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Old Jan 20th, 2013, 04:10 PM   #2491
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Tennis: The loneliness of a Graf opponent
The Times
London, England
Wednesday, January 20, 1988
From REX BELLAMY, Tennis Correspondent

MELBOURNE - Steffi Graf, champion of France and favourite here, took only 50 minutes to beat Hana Mandlikova 6-2, 6-2 in the Australian championships yesterday. Mandlikova beat Martina Navratilova in last year's final - on grass, as distinct from the cushioned, synthetic surface in use now - but was given an awful drubbing yesterday.

That raised an interesting thought. When playing well, as she did yesterday, Mandlikova was often a match for Navratilova and Chris Evert during the years when they dominated women's tennis. But she never had a ghost of a chance of staying with Graf, who has lost only 17 games in five matches.

Graf was so springy, fast and agile that she had time to take the ball early and answer questions before Mandlikova had finished asking them. On both flanks, especially the forehand, the ferocity and accuracy of Graf's ground strokes was awesome. Often Mandlikova was stranded in the forecourt, looking lonely, as passing shots sped so wide of her that she hardly felt the draught.

Mandlikova used her wits and drew on her experience to vary her tactics. Nor did she give much away. But she was trying to put up fences in a whirlwind. 'Nobody hits the ball as hard,' she said of Graf later. 'If she hits any harder I don't know what we're going to do ...'

Graf's opponent in a semi-final will be hard, tall compatriot Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, who has a troublesome foot but achieved an admirable 6-2, 6-4 win over the local heroine, Anne Minter. The winner's reputation was consolidated, the loser's advanced. Kohde-Kilsch, an accomplished all-round player, had a marked advantage in the forecourt.

Graf, aged 18, is seven months younger than another gifted German, Claudia Porwik, who was beaten 6-3, 6-1 by Evert. The 5ft 10in Porwik is a gracefully loose-limbed athlete whose forehand volley is as far-reaching as Margaret Court's used to be. But Porwik's services, approach shots and volleys lacked the punch and precision her task demanded. 'She's very talented,' Evert said 'but not yet polished.'

Navratilova served well and had a competent 6-4, 7-6 win over Helena SDkova. Navratilova reckons that, though now in their 30s, she and Evert are much better players than they were when winning Grand Slam titles a decade ago. They have been playing each other since 1973 and will meet again in a semi-final. 'It's never boring,' Navratilova said, 'because one is always in danger of losing - and at times we still surprise one another.'

The men's draw has been reduced to Ivan Lendl v Pat Cash and Anders Jerryd or Mats Wilander v Andrei Chesnokov or Stefan Edberg. Jarryd, Wilander and Edberg are all Swedes and Wilander and Edberg have each won this title twice (on grass) in the past four years. But Lendl and Cash are the men of the hour.

Last year Cash beat Lendl in a semi-final here and in the final at Wimbledon. But both matches were played on grass and this time they meet on a harder surface with a true bounce: though easier on the legs, the kind of surface on which Lendl has won three consecutive United States championships.

Lendl prefers to play from the baseline, Cash from the forecourt. 'A contrast of styles is always exciting,' Cash said yesterday, 'especially on a medium-fast court like this.'

Both had straightforward wins yesterday against players who had done well to reach the last eight. Lendl beat Todd Witsken, America's last hope, and Cash disposed of a big Dutchman, Michiel Schapers.

Next door, on Court One, Jeremy Bates, of Britain, and Peter Lundgren reached the doubles semi-finals with a 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 3-6 7-5 win over Kelly Evernden and Johan Kriek. The draw was not strong, as Grand Slam tournaments go, but this was a good performance.

Bates and Evernden made mutually disparaging comments after their singles last week. Before yesterday's match they had a chat that cleared the air - so effectively that when Bates felled Evernden by hitting him on the head, there was no 'aggro'. Bates apoloized and Evernden had the wit to respond: 'That's the only part of me you can't hurt.'

