Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Deep Tennis: Golden Age
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Deep Tennis: Golden Age 08/21/2008 - 8:18 AM

SgAs the players make the long, rushed journey from the Olympics to the U.S. Open this week, it seems an opportune moment to reflect on the first player to win those two events in the same year. This was Steffi Graf, of course, the owner of the most remorselessly successful career the modern game has seen. Nearly 10 years after her sudden retirement, however, that career has begun to seem just the slightest bit neglected—not forgotten, exactly, but less remarked upon than an historian of the game might expect.

Twenty years ago, Graf pulled off, if not the greatest, then certainly the most unique achievement in tennis history. In 1988 she won all four Grand Slams and topped them with a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics. At the time, her Golden Slam was a unique example of dominance on every important stage in the game. That’s still true—let’s face it, no one is going to do that again in our lifetime. But what feels equally unique in 2008, a year when Yannick Noah’s 1983 French Open win was widely memorialized, is the fact that the anniversary of Graf’s far greater accomplishment hasn’t, as far as I’ve seen, merited any attention at all.

In a sense, that’s only fair. Tennis fans and media hold Graf at a distance because she always held them the same way. Chris Evert was a beloved girl next door to everyone in America by the time she was 16. Martina Navratilova has wished and worked for acceptance from the people of her adopted country for most of her life. Monica Seles became an instant figure of sympathy when she was, you know, stabbed. Today these women are well-loved WTA icons. Graf? She was the Blonde Bomber, Fräulein Forehand. She stomped all over girls-next-door for a living, never wished for the acceptance of anyone outside of her family, and wouldn’t have had the faintest idea of what to do with your sympathy if you offered it.

I loved to watch Graf play, particularly in her early years, when she marched—that’s what it looked like she was doing between points, marching—straight to the top of the game when she was 18. We’re the same age, and along with her now-husband Andre Agassi, Graf was the first champion whom I could identify with as a generational peer, as one of my own. In the mid-80s, I relished seeing Graf stand up to Navratilova’s overweening sense of entitlement (and eventually surpass her career singles achievements) the same way I enjoyed seeing the “punk” Agassi toy with the “legend” Connors at the U.S. Open.

I heard Graf’s name before I ever saw her play. At the 1985 French Open, Chris Evert was interviewed after winning her semifinal. She had just defeated a much-hyped 15-year-old named Gabriela Sabatini, but it was a girl named Steffi Graf, whom she had played earlier in the tournament, that she seemed most pleased about beating. Evert knew who the real threat was, but I doubt she realized the extent of that threat. The next spring, in the final at Hilton Head, Graf beat Evert for the first time. She would go on to win their last seven meetings, six of them in straight sets. The year after that, in Miami, Graf didn’t just beat Evert, she blitzed her 6-1, 6-2 and showed the legend once and for all that there was no path left back to the top. The future was here. It hit hard. It ran fast. It showed no mercy.

I was shocked by how badly Graf beat Evert that day. Frankly, it was a thrill. In the past, the German, even when she was winning big events, hadn’t had a fully developed game. For every roundhouse forehand she rifled into the corner, there was a tentative slice backhand that she dumped in the net. Now, at 18, Graf’s choppy backhand didn’t seem to hurt her anymore. She may not have been flawless, or even technically all that sound, but it was clear that that wasn’t going to matter. She was going to be too fast and too powerful for everyone else. Beginning with that rout of Evert, Graf played the next two years like a whirlwind, running rings around her opponents and sweeping them off the court before they knew what had happened.

These were golden years for Graf. She had vanquished Navratilova for the moment, and her personal troubles, as well as the rise of Seles, remained on the horizon. In 1988 Graf won the Grand Slam, then added three more majors in ’89. How did she become so dominant in so short a time? At first glance, you would have thought she was too raw to win so consistently. Her service toss was too high, she took her forehand too late, she hacked her backhand and couldn’t come over it when she got nervous. Everything looked rushed, as if she had too much energy for the court and was on the verge of overrunning each ball.

But Graf did dominate, and it was her athletic energy that overcame any flaws. She did it with a flying, flopping mane of blonde hair and the best legs—in form and function—the game has seen. She did it by moving as if her feet were bouncing on hot coals. She did it by throwing her body into the ball as if she needed to end each point now. She did it by overwhelming her opponents with her relentless tempo—the term “playing like she’s double-parked” was invented for Graf, and she was the last top player to keep a ball in her off-hand during points.

