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Old Jul 22nd, 2014, 08:12 PM   #1
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They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

The Thread on ASV, MJF, and Gaby made me think about how a few players had Steffi completely on the ropes and couldn't finish her off in Grand Slam finals. Steffi was great and I am taking no shots at her here, but some of her opponents melted away at the finish line against her. (I'm sure Steffi's greatness was a major part of that.)

I'm thinking - Sabatini in the '91 Wimbledon final (agonizingly close)

MJ Fernandez in the '93 French final (seemed to have the upper hand in the 3rd set)

Novotna at the '93 Wimbledon (enough said)

Hingis at the '99 French

Would love to hear comments on these matches.
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Old Jul 23rd, 2014, 05:34 PM   #2
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

'91 Wimbledon final

If Gaby could have broken for the win, she might have managed it. But since Gaby had to serve for it, that was Steffi's advantage. At 6-5, 30-30, how many other players would have even tried to get to Gaby's volley from that far out of position? To quote Steffi from the 1999 FO final: "You have no chance, so use it." That's one of the things I love about Steffi, and possibly one of her "secret weapons," which ties in with a lot of these dodge-the-bullet matches. In a sport filled with so much talk of the importance of confidence, of believing, of staying positive, Steffi Graf would go out and fight to the last ball even when she felt no hope of winning.

'93 French Open final

No disrespect, but I don't see MJF as really having the upper hand. I saw it as Steffi playing too passively and/or sloppily and once she woke up, the match was going to end the same way as all their others. The one thing working in MJF's favor was this was her brief period of net aggression, and so Steffi didn't know exactly what Mary Joe would do on every point (which was MJF's true problem vs. Steffi). The flip side was net aggression was not Mary Joe's natural inclination, and the higher the pressure and the stakes, the harder it is to play against your natural inclination. Steffi Graf knew it, too, and so knew it was likely she would get some predictable play from Mary Joe to work with at crunch time. And she did.

'93 Wimbledon final

Part of this was No-No Novotna, discussed in other threads. Another part of this is legitimately "Getting Graffed" (all three types). In the fall of 1992, Steffi and Jana met three times in four weeks. Two of them went to third set tiebreakers, the other was a 6-4 in the third. They had even played in the Hamburg semis, the day after Monica Seles' stabbing and Steffi's mind was demonstrably not entirely on the court. And Novotna lost all those matches. Eventually, the thought "OK, how is she going to beat me this time?" starts to take hold. Throw in Steffi waiting for the patented No-No crumble and what you have is the Genre Savvy vs. the Dangerously Genre Savvy. From a certain perspective it was like a Coyote and Road Runner cartoon. You know the Coyote is going to fail, the question is "How?"

'99 FO final

OK, you'll think I'm a crank, but I think that was a case of "Now I have you right where I want you, punk." Hingis tipped her hand in her press conference after her semifinal, and you cannot give Steffi Graf that kind of material to work with -- and especially not if you done gone made her mad a time or two or three or four before. So Steffi sandbags and clowns, but in a menacing (and, to me, blatant) way, just enough to get Martina close enough to make losing really, really, really hurt. Even if Hingis was not consciously aware of it, I do not doubt she had a vague sense of impending doom, of not being in control no matter what the score said, and that's why she was so uneasy throughout the whole match. I mean, when Hingis served for the first set the first time and Steffi set up break point by hitting three topspin backhands, she should have had the feeling she was being toyed with, that Steffi was feeling frisky enough to turn her game on and off at will and has something "special" planned. That Hingis came off her hinges so completely was just a bonus. Steffi was just playing for the roaring cheer from the crowd at another "miraculous" victory and the knowledge that Hingis would cry herself to sleep for a whole week; Martina brought on the boos and the whistles herself.

Others that you didn't mention:

1983 Hittfeld, vs. Dianne Fromholtz Balestrat. Scrawny 14-year-old playing in her first full year on tour survives four match points and wins against a 26-year-old one-time Slam finalist. "Hello, tennis world."

1985 USO, vs. Pam Shriver. Shriver served for the match at 5-3. Said the kid to herself: "It's only one break." Then Shriver had 6-5 and deuce on the kid's serve. Ace and drop shot and on to the third tiebreaker. Shriver had a minibreak at 4-3. The kid wins it 7-4. Said the kid at the press conference: "I think Pam was a little bit angry and tired." Hey, Pam, are you still dreaming of having a Wimbledon or USO singles title fall into your lap when Evert and Navratilova have retired or reached functional obsolesence? Well, just get that thought out of your head right now!