We daubed on the anti-sunburn lotion, flicked off the flies, and enjoyed a delightful match. Some of the improvised forecourt repartee was physically and technically improbable. The chunky, heavily-moustached Kreik, who reminds me of several sergeant majors, was the star turn.

Kriek is a compact, restless bundle of muscles. Once he almost ran up a courtside wall, a prospect viewed with drowsy nonchalance by a young lady sitting on top of it. And some of his wrist work was astonishing.

But all four men deftly contributed to the fun. They even burst a ball. What ultimately mattered was that Bates and Lundgren had beaten three seeded partnerships to reach the semi-finals. That means more here than it does, for example, in New York or Paris.

Australian are connoisseurs of doubles, which may or may not justify the fact that, today, they will have little else to watch. That suits me. As they say here: 'No worries, mate.' First, though, one has to pop round to the shops for more 'high protection sunscreen'. Wish you were here?

Melbourne results MEN'S SINGLES: Quarter-finals: I Lendl (Cz) bt T Witsken (US), 6-2, 6-1, 7-6, P Cash (Aus) bt M Schapers (Neth), 6-1, 6-4, 6-2.

WOMEN'S SINGLES: Quarter-finals: M Navratilova (US) bt H Sukova (Cz), 6-4, 7-6; C Evert (US) bt C Porwik (WG), 6-3, 6-1; S Graf (WG) bt H Mandlikova (Aus), 6-2, 6-2; C Kohde-Kilsch (WG) bt A Minter (Aus), 6-2, 6-4.

MEN'S DOUBLES: Quarter-finals: R Leach and J Pugh (US) bt J Fitzgerald (Aus) and A Jarryd (Swe), 7-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3; J Bates (GB) and P Lundgren (Swe), bt K Evernden (NZ) and J Kriek (US), 3-6, 7-6, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

MIXED DOUBLES: Second round: Tim Gullikson and Miss M Navratilova (US) bt R Leach and Miss P Fendick (US), 6-3, 6-2; C Limberger and Mrs D Balestrat (Aus) bt J Stoltenberg and Miss J Faull (Aus), 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.
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Old Jan 20th, 2013, 11:39 PM   #2492
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

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Old Jan 20th, 2013, 11:39 PM   #2493
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Old Jan 20th, 2013, 11:40 PM   #2494
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Old Jan 21st, 2013, 01:35 AM   #2495
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Old Jan 21st, 2013, 01:36 AM   #2496
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Old Jan 22nd, 2013, 02:48 PM   #2497
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Did the Grafs ever talk about why Pavel Slozil was chosen to be Steffi's coach at the end of 1986? (Yes, I remember that Peter used to keep referring to Slozil as Steffi's "hitting partner", but everyone knew that Slozil was actually the coach, not Papa Peter). I think that working with Slozil helped Steffi tremendously in her final leap to the top in 1987/88, particularly in terms of her serve and her backhand. So I'm curious about why and how they settled on Slozil. Were there other candidates for the coaching job? Were they all retired male pros?

I do remember reading at the time that Slozil had had to obtain permission from the then Czechoslovakian government before taking up the coaching job. I wonder if he'd have gotten the go-ahead from the authorities had, say, Hana Mandlikova or Helena Sukova been the reigning #1 player instead of Martina Navratilova.
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Best left-right combination by a German (and that includes Max Schmeling): Steffi Graf. All she did in 1987 was knock Navratilova out of #1 and try to knock Evert out of the sport. (Mike Lupica in "The Best and Worst of Tennis in 1987", World Tennis)

"A couple of years ago, we nicknamed Steffi Graf's forehand 'Jaws'. And that music would go perfectly when she starts running in to the net, swarming on that little ball." (JoAnne Russell, during the 1988 Wimbledon final between Graf and Navratilova)
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Old Jan 22nd, 2013, 09:04 PM   #2498
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Quote:
Originally Posted by samn View Post
Did the Grafs ever talk about why Pavel Slozil was chosen to be Steffi's coach at the end of 1986? (Yes, I remember that Peter used to keep referring to Slozil as Steffi's "hitting partner", but everyone knew that Slozil was actually the coach, not Papa Peter). I think that working with Slozil helped Steffi tremendously in her final leap to the top in 1987/88, particularly in terms of her serve and her backhand. So I'm curious about why and how they settled on Slozil. Were there other candidates for the coaching job? Were they all retired male pros?
Ah, this is jumping the gun a little bit in our reminisces of 1988, but here are some selected excerpts:

[From July 1988]
"Peter didn't know me at all," Slozil said. "I never knew why he chose me. I know there were many German coaches who questioned why Peter chose a Czech."

