Graf ends unique season in routine fashion in Slims

November 22, 1993|By New York Daily News

NEW YORK -- The women's tennis year came to a close at Madison Square Garden yesterday with the identical form that things have taken since the afternoon of April 30: Steffi Graf blasting jackhammer forehands, Steffi Graf winning, the haunting memory of Monica Seles perhaps receding somewhat but still very much casting its gloomy shadow everywhere women are hitting tennis balls.

With a 6-1, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 victory over a game but match-weary Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, the top-seeded Graf captured the Virginia Slims Championships, her eighth tournament victory of the nine she has entered since Citizen Cup. That was April 30, in Hamburg, Germany, where Seles was stabbed by a deranged Graf fan.

It was Graf's third Slims championship title, but her first since 1989. Seles won the next three.

It was a vintage Graf performance, despite lower back pain bad enough that she had to take a painkilling injection yesterday morning. Even Sanchez Vicario said: "I've never seen her play as good [as she did] today in a long time."

This summoned the inevitable question: How will Graf measure up against Seles, who is expected to return sometime next year?

"I don't have that in my thoughts at all right now," Graf said. "What I will concentrate on the next few weeks is to get injury-free . . . and that's all I really care about in the moment."

Sanchez Vicario, the No. 2 seed, was making her first appearance in the final. She is an inventive, high-energy player, renowned for returning just about everything, but she was not herself yesterday.

In the preceding 36 hours, she had endured back-to-back marathons -- 2:57 and 2:34 -- to get by Jana Novotna and Mary Pierce in the quarters and semis, respectively.

She had repeated dizzy spells, several times having to steady herself on her racket. After she won the first game of the third set, she was attended by a trainer and physician and took some extra fluids. She went on to play a terrific third set, making just four unforced errors.

For Graf, 24, the year ends with her 79th career victory, and a No. 1 next to her name for the first November since 1990.

"That's the way you want to end the year, winning this tournament," Graf said, "so it couldn't be any better."

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