1986 March Virginia Slims Championships, vs. Shriver. Shriver won the first set 6-4, dropping only two points on serve. And she lead 5-2 in the second set tiebreaker with a pair of serves to come -- and lost it 7-5. Broken in the eighth game of the third set and out. Said Steffi: "I thought I already lost it 5-2. I thought I was going to lose the match. But then I just had some right moments." Said Pam: "She knows what she's doing."

1986 U.S. Clay Courts Championships, vs. Sabatini. Gaby had match point at 5-2 in the second set with Steffi serving. Said Steffi: "I was playing much too defensive and I wasn't happy with my game. I figured it was now or never." Gaby served for it the next game. Said Steffi: "At 5-3, I thought, 'Now I really have a chance.' " Come on, people, Steffi is hilarious!

1987 Hilton Head, vs. Sabatini. Gaby fought back from match point at 5-1 in games and another two match points in the ninth game to lead 2-0 in the third set tiebreaker. Nice try. Said Steffi: ''I wasn't getting tired, except tired of my tennis. I didn't think about losing, even when it was 5-2, 5-3, 5-4. I kept thinking, 'You're still going to do it.' Then when I was down, 6-5, I started to wake up.'' Said Gaby: ''She played very well in the tiebreaker. So many balls touched the line.''

1987 French Open, vs. Sabatini. "Hi, Gaby, it's me again!" Sabatini serves for the match at 5-4 in the third. "At 15-love, Sabatini missed her serve and Graf crunched a forehand on her second serve. Sabatini sailed a backhand wide for 15-30. Graf charged for a volley winner for 15-40, then nailed a crosscourt [topspin] backhand for the game." Said Steffi: "She was playing really well and getting good angles. There was nothing to lose then. I couldn't let her control things anymore. I knew I had a chance, although there was still a way to go. I tried to hit harder and take more risks." Said Gaby: "I got a little nervous and a little tired at the end. I thought for one moment, when I was up 5-3, that I would win, but I knew with Steffi it was still a long way off." They asked Steffi about her winning streak: "You always know you can lose, as you are not Superman. Once you know you're going to lose, you're not afraid." Please don't overly criticize the unfortunate women who had to compete against this human diamond. It's just not fair.

1987 French Open, vs. Navratilova. Navratilova serves for the match at 5-4 in the third set, gets to 15-15. Double faults twice in a row, loses the game. Martina the Elder has break point in the 13th game, the wind intervenes. On serve, Steffi leading 7-6. Two backhand passing shots, a low backhand approach to force an error, and one double fault later, the kid is the champ. Bud Collins asks Steffi what won it for her. Steffi laughs and replies: "The double faults." Steffi the Smartass rides again! Said Martina: "She never missed a shot when she was down. She played a very good game, but I was serving for the match. I should have won today." Said Steffi: "After the [1986 U.S.] Open [semifinal], I didn't think we could have such a close match again. I was somehow happy and somehow sad that Martina lost it like that."

I'm stopping here and she's not even 18 years old yet!
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Old Jul 24th, 2014, 02:11 AM   #3
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

More so than any other player, Steffi managed to just stick around in matches. I've compared her before to a shark---as soon as there was a slight opening Steffi had a magical way of seeing it, upping her level of play, and consequently, causing her opponent to begin to tighten even more. Once it happened a few times, I'm sure this phenomenon was in the minds of Steffi's opponents.



Miss Anthropic---I usually agree with you, but do you really think that Steffi was toying with Hingis in the 99 RG first set? She was losing on purpose? To me that's un-Steffi like…usually when she wanted to make an example/point of someone it was done in 6-1 6-0 fashion with enough time to get home and catch the showcase showdown on the Price is Right.
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Old Jul 24th, 2014, 11:57 AM   #4
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Thumbs up Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

MJF didn't trouble Steffi that often. It was just a poor matchup for her. But she was able to hit low flat shots down the line that robbed Steffi of time. I think she did that well in the 93 French final. She also got a lot of help from Steffi who looked vulnerable and off her game. I would have been very happy for MJF had she won. Such a nice person and intelligent player.

I was shocked that Novotna could stay with Graf in the 93 Wimbledon final. She really should've won the first set and the match in straight sets. She was clearly the better player on that day. The second set and first 5 games of the 3rd were complete domination. It exemplified why I thought top quality serve and volleyers would beat Steffi, especially on a grass court.