Peter Graf chose Slozil because, he said, "I wanted someone who was a good person, not just good in tennis."

Slozil, ranked No. 35 in 1984, works with Graf 40 weeks a year. "Steffi always wants to work," he said. "She is pushing me all the time. She is a quiet girl. I like her very much. The biggest problem is I don't start conversations. I'm not a person who talks so much. It took us six months to get to know each other."

Slozil has a one-year contract that expires in December.

"I want to continue with Steffi," he said, "because I'd like to show that this is not a fluke."


[From June 1988]

"I was finishing my career," Slozil told me recently. "I'd always played the major tournaments, but I began to lose in the early rounds and started to play qualifications. So I was looking for something new.

"I thought I should take care of somebody and for a year and a half I helped Horacio de la Pena and Jakob Hlasek. But I couldn't give them 100 per cent because I was still playing. Then Peter asked if I could help Steffi. My federation agreed and I started the job."

Slozil was surprised to find out how demanding yet satisfying his task was. "Peter had asked me if I could practise four hours a day. I thought, why is he asking? If I can play with the men, I can play with a woman. But in January, 1987, in Spain, I began to understand. We played four hours a day on hard courts. Every Saturday. Every Sunday. No break.

"When I played for myself I was not a real professional, 100 per cent for tennis. When I lost, I thought about my family and going home to Prague. Taking three days off. Playing soccer. I can't do that now. With Steffi, it's more intensive. Somebody worked out that we spent more than 40 weeks together last year.

"There was more playing, more travelling, than before. I can't go to discos, can't drink, because the next day I must be in shape. And I spend so little time mostly, it's two or three days with my wife and family." Slozil and his wife, Jana, who often travels with him, are lucky in that their daughter, aged four, can stay at home with young grandparents.

Slozil was not complaining. I had asked him to talk about both sides of his job as Graf-sharpener. As a final comment on the less glamorous aspects, he pointed out that in some ways, competing was easier than caring for others.


[From 1986]
Earlier this year, Peter employed Pavel Slozil, the former Czechoslovak Davis Cup player, as full-time practice partner for his daughter. The intention is to modify her fundamental baseline game to include a more flexible, all-court serve-and-volley style which is imperative if she is to displace the seemingly impregnable Navratilova...

...The day I called on her at Bruhl, outside Heidelberg, she was serving, again and again, from a bucket of 50 balls at Slozil, and from mid-court volleying his returns to the baseline corners. Formidable stuff. Yet she is, allegedly, a difficult person in training.

"I have to coach the coach," Peter says with a smile. "Pavel is still learning that Steffi is reluctant to talk during practice, that she just wants to concentrate and slam away the winners as she does in a match. He has to discover how to handle her."


In short, I don't think Slozil even knew the whole "why." I wouldn't doubt Peter had pulled aside Lendl or some of the other players and asked for coach/chaperone recommendations and Slozil's name came up as a guy you could trust with your daughter. (Because Slozil really was just as much as a chaperone as a coach. E.g., "I've never heard so much music in my life.") There was another guy at the 1986 US Open, I think he was South American (I'll dig his name up later), and some of the German national coaches. But for some reason, Pavel made the grade.

