No. 1 Graf overcomes sinuses, Date Will play in final for 7th time in 9 years

July 06, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- No. 1 seed Steffi Graf got up with sinus and cold problems yesterday, and seemed more worried about how being sick would seem than concerned about picking up her suspended semifinal match with Kimiko Date.

When the two appeared on the court for the 11 a.m. start with the match even at 6-2, 2-6, the stands were three-quarters empty, and Graf seemed determined to finish off Date before anyone else had a chance to arrive.

Her opening serve was an ace, and the set was over in 26 minutes, with Graf, the defending champion, winning, 6-3, and advancing to today's rematch of last year's Wimbledon final against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

It will be Graf's seventh Wimbledon final in the past nine years.

"I never thought about losing," she said, looking miserable. "I had plenty of chances in the second set Thursday, in almost every single game from 3-2, 4-2, and never was really able to get one. On the other hand, I don't think she could have played much better tennis. She played some great shots, very deep and very long and flat. It was difficult to do something.

"But my thought that night, before they called it, was how much longer she could have kept up with it. Maybe it would have been more difficult if we'd have kept on, but I believed I'd win."

Her troubles yesterday were all in her head, you might say.

Her eyes burned, her nose was reddish, her face pale.

"I'm feeling fine, great," she said too quickly when asked about her health.

No one believed her, as she disappeared under the dais to blow her nose.

"Hello, Steffi," said a British reporter, before her head popped up again. "Do you feel you have to say that?"

"After Martina's comment, I'm not going to say anything anymore," she said, referring to HBO commentator Martina Navratilova, who said Graf makes up injuries and problems ahead of time, just "in case she needs them later."

Graf did say it was to her advantage to have the match halted, but Date said: "I know I was playing great tennis in the second set, but even if we'd kept playing, I also knew Steffi is No. 1 in the world and it would have been difficult to beat her."

But Graf had trouble with Date in the second set Thursday, as she was playing magnificent tennis. Graf's very flat, well-paced balls suit Date, who beat Graf in the Federation Cup in Tokyo this year.

"She loves the way I play," Graf said. "She just has to take my power, and she knows pretty early where I'm going to hit it."

And now she has to play Sanchez Vicario, who also likes the way Graf plays, so much so that Graf simply rolls her eyes skyward when asked about today's match.

"I think you've seen plenty of us in the finals, so I don't think I have to comment too much about that," she said. "I think the way the last few finals have been going, even if people say it's the same match again, I think there has been some spectacular tennis and definitely no boring finals. It's always three sets, and it's always close. So it's just going to be another one, and, hopefully, it's going to be another great match."

Graf holds a major advantage in victories against Sanchez Vicario through the years, 27-8, but in Grand Slam finals, it is a much closer competition.

Sanchez Vicario beat Graf in the finals of the 1989 French Open and 1994 U.S. Open. Graf has won the 1995 French Open, 1995 Wimbledon and last month's French Open.

"I have nothing to lose," said Sanchez Vicario. "I just have to be aggressive and go in more for the shots, try to go to the net. That has been working well for me, so, if I do that, and if my serve continues to be as good as it's been, then I will put pressure on her. I will have to attack and see if the luck is with me this time."

Graf, noting that Sanchez Vicario gives her opponents no easy points, said she, too, is planning to come to the net more.

"She doesn't really miss," said Graf. "You really have to play every single point, and that's difficult over a course of two sets. You really have to be the aggressor and never let up."

As Graf prepared to leave the All England Club, there was one last question about her health.

What would it take for her to admit an abnormality?

"I mean, I'm sick," she said at last, adding she planned to go home and lie down. "But everybody has it once in a while. I have it more often."

The only question left is: How badly will she have it today?

Men's singles, semifinals

MaliVai Washington, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., is tied with Todd Martin (13), Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, susp., rain.

Men's doubles, semifinals

Byron Black, Zimbabwe, and Grant Connell (3), Canada, def. Ellis Ferreira, South Africa, and Jan Siemerink (8), Netherlands, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4).

Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (1), Australia, lead Mark Philippoussis and Patrick Rafter (11), Australia, 6-3, 7-6 (12-10), 6-5, susp., rain.

Women's singles, semifinals

Steffi Graf (1), Germany, def. Kimiko Date (12), Japan, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.

Women's doubles, third round

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