But then you have to consider the mental aspects of tennis and championship matches. This is what transcends surface and other physical aspects of the game. All that Steffi needed was for Jana to show one sign of weakness and it was over. Graf recognized the moment and seized it while Jana shrank away from it. Instead of winning the final two games as she had done in the first two and a half sets, she wanted Steffi to lose it for her. Maybe a lesser ayer, but not an all time great. A champions' outlook and experience really payed off for Steffi. It would take a while for Jana to learn that.
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Old Jul 24th, 2014, 04:46 PM   #5
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

I just watched most of the third set of the MJF/Steffi French final. Mary Joe played a really good set. Tactically she knew exactly what she had to do and almost pulled it off. She hit the ball flat, hard and deep primarily to the Graf backhand and Steffi was returning slices that had little pace. When MJF went to the Graf forehand it was a low drive that did not give Steffi ample time to crank the big forehand. MJF led 2-0 and had chances for a double break. Graf went up 3-2 and then MJF 4-3. Fernandez had opportunities to win at 4-3 on serve and 4-4 on Graf's serve. Honestly, there was no poor play on her part until the end of the 9th game. At 30 all in the 8th game, there was a long rally that ended with MJF hitting a backhand down the line that barely missed. The next point ended with a MJF backhand approach that landed just inside the baseline at Graf's feet. Steffi, from a defensive position, chopped at the ball and hit it down the line where it landed perfectly for a winner. MJF had played the right shots at the right time; Steffi just got a little lucky (I will say that tremendous skill often leads to opportunities for good breaks at the right time).

Steffi did what she does so well. As mentioned in other posts, she hung around until she found an opening. MJF played a very smart and well-executed match. Steffi wasn't playing her best tennis that day, but she found a way.
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Old Jul 25th, 2014, 04:52 AM   #6
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

Quote:
Originally Posted by preacherfan View Post
The Thread on ASV, MJF, and Gaby made me think about how a few players had Steffi completely on the ropes and couldn't finish her off in Grand Slam finals. Steffi was great and I am taking no shots at her here, but some of her opponents melted away at the finish line against her. (I'm sure Steffi's greatness was a major part of that.)

I'm thinking - Sabatini in the '91 Wimbledon final (agonizingly close)

MJ Fernandez in the '93 French final (seemed to have the upper hand in the 3rd set)

Novotna at the '93 Wimbledon (enough said)

Hingis at the '99 French

Would love to hear comments on these matches.
Sabatini and Novotna I totally agree.

Even though Fernandez 1993 had a three setter, Graf was never seriously in danger to lose that match.

Hingis 1999 is a totally different story. She most likely defeated herself a day before the match. Opening her mouth too much in saying some disrespectful things against Steffi Graf and anouncing to show on the next day that her (Graf's) time is over put simply a lot more pressure on her than she should have had otherwise. From her tennis she had it on the racket to defeat Graf. From her head she didn't and that was her own fault.

She was much more afraid to lose that match than normal and in my eyes that was the reaon why she freaked out like she did.
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Old Jul 25th, 2014, 04:45 PM   #7
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

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Originally Posted by Joseosu19 View Post
More so than any other player, Steffi managed to just stick around in matches. I've compared her before to a shark---as soon as there was a slight opening Steffi had a magical way of seeing it, upping her level of play, and consequently, causing her opponent to begin to tighten even more. Once it happened a few times, I'm sure this phenomenon was in the minds of Steffi's opponents.
In the cases of Gaby, Mary Joe, and Jana, seeing the opening against them was not that magical. Steffi had been playing against them since the juniors. More than enough time and opportunities to learn their tendencies and "tells" and, well, limits. Of course, they have been observing and analyzing Steffi for just as long (or could have been) -- but perhaps that was part of their problem. There was probably a lot of knotted metacognition and meta-fear happening, at least on one side of the court. "Oh, God, I'm frightened that she is not frightened that..." vs. "Just get the ball in play and keep it in play." Girls, you're gonna need a bigger boat.

The difference in their attitudes about losing is even remarkable. Too many players lose a close one and go into a tailspin. Steffi Graf loses close ones (yes, really!) and goes to the movies and works on her game. They made it worse than it actually was!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Joseosu19 View Post
Miss Anthropic---I usually agree with you, but do you really think that Steffi was toying with Hingis in the 99 RG first set? She was losing on purpose? To me that's un-Steffi like…usually when she wanted to make an example/point of someone it was done in 6-1 6-0 fashion with enough time to get home and catch the showcase showdown on the Price is Right.
Get it right, she wanted to catch the beginning of The Young and the Restless, not the end of the Price Is Right!