Quote:
Originally Posted by samn View Post
I do remember reading at the time that Slozil had had to obtain permission from the then Czechoslovakian government before taking up the coaching job. I wonder if he'd have gotten the go-ahead from the authorities had, say, Hana Mandlikova or Helena Sukova been the reigning #1 player instead of Martina Navratilova.
Don't know. There's an article from 1987 Boca Raton in which Slozil says it was "a special feeling" to watch Steffi defeat Sukova. Seemed like he was somewhat amused to be employed as a Czech-casher.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2013, 09:18 PM   #2499
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

EVERT, GRAF SET FOR OPEN FINAL
The Charlotte Observer
Thursday, January 21, 1988
Associated Press

Chris Evert downed longtime rival Martina Navratilova, and top-seed Steffi Graf routed Claudia Kohde-Kilsch Thursday to advance to the women`s final of the Australian Open tennis championship.

Evert, playing from the baseline with pinpoint accuracy, downed Navratilova 6-2, 7-5 to earn her first berth in a Grand Slam final since the 1986 French Open.

It will be Evert's sixth appearance in the Australian Open final. She has won twice - 1982 and 1984.

Graf lost the first two games at love but rallied to beat Kohde-Kilsch, the eighth seed, 6-2, 6-3, in 45 minutes.

Graf's victory earned her the fourth Grand Slam final berth of her career. She is 4-6 lifetime against Evert but has won their last four meetings.

Graf's only previous Grand Slam victory came in last year's French Open. She lost to Navratilova in the U.S. Open and Wimbledon finals - her only losses of 1987.

Graf's victory extended her winning streak to 20 matches. Her last loss was to Navratilova in the U.S. Open final.

Evert raced to a 3-0 lead and won the first set in 32 minutes, defusing Navratilova's serve with a succession of return winners. She also benefited from 39 unforced errors which sabotaged Navratilova's chances of winning her third straight Grand Slam title.

"I was under no pressure at all. Martina had all the pressure on her," Evert said.

"I've played pretty mediocre until the last two matches of the tournament, and then in this match, I played great. I'm always relaxed when I play Martina. She was No. 1 for so long. It is no crime to lose to her."

Navratilova said Evert "played a really great match and didn't let up. I played pretty well except for my volleying, which I think must have gone south.

"I wouldn't want to touch Chris now. She's so hot, I'd burn," she said, smiling.

Graf extended her record against Kohde-Kilsch to 5-2.

After losing the first two games, Graf found her stroke and was able to concentrate on exploiting Kohde-Kilsch's lack of mobility and poor volleying while scoring with a succession of deadly accurate punched forehands.

She raced through the first set in 22 minutes, reeling off six games in a row, and was given only a slightly tougher battle in the second set.

Graf has dropped only 22 games in her first six matches in the tournament and has not lost a set.

"This is the first tournament of the year for me, so it's good to be in the final," Graf said. "In the beginning of the first set, I lacked a bit of concentration. I gave the first games away to love, and it was a bad start. I just tried to concentrate on my service, but I was trying too much in the beginning."

Graf went straight on to the practice court after her win, saying she planned to work on her serve.

The men's semifinals are scheduled Friday.

Top-seed Ivan Lendl will face Wimbledon champion Pat Cash in one semifinal. Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander meet in the other.

Edberg, the defending champion, advanced to the semifinals Wednesday by beating Andrei Chesnokov 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 6-4 in just under three hours.

Wilander, the third seed, downed sixth-seed Anders Jarryd 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, 6-3 in Wednesday's other quarterfinal.

Edberg, the second seed, has played Wilander 13 times with Wilander holding an 8-5 advantage.

"I know what I can do. I know I can beat all the other players in the tournament," said Wilander. "But I will have to play very well to do it."

Edberg, who has won the tournament the last two years, said he had not yet reached top form yet.

"I'm not playing well, and I can still win, so that makes me feel good," he said.

"I will have to work a lot to beat Mats; it's going to be very difficult.

"I'll have to lift my game another level, but I've got two days, so hopefully it will change. I've been struggling for two weeks, but I'm still in the tournament."

