They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off... - TennisForum.com
 
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post #1 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 22nd, 2014, 08:12 PM Thread Starter
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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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post #2 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 23rd, 2014, 05:34 PM
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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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post #3 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 24th, 2014, 02:11 AM
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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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post #4 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 24th, 2014, 11:57 AM
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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.

"I cannot survive in this world with my honesty." Hana Mandlikova
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post #5 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 24th, 2014, 04:46 PM Thread Starter
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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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post #6 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 25th, 2014, 04:52 AM
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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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post #7 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 25th, 2014, 04:45 PM
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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!

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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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post #8 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 26th, 2014, 04:54 PM
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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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post #9 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 27th, 2014, 12:34 AM Thread Starter
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

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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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post #10 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 27th, 2014, 06:23 PM
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

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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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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

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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."
You HAD to know I was going to respond on this one

Steffi would have had to be plain stupid to "play" with Arantxa in that match…10-8 in the third? Sorry, but even someone who is as supremely confident and talented as Steffi would have to realize that ASV is a threat---Arantxa had burned Steffi before…giving her the chance to be a game away because you were "having fun" or "trying to be dramatic" would be idiotic. In any tennis match you never know when someone might hit a few good shots in a row, or when you might hit a cold streak---especially against a fighter and confident player herself like Arantxa.



That being said---anyone who says the fact that Steffi had beaten Arantxa at the 95 RG, Wim, and 96 RG didn't play into Arantxa's mind at that moment would be lying.

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario Always #1
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post #12 of 13 (permalink) Old Jul 31st, 2014, 07:45 PM
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

She wasn't toying with Arantxa, like she always knew she was going to win and just teased her. She was playing with Arantxa. I wish I could explain it better, but there were some matches or parts of matches where Steffi got playful, where she could use, or even needed to use, all parts of her game to win, and she loved it -- but sometimes she got a little too crazy. The point with Arantxa serving at 1-1, 40-15 in the second set is a great example. I watch it now and laugh because the tennis in itself is hilarious, but at the time I was saying, "Please not today, you idiot." But I'm glad they ended up having one of the greatest insert-your-own-dialog and one-up(wo)manship matches of all time!

ASV: Damn it, will you stop hitting all the lines?

SG: Damn it, will you stop retrieving all my winners?

Me: Steffi, would you try a drop shot a little more often? She is almost tripping over the line judges.

SG: No! She is amazing. I have never seen anybody run like this, and neither have the spectators. Besides, I kinda want to find out what it takes to make her tired. Hey, Arantxa, I'll get your Lucky Charms!

At the first break point at 2-4 in the third set, Steffi hit a forehand to win the point that caught the back edge of the baseline. She flapped her lips as she exhaled. Arantxa had the umpire come down and look at the mark.

SG: Oh, come on, Arantxa! That ball was clearly on the line! Why are you doing this?

ASV: Just to mess with your head.

At 4-3, 30-0, Arantxa hit a shot that caught the baseline and took a terrible (for Steffi, at least) bounce.

ASV: That was skill.

At 5-3, 0-0, Steffi hit a forehand that landed in a well-groomed part of the backcourt, no lines, just clay. This ball had a nasty low bounce, and Arantxa could only hit it off the frame. The ball went nowhere.

SG: That was skill.

ASV: No, that was luck!

5-3, 30-0, Steffi hit a drop shot that Arantxa ran down, and then she picked off the cross court pass for a volley winner. A flurry of fist-pumping.

ASV: I am the greatest!

5-3, 30-15, Steffi was yanking Arantxa all over the court, hit a slice approach, covered the low backhand down the line pass for a volley winner. No response.

SG: Ball, please.

5-4, 0-0, Steffi worked over Arantxa's forehand a little, and was rewarded with a wide one for the first point of match game. A quick deep breath, while her upper lip curled just a smidgen.

SG: Now comes the fun part.

5-4, 30-40, Arantxa saved three of Steffi's winners, but the fourth forced the error and left Arantxa leaning on her racket. The crowd roared; Steffi smiled.

ASV: God, why is she so LUCKY??

SG: See? Wasn't that fun? Ball, please.
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post #13 of 13 (permalink) Old Aug 4th, 2014, 07:20 PM
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Re: They Couldn't Finish Steffi Off...

Only an exhibition match, but still another one of those stranger-than-fiction moments out of Steffi's career. Also gives some insight into why/how so many "talented" youngsters drop out of the pro game. Although I do wonder if some of their disenchantment stems from knowing they are "talented but not that talented."

BACKTALK; With a Match Point in Her Pocket
Josh Young
The New York Times
August 28, 1994

The best thing Eileen Tell accomplished on a tennis court was reaching match point against Steffi Graf. The strangest thing she did in tennis was to walk off the court without playing that match point, which makes her a footnote to one of the greatest tennis careers ever.

But looking back, Tell says she believes the best thing she did for her sanity was to quit tennis when she realized what the sport was doing to her.

Tell, a former top-ranked United States junior player from the 12-and-unders to the 18's, raced through high school in three years to test the pro tour for a year from summer 1984 to summer 1985 as an amateur. When she didn't produce the results she wanted, Tell enrolled at the University of Texas on a full ride. Fed up with the game by her sophomore year, she traded her tennis scholarship for an academic one.