Most of all, she did it with her forehand. To call this shot—with its late preparation, high take-back, and explosive contact—a “stroke” is too tame. To say that, like Ivan Lendl before her, she changed the sport with it, is too boring. The only way I can describe Graf’s forehand is to say that she wielded it like a weapon. Not in the metaphorical sense, the way we say a certain player has “a lot of weapons,” but in a very real sense. She looked like she was trying to hurt the ball with it.

SggsWhy was Graf so exciting to watch in the late ’80s? She was attractive, even sexy, but it was the way she moved on court that mattered. More than any other player, Graf played with total abandon during points, then closed herself off and went into a hard shell of concentration between them. Graf didn’t come from wealth—her father Peter, a tennis freak who began training her in the family rec room when she was 3—was a salesman. Still, her on-court presence— total excellence mixed with a reticence that bordered on the haughty—made me think of her as tennis’ version of an aristocrat. A friend of mine’s mom called her “Starchy Steffi,” but I thought this was a sign of class. She had too much of it to worry about what anyone thought of her.

That detached style, which I eventually realized was a product of a highly circumscribed early social life as much as it was a sign of class, would come back to haunt Graf in the second half of her career. After Seles was stabbed by a crazed Graf fan, Steffi was widely scolded for not reaching out to her rival. It seemed chilly indeed, though I’m guessing Graf didn’t know what to say, that she thought the situation was too emotionally fraught for any token gesture to make a difference. (I don’t remember what Graf’s public explanation was, if she had any.) Still, I lost just a little of my initial fan’s love for her as she went on to rack up many more major titles—more, most likely, than she would have if Seles hadn’t been stabbed. By the mid-90s, her dominance almost seemed too easy. Two players, Jana Novotna at Wimbledon and Martina Hingis at the French Open, handed Graf majors on silver platters. More important, Graf didn’t seem to take much outward joy from the game or the tour aside from winning. A step removed from her peers, she ruled the WTA but wasn’t fully of it.

Does Steffi deserve the lack of retrospective attention for her accomplishments, because she didn’t give the sport enough of herself in the first place? Was her success the result of a single-minded drive to grind her opponents into the dust, to hurt the ball? I was ambivalent for a while. Graf had tried to console Novotna at Wimbledon, but she had seemed to particularly revel in beating Hingis after her tear-stained meltdown at Roland Garros.

It was Graf’s induction into the Hall of Fame in Newport that helped make up my mind. Agassi, another another tennis prodigy with a love-hate relationship with the sport, inducted his wife with a classic, over-the-top tribute that was widely replayed. But it was Graf’s opening lines from a few moments later that I remember. She said that her entire tennis career had been worthwhile only because it had led her to Agassi. Strong words, but it wasn’t the sentiment as much as the way she expressed it and how much she was moved that made me think that I’d missed the real reason for Graf’s greatness.

Tennis is a sport of heart and emotion, we always say, a test of our emotional reserves. So it makes sense that, somewhere down there, the very best tennis player would have the deepest well of emotion from which to draw. Graf had it all along. How else could she have gotten those feet to bounce like that for all those years? How else could she have turned such a strange-looking forehand into the most lethal shot in history? What we think of as raw athletic ability doesn’t just come from the body; it comes from something inside as well. Twenty years ago, Graf dug down deep enough to produce the best season in tennis history—in an interview that TENNIS Magazine just did with her, she said that when she won the final point of the U.S. Open in 1988 to complete the Slam, she was so drained that she doubted she could have played another point. Would you have ever guessed that from Steffi Graf?

In this season of non-dominance on the women’s side, it’s worth remembering exactly what it takes to be a champion, to be the undisputed best, to win all the time. That’s worth a tribute.

***

Think your kid may be a tennis prodigy? Can she do what this future 22-time Grand Slam champion was doing at 4 years old? Click the clip below to see.


***

U.S. Open draw breakdown later today.


 
66
Comments
 

Posted by Damo 08/21/2008 at 08:43 AM

ummmmmm firstttt

Posted by rp 08/21/2008 at 09:04 AM

second ?

Posted by Jewell 08/21/2008 at 09:08 AM

Nice to see a post about Steffi - I loved her. Favourite moment: when she came back to beat Novotna at Wimbledon, and Novotna needed a hug from the Duchess (or Princess, these titles, all the same to me)!

Posted by Joel Drucker 08/21/2008 at 09:49 AM

Great insights, Steve. For what it's worth, Jimmy Connors told me in 1990 that Graf was one of the few players whose competitive fury reminded him of, naturally, himself. Said Connors, "She just goes out there and goes to it." He felt the same way about Seles.

