Graf again courts success, but net gains aren't news

September 09, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Imagine being so good at tennis that no matter how well you play or how big your margin of victory, it is not news.

You can breeze through matches at a Grand Slam tournament like the U.S. Open.

You can lose an average of only three games a match over 10 sets and five rounds, embarrass the likes of No. 10 seed Zina Garrison Jackson, blow off quarterfinalist Amanda Coetzer and all anyone does is yawn.

If this is happening to you, then your name is Steffi Graf.

The only response to Graf's run to today's semifinal match against Jana Novotna has been that of business as usual.

"Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Graf Triumphs Again," said the New York Times. Only when she admitted her admiration for Patrick Ewing and her love of the New York Knicks did the New York Post and Newsday find headline room for her victories with "Steffi Plays 'PAT' Hand" and "Steffi Routs Zina; Admits Love for Knicks."

Only if she loses today to Novotna and fails to make her 22nd appearance in a Grand Slam final will Graf be news.

And if she doesn't lose, she will walk into the post-match interview and face the prospect of defending her greatness.

When she beat Coetzer, 6-0, 6-2, in 55 minutes Wednesday, someone wondered why she was in such a hurry.

"I'm not really in a hurry," she said. "But I guess I've been playing well."

Is she on cruise control?

"You're shooting at me now," she said, smiling, sweeping her long blond hair away from her face. "Right now, I mean, I'm just feeling really happy about the way things are going, really, every match. I've been playing some good tennis. My serve is working very well, and the last two matches, my concentration was right on. Everything has just been working well."

There is nothing, she said, that she could be doing better.

She is perfect.

And perfection has been the story of her career. At the age of 25, she has 15 Grand Slam titles, including the Australian Open this year.

Overall, she has won $14.3 million, including $1.2 million this year, while winning seven tournaments and running her season singles record to 56-4.

Which brings us to this current, peculiar situation where Graf's winning brings mostly disinterest.

Coming into this last Grand Slam of the season, she was news. She had lost at the French Open and Wimbledon. At Wimbledon, the loss was in the first round, making her the first defending champion there in the history of the tournament to lose a $H first-round match.

"After four or five months where she had been perfect, almost, she was like human again," said Pam Shriver, after the French and Wimbledon losses.

ZTC And then Graf developed back trouble. It started in San Diego and became almost unbearable in Montreal, in her final warm-up for the Open.

Suddenly, she was even more human.

What Graf's back strain would do to the women's draw was pondered at length before the Open began and speculation was that it would open this tournament to all comers.

Everyone saw what back trouble can mean when former men's champion Ivan Lendl was forced to retire in his second-round match.

But no one considered Graf's tenacity. When she heard the speculation, she laughed in its face.

"I have such desire to win," she said. "My desire doesn't increase or decrease with wins or losses or with feeling good or bad. It is always there. I think you saw in Montreal, with my back like it was, I was still there. I wanted to be around.

"And I think I have a pretty good chance to win here and that's what I am trying to do."

Once Graf started playing well, there was little mention of her back. Few found it amazing that she could perform the way she has, with so much grace under pressure and with so much discomfort.

"I'm going to the chiropractor every day almost," she said. "I'm getting ultrasound, mobilization, stretching, all kinds of treatment."

The treatments take at least an hour and a half every day.

On days of a match, like today, it takes longer.

"I have to stretch very long before the matches," she said. "I stretch about two hours."

She stretches two hours to be able to play so fine that she can be on and off the Stadium Court in less than an hour and have her performances taken for granted.

"It doesn't bother me that everyone seems to not give me any credit for making it look easy," she said. "I would prefer to be pushed a little bit, but I will take everything I can get."

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