue that employment area.
"I saw Cindy Crawford on TV," she said. "There's a long way to go (for me)."
Still, her father once reported that Playboy magazine offered $750,000 if Graf would pose nude.
As for tennis, she admits to being "jealous" of Martina Navratilova's approaching a record 158 singles championships. But she has no plans to chase that mark.
At 22, Graf has 61 titles. Navratilova is 35. Graf doesn't think she will be playing that long.
She isn't so driven by tennis that she lives on the court, like many of her rivals who play both singles and doubles. Navratilova always has done that. Graf stopped playing regular doubles three years ago.
The only thing similar about the Graf of 1986 and the Graf of this week is that she again is breaking in a new coach. Heinz Gunthardt, an affable former Davis Cup star for Switzerland, has replaced Slozil.
Gunthardt has no coaching experience, having spent his time recently doing television work and writing in Europe. Gunthardt lives with his wife and two young daughters in Zurich, a three-hour car ride from the Grafs' German residence in Bruhl.
"The father (Peter Graf) called me before the ( Virginia Slims Championships) to see if I could come for a few days of sparring," Gunthardt said. "Afterward, he called again and wanted me to go to Australia with them."
Graf got sick at the Australian Open. A case of rubella, the German measles, left her bedridden for two weeks. That's the only reason she competed here.
Normally, Graf would have played the warmup tournaments for the year's first Grand Slam - the Australian Open - then the Australian and the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.
After that, she would move to her American residence in Boca Raton, Fla., where she lives in a house with her parents in an adjoining villa. All are surrounded by dense palm trees and a driveway usually lined with sports cars.
Chicago would be a rest week for her first American tournament, the Virginia Slims of Florida in Boca Raton. There would be no need to play an indoor tournament in between all those outdoor ones.
Graf, though, needed competition this year after missing the Australian swing and Tokyo.
Whether she plays Chicago again is doubtful, but the week did give Gunthardt his first close look at the woman who was ranked No. 1 for 186 weeks in a row - ending on March 11, 1991, when Monica Seles took over.
"Steffi likes to work," Gunthardt said. "Even if it's early, she's there and ready to go. That's very nice. Sometimes, she expects too much of herself."
They practiced 45 minutes twice a day here, usually at Mid-Town Tennis Club. "Then we did our own thing," Gunthardt said. He will be part of the Graf entourage at only about half the tournaments. The only other member of that entourage this week has been Graf's mother, Heidi.
"Steffi doesn't need a coach every day of the year," Gunthardt said. "Your input comes across better if you don't see each other all the time."
He won't comment on the coaching work of Slozil and said he will be paid a flat salary regardless of Graf's record on the court.
"I'm a small piece of the puzzle," he said. "Obviously, I'd like her to win tournaments. It'll be challenging to work with her. My goals are to do the best I can, even if she doesn't win. Her goals are more black and white."
Such as being No. 1.
"I was disappointed I couldn't play the Australian," she said.
"I practiced hard before it. But I'm really eager right now because this is my first tournament in 2 1/2 months, and I'm 100 percent fit."
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