Kim Kessaris of Hendersonville defeated Kate McDonald 0-6, 6-2, 7-5 in the second round of the junior girls singles.
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Old Jan 22nd, 2013, 09:23 PM   #2500
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

A little bit of understatement showing...

GRAF'S WISH GRANTED AS EVERT MAKES FINAL
The Charlotte Observer
Friday, January 22, 1988
Associated Press

Steffi Graf had her wish come true Thursday when Chris Evert beat Martina Navratilova in the semifinals of the Australian Open tennis championships.

Graf, who beat Claudia Kohde-Kilsch in the other semifinal, was hoping to meet Evert in Saturday's final.

"The last couple of times we have have played, I have played well against her," Graf, 18, said of Evert. "The good thing is that if you are playing her, you really get into your rhythm. Against Martina it's a different story."

Graf, the world's top-ranked female player, has reason to be confident against No. 3 Evert. After losing their first six matches, she has beaten Evert four straight times without losing a set.

"I guess I hit my forehands a little bit harder than Chris," Graf said. "She has an advantage on her backhand, but I think I go for the shots more."

In the men's semifinals today, top-ranked Ivan Lendl meets No. 4 Pat Cash and No. 2 Stefan Edberg plays third-seed Mats Wilander.

Graf, who has won 20 straight matches, will be playing in her first Australian Open final. Evert has reached the final six times, winning in 1982 and 1984.

Evert, 33, said she will have to play extremely well to beat Graf.

"I haven't beaten her in a year or so," Evert said. "She was a different player last year than she was the year before when I was beating her. She's obviously bigger and stronger. I haven't found a way to beat her."

Navratilova offered encouragement to Evert, her friend and longtime rival.

"I think she's got the game to beat Steffi if she plays like she did today," Navratilova said.

Evert played flawlessly from the baseline during her 6-2, 7-5 victory over Navratilova.

"I was under no pressure at all," said Evert, who failed to win a Grand Slam title last year for the first time since 1973. "Martina had all the pressure on her."

Graf lost her first two games against Kohde-Kilsch before rallying for a 6-2, 6-3 victory. "In the beginning of the first set, I lacked a bit of concentration," Graf said.

Lendl, who is seeking his first Australian Open title, holds a 5-2 career edge over Cash. Both of Cash's victories occurred last year, in the Australian Open semifinals and the Wimbledon final.

Edberg, who has won the last two Australian Opens, has beaten Wilander five times in 13 meetings. Wilander is also a two-time Australian Open champion, winning in 1983 and 1984.

The $1.9 million tournament is being played on hard courts at the new National Tennis Center. It used to be played on grass in nearby Kooyong.
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Old Jan 23rd, 2013, 12:34 AM   #2501
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

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Old Jan 25th, 2013, 12:32 AM   #2502
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

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The kids are so big... It seems like yesterday they were wiggly toddlers, and probably within two more years they will both be as tall as their parents, if not taller.
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Old Jan 25th, 2013, 12:47 AM   #2503
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Loved Evert's "I was just thrilled when she told me that" quip. I can imagine the looks on both their faces.


AUSTRALIAN OPEN - Evert watched fight, had idea about her fate
Houston Chronicle
Sunday, JANUARY 24, 1988
Houston Chronicle News Services

MELBOURNE, Australia - While rain interrupted her Australian Open final match against Steffi Graf, Chris Evert received an idea of what would soon happen to her.

Evert watched on television Saturday as Mike Tyson pummeled former champion Larry Holmes in the heavyweight title bout in Atlantic City, N.J. About an hour after the fight ended, Evert, like Holmes, went down to a younger and more powerful champion.

"I felt a little bit like Holmes at 1-6, 1-5," Evert said after losing to the 18-year-old West German. "I thought a little about Holmes being down on the canvas."

Evert, 33, put up a gamer fight than Holmes, who was no match for Tyson. The two-time Australian Open champion and six-time finalist rallied from 1-5 in the second set to force a tiebreaker. She could not sustain the comeback, though, and Graf closed with a 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) triumph.