As mentioned, losing the close ones hurts more than losing, say, 6-4, 6-3 (at this stage of both their careers, Steffi could not produce a love-and-one vs. Martina the Younger on clay). Remember, this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LC_f9CB1Pmg (turn the sound up, way up) was fresh in Steffi's mind, and she was probably sprawled on her hotel room's floor in sympathy with the poor gutted sods lying on the sod at 2:39, but no doubt made a note of the noise the ManU fans made.

And then there's the entertainment value. Seeing the Hero-Protagonist in dire straights makes the victory more emotionally satisfying for the audience. "Do you know that I don't look at films just for pure entertainment, but also with a kind of strange technical interest. I constantly sit there like I'm on a bumblebee and say to myself: But you would have shot this scene differently, you would have pulled off this dialog more believably, and a different light there would have been more beautiful." Steffi Graf, movie critic.

So, yes, she is sitting there watching, like, "The Matrix" (released March 1999 in the U.S.) and not just viewing it for her own enjoyment, but also paying attention to the storytelling techniques and noticing how everybody else in the movie theater is reacting to them. If Neo just stopped a barrage of bullets in midair and destroyed Agent Smith from the inside out without first taking a whole clip of .50 Action Express in the chest, dying, and being resurrected by love and faith, the climax scene would be flat. At this stage, Hingis is Agent Smith, especially as far as the French fans are concerned, and deserves a spectacular demise.

In the first set, Steffi makes errors that are, to me, exaggeratedly "nervous," like at 0-2 when she gets down 15-40, including one double fault that is first-time-finalist bad. "Hey, Martina, you hoped I'd be nervous. OK, I am." The crowd gives Steffi some encouragement, and she flips the switch for four straight points that are Vintage Graf: big serve, booming, unreadable forehand, backhand deep and low, dancing feet, making and taking an opening, and Hingis has no chance. "Well, maybe not that nervous."

Or when Steffi is serving down 2-4, 30-40, she makes a tennis clown college "approach" that is like something Marcelo Rios would do when he was tanking and wanted everybody to know it. Then, the first point at 5-2, Steffi constructs a great point, but then butchers the end with a bad miss on a topspin backhand that she really didn't need to try for. She shakes her head and twists her tongue around and looks up at her box as if to say, "That was really bad. I guess I need to work on that shot more." But then at 30-30, she nails three of them in the course of winning the point! "Huh, that came out of nowhere." Hingis was looking a little tight. And a nice big forehand forces a way long error and it's 3-5.

To me, that first set has too much ominous, menacing Graf, too many stretches where she is in total control to be so bad on a few crucial points.

Last edited by Ms. Anthropic : Jul 25th, 2014 at 06:00 PM.
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Old Jul 26th, 2014, 04:54 PM   #8
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

In the 1996 RG final, Sanchez Vicario served for the match twice in the final set but eventually lost 10-8 in the final set.
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Old Yesterday, 12:34 AM   #9
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

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Originally Posted by MrT View Post
In the 1996 RG final, Sanchez Vicario served for the match twice in the final set but eventually lost 10-8 in the final set.
That's a good one and also their Wimbledon classic. I never felt like Arantxa could actually hurt Graf with her weapons. She was a great fighter and never gave up. That made her a great player IMO. However, I felt like Steffi almost always determined the outcome of their matches. If she was on, she could take the match at will. But if she were off, ASV would make her pay with her speed and consistency.
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Old Yesterday, 06:23 PM   #10
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

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Originally Posted by MrT View Post
In the 1996 RG final, Sanchez Vicario served for the match twice in the final set but eventually lost 10-8 in the final set.
That day, Steffi was really, er, uh, um... playful, let's just say. I am not the only one to get that impression; the very first question in the press conference: "Steffi, probably the inevitable first question. One set 4-1 up in the tiebreak you obviously wanted to keep it going?" And she was fighting laughter even in the first set. "I was trying to tell myself 'don't laugh, don't laugh,' but I just felt like it." Some of the points were just nuts, almost like she was trying to come up with the most goofy shot combinations, like "parody account" tennis. For once, Arantxa was the one doing the slow burn glares: "Will you be serious? This is getting obnoxious."
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