'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!