Graf now has her sights set on winning the elusive Grand Slam. The Australian crown, her second Grand Slam title, was the first step on the road to capturing tennis' four major events in one year.

Graf, the 1987 French Open champion, said winning the Grand Slam was a tough goal - but a goal she's firmly fixed on.

"It's a good way to start - the best I could have," she said. "To win here is very important for the whole year, but I have won just one tournament. It's a long way ahead to start talking about winning a Grand Slam."

The match was delayed by rain with Graf leading 2-1 in the opening set. After a delay, officials then ordered the 700-ton retractable roof closed over the new $50 million Fliders Park. The contest resumed 90 minutes later and became the first Grand Slam final to start outdoors and finish indoors.

"One thing's for sure: she's a better indoor tennis player than I am," Evert said. "It took me a little bit of time to get used to the conditions. It's quite different than outdoors."

Light rain fell shortly before the start of the match, which began in cold, overcast conditions - a contrast to the heat that baked Melbourne the previous 13 days.

Evert, whose backhand shots are aided by the wind, lost that advantage when the roof went into place. She complained about the decision to close the roof.

"We both agreed it would have been fine to wait until the rain cleared," Evert said. "I wished I had put in more practice on indoor courts, especially after I learned Steffi had two weeks practice indoors in Melbourne. I was just thrilled when she told me that."

The victory, which extended Graf's winning streak to 21 matches, made her the second youngest Australian Open champion next to Margaret Court, who won in 1960 at age 17. The $110,000 winner's check pushed Graf's career earnings above $1.9 million. It was the fourth time Graf has reached a final in her 17 Grand Slam appearances.

She registered her first Grand Slam triumph last year when she defeated Martina Navratilova, 6-4, 4-6, 8-6, in the French Open.

The last woman to achieve a calendar year Grand Slam was Court of Australia in 1970. Navratilova completed a non-calendar year Grand Slam by winning the 1984 French Open after winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open in 1983.

"I don't think Steffi can get the Grand Slam this year," Evert said. "I think the competition is getting tougher and tougher because all the top girls are playing very well and ready to challenge her."
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Old Jan 25th, 2013, 12:50 AM   #2504
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Tennis: Muddy waters soon clear to reveal an Australian success
The Times
London, England
Monday, January 25, 1988
From REX BELLAMY, Tennis Correspondent

MELBOURNE - Steffi Graf, who beat Chris Evert 6-1, 7-6 in the women's singles final on Saturday, is the first German to win any event in the Australian championships. Jim Pugh, of California, shared both the men's and mixed doubles titles though, in each case, he and his partners had been seeded fifth.

Pugh and Rick Leach were the first all-American team to win the men's doubles since 1970 - and Jeremy Beates was the first British player to contest the final since 1935. Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, the finest women's doubles team since Louise Brough the Margaret Osborne, won their eighteenth grand slam title.

To complete this selection of notes for historians, the total attendance of 244,859 at 22 sessions (eight of them at night) made last year's record of 140,089 - at the traditional, less roomy venue, Kooyong - seem no more than a brave echo from a buried past.

The women's singles final went with service for three games but was then interrupted by rain. An hour and a half later, play was resumed with the centre court roof closed. The match goes on record as the first final of a grand slam tournament to be played indoors.

During the break the players watched television, because Mike Tyson was fighting and beating Larry Holmes, 17 years his senior. After the break Graf won eight games from Evert, 15 years her senior, at a cost of only 10 points. Read into that what you will. Evert admitted that, at 6-1 and 5-1 down, she had a mental picture of 'Holmes on the floor'. But the obvious message was garbled when Evert recovered to lead 6-5 in the second set.

There were two reasons for this. First, Graf tends to wobble a bit - the errors born of excitement - when in sight of the finishing post. Second, with defeat imminent, Evert responded as she usually does - by hitting more freely and playing herself into form. She came within two points of winning the set, but Graf regained her composure just in time.