Tell, now 27, says she never looked back. She earned a bachelor's degree with a double major in economics and math from the University of Texas in 1988. After working for a year at Bell Labs in Lincroft, N.J., she went to Stanford for her master's degree in applied math and then moved to Denver and into her current position as a technical applications consultant for AT&T. On July 16, she married a co-worker, Brian Hillis.

"I don't look on my days as a tennis player too highly," said Tell. "I was a different person. Maybe, I didn't really like myself. I didn't like some of the characteristics I possessed back then. Not only did I want to do well, but I wanted other people to do poorly."

Tell grew up in Aberdeen, N.J., one of many nationally ranked teen-agers whose parents poured every available dollar into her tennis. Traveling, coaching and court time cost the Tells more than $10,000 a year, according to her father, Ben, who bristles when the subject of the pushy tennis parent comes up.

"I certainly don't look at it as lost money," said the retired physicist. "I wasn't going to use her as a cash cow like Mr. Capriati used his daughter."

Pro tennis has come under increasing scrutiny because some parents (and agents) put racquets in toddlers' hands and push them through their pre-teen years in hopes of breeding the next Jennifer Capriati or Andre Agassi. Like so many others, Tell never made a big splash on the pro tour, but unlike her peers, the world's best player knows who she is.

"Oh yes, I remember her very well," Steffi Graf said recently. Graf, in her first season on the tour, faced Tell in an obscure first-round match at the North American Open on Aug. 6, 1984, in Livingston, N.J. "She had a match point against me and she stopped because she had to go to another tournament," Graf recalled.

Tell won the first set from Graf, 6-4, and reached match point in the second-set tie-breaker, at 6-4. She walked to the umpire's chair, and explained that she couldn't play the next point because if she won it, she wouldn't be able to play the next match.

It was Tuesday. The second round wasn't scheduled until Friday, the same day that Tell had to be in Indianapolis for the qualifying of the United States Clay Court Championships. The clay-court event took precedence because there were plenty of computer ranking points waiting in Indianapolis, and the eight-woman special event in Livingston didn't offer any. The tournament draw sheet recorded the result as: Graf d. Tell 4-6, 6-6 (4-6), retired.

If Tell could do it over, knowing that Graf would become one of the best players the sport has ever seen, would she have played out the point? Would she have tried a drop shot? Perhaps a go-for-broke forehand?

"I'd probably retire again," deadpanned Tell, who claimed she did not give the match a second thought in the decade that followed. "I don't think about the match at all. It really didn't mean much to me."

Instead, she quit tennis and never asked what if.

"I don't even know if I was a person back then," Tell said. "I didn't have much of a personality. It was almost like I was a robot. I didn't really have too many feelings or know myself very well, in terms of what my values were."

"I don't keep in touch with anyone from tennis," said Tell, whose only current tie to the sport is that her mother, Mona, works as a lineswoman at the United States Open.

Tennis Was Her Identity

Tell's junior ranking history reads like the precursor to a successful pro career: No. 3 in under-12's, No. 3 in the under-14's, No. 7 in the under-16's, and No. 11 in the under-18's. But like many other teen-age world-beaters, Tell felt isolated from her peers at school. A high school party was either a chore, because it took away from tennis, or a bore, because everyone wanted to talk tennis. The sport was her identity.

"I wasn't a thinking and feeling person," Tell said. "I was happy because I was playing well and because I was getting A's, or I was miserable because I wasn't. I think I'm more well-rounded now."

During her senior year of high school, Tell thought about quitting tennis, but she couldn't. "I remember taking off a couple days and I didn't know what to do with myself," she recalled. "There was this void in my life. I couldn't imagine life without tennis." So she stuck with it.

The summer that Tell played Graf, she was trying her luck on the pro tour. Her best result came the following spring when she survived the qualifying tournament at the French Open and lost in the first round to Katerina Maleeva. She climbed to No. 120 during her 1984-85 trial year.

In the fall of 1985, she enrolled at the University of Texas. Almost immediately, she found that the team aspect of college tennis didn't appeal to her.

She hoped a full schedule of challenger tournaments in the summer of 1986 might cure her tennis blues. It didn't. So when she returned to school that fall, about the time Graf reached the United States Open semifinals en route to a year-end world ranking of No. 3, Tell quit tennis for good.

"It got to a point where I'd had enough," Tell recalled. "It was obviously the right decision, since I've never regretted it for one moment."

Ben Tell has accepted his daughter's decision to quit, though he regrets she didn't give tennis at Texas the old college try.

"I preferred that she let up on the tennis and not take it quite so seriously," he said. "I thought she should have played at Texas for a few years, but every time the coach told her to go jogging or practice forehands, she thought that was stupid. I don't dwell it, though. She had a good run."

As disenchanted as Tell is with her tennis past, she has to be flattered that Graf remembers her. Correct?

"It surprises me," Tell said.

And what did happen that Friday in the qualifying at the United States Clay Courts in Indianapolis?

Tell laughs. This she remembers well. "I lost to Donna Rubin," she said.
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