FINALS RESULTS:
Men's singles: M Wilander (Swe) bt P Cash (Aus), 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6. Women's singles: S Graf (WG) bt C Evert (US), 6-1, 7-6. Men's doubles: J Pugh (US) and R Leach (US ) bt J Bates (GB) and P Lundgren (Swe), 6-3, 6-2, 6-3. Women's doubles: M Navratilova (US) and P Shriver (US) bt Evert and W Turnbull (Aus), 6-0. 7-5. Mixed doubles: Pugh and Miss J Novotna (Cz) bt Tim Gullikson and Miss Navratilova, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4. Boys' singles: J Anderson (Aus) bt A Florent (Aus) bt E Derly 6. Girls' doubles: R McQuillan (Aus) and Faul bt R Stubbs (Aus) and K McDonald (Aus), 6-1 7-5.
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Old Jan 25th, 2013, 12:54 AM   #2505
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Re: Steffi Graf Admiration Thread Vol 2

Neither rain or a roof
USA TODAY
Saturday, January 23, 1988
RICHARD FINN, Gannett News Service

MELBOURNE, Australia - Neither rain or a roof, which turned the Australian Open tennis tournament into the Australian Closed, was able to keep Steffi Graf from her appointed ride to the championship Saturday.

Because of persistent rain, the retractable roof on the National Tennis Center stadium was closed early in the first set of the final, allowing Graf to get back on the court and proceed to finish off Chris Evert 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

Deducing from the results of this two-week grand slam event and from last year's results, it seems the West German wunderkind will be continuing her rounds unhindered as the world's No. 1.

"Right now, it is Steffi. She is definitely No. 1 - that is obvious from the way she has beaten everybody in this tournament," said Evert, the world's No. 3 player.

Added Pam Shriver, the world's No. 4 player, "You can tell she has the right stuff."

In kicking off the new year by winning her first Australian Open crown, Graf won in perfect fashion without the loss of a set in the seven matches.

Noticing Graf's easy passage, Shriver had said, "The destroyer moves along."

So easy was it that Graf was getting bored.

Midway through the tournament, she said, "I'm not getting excited. I haven't had much to do yet."

Graf has posted an impeccable 81-2 match win loss match record over the past 12 months. She has won 12 tournaments, including last year's French Open and the Virginia Slims Championships. Her only losses were to Martina Navratilova in the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Evert's loss Saturday was her fifth consecutive one against Graf without once being able to win a set.

Said Evert, "You have to play an almost perfect match to beat her."

Said Graf, "I do feel confident. I sure don't have a negative attitude when I go on the court."

Said her coach Pavel Slozil, "She gets the confidence from her practicing. She is really a hard worker on the court. She is going 99 percent and that builds her confidence."

Slozil did quickly add, "And when you win almost every match 6-2, 6-2, you must be confident."

Graf carries herself and plays with an aura of confidence.

"It is mostly up to me how the match is going to be," said Graf.

On every shot, Graf is looking to take the offensive, to dictate the play with either her feared topspin forehand or her rapidly improving backhand, which she now hits with more authority.

Graf blasted 12 groundstroke winners past Evert. The 12th was a forehand deep in the backhand corner to finish the 70-minute match.

Said Evert, "Any middle court ball - it is adios as a winner comes back."

Graf is always in a rush on the court, whether she is moving her opponent around the court with her heavy shots, scampering down apparent winning shots from corner to corner or hurrying the tempo of the game by being ready to play almost without stopping. In short, she is in control of everything that happens on her court.

Shriver had been seeded to face Graf in the semifinals. Said Shriver, "It would be more fun to watch if I knew I didn't have to face it." Shriver lost in the fourth round.

Graf's pure power behind her shots is her most intimidating weapon.

Said Evert, "Nobody hits the ball as hard as Steffi."

And being only 18 years old, it is a good bet that in the future, she will be able to generate even more power from her 5-foot-8, 125-pound frame.

In the quarterfinals, Graf had blown defending champion Hana Mandlikova off the court 6-2, 6-2.

Said Mandlikova afterward, "If she hits the ball even harder, I don't know what we are going to do."
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