Posted by tjames 08/21/2008 at 10:04 AM

I don't remember Graf 'reveling' in Hingis' meltdown so much as expressing joy in how the crowd supported her, and in how she was able to produce quality tennis against a tough series of opponents after so many injuries.

In fact, Graf did try to console Hingis at the trophy presentation, which - given Hingis' comments about Steffi being over-the-hill, and her ridiculous behavior during the French final - I think showed Graf to be anything but removed and haughty.

Posted by Chiconinja 08/21/2008 at 10:10 AM

One thing Steve,

Thanks.

There's a lot of us that miss her so much. Specially now that the game lacks a true force at the top.

Posted by joackim 08/21/2008 at 10:22 AM

Graf took advantage Seles stab and creat a myth around her name.she is a great champion but we all know she would have never won 22 GS with Monica around.
Steffi's tennis skills were great but her behavior sucked.she was a coldhearted b...h who only cared about herself.

Posted by Arun (Go Smiley Fed) 08/21/2008 at 10:23 AM

An excellent write-up about Graf, Steve. I think she played one of the most beautiful (yet brutally effective) brand of Tennis ever (by a woman). And yes - the big IF is always going to hang around how many more biggies Seles would have won. I think the Tennis World was denied the potentially Greatest Rivalry of all Time.

"she was the last top player to keep a ball in her off-hand during points."
That's an interesting bit of info too! :-)

Posted by Master Ace 08/21/2008 at 10:23 AM

Steve,
Nice job on telling us about Steffi and her achievement 20 yrs ago that did not get the publicity it deserved.

Also, if Rafael wins the USO and AO, what kind of Slam are we going to call it? Rafa Gold Slam?

Posted by cliffsiders 08/21/2008 at 10:27 AM

Joackim, I totally agree with your assessment.

Graf was a great, great player, but really had a MUCH better career owing to MOnica's absence.

Posted by Steve Brawner 08/21/2008 at 10:42 AM

She's a great champion. Just for argument's sake, and because I really need a life, I still rank Martina and Chrissie ahead of her in the female GOAT race. Those two would have had many more majors apiece had they not had to play each other. Graf managed to slip in at the end of Martina and Chrissie's careers and before the rise of the Williams sisters. Her rival, who was beating her at the time, was stabbed, and so that left Graf winning majors against a weakened field with zero all-time greats in their prime.

Again, Graf is a great champion and a great person. But it's Martina first because she was beating Chrissie when both were at their best, then Chrissie, then Graf.

Posted by Black Matt 08/21/2008 at 10:53 AM

Stop with the Seles' nonsense like it's Graf's fault. It was a terrible tragedy for Monica, but it CANNOT and SHOULD NOT diminish Graf's legacy. People say she "took advantage" of it like she rubbed her hands, smiled impishly, and said "good...good..."

The fact is, she just kept doing what she had ALWAYS done. Went out and did what she had to do. And though Seles might have prevented Graf from winning a few of her slams, you can reverse the hypothetical game so many people like to play by saying Graf might've figured Seles out, or at least might have played her on equal footing. And she still went out and beat the next wave of young champions, which shows that no matter what happened to Seles, she was by no means over-the-hill in the 90's.

If we are going to deny people's accomplishments based on hypothetical could-have-beens, we should stop, once and for all, proclaiming Roger Federer or Pete Sampras the GOAT. Fact is, if Rod Laver had been allowed to play during most of the 60's, he'd have so many grand slams the record itself would be irrelevant, because no one, EVER, would come close to matching it.

But Laver didn't play all those slams in the 60's, and we can't hold it against Federer or Sampras today... any more than we should hold Seles' stabbing against Graf. The best tennis champions are the ones that don't worry about what they have no control of, but simply take advantage of what they can. And by that criteria, Steffi Graf is, record number of slams aside, the greatest tennis player ever.

Posted by Arun (Go Smiley Fed) 08/21/2008 at 11:01 AM

Black Matt @ 10:53:

That's a very logical post about Graf's achievements - particularly, the reverse hypothesis part. Yes - even before the terrible Seles-stab, Graf had won sufficient # of majors (made special by a Golden slam followed by a triple GS year). She repeated the tiple-slam again in 93, 95 and 96. Is there anybody else who can become a versatile champ like Steffi? I think she is the ONLY player (male or female) who can make a loud shout @ GOAT status on each and every surface!

Posted by Arun (Go Smiley Fed) 08/21/2008 at 11:02 AM

*triple slam

Posted by Steve Brawner 08/21/2008 at 11:14 AM

Good points, Black Matt and Arun, but no one is "denying Graf's accomplishments," and of course it's not her fault that Seles was stabbed. I for one am simply saying that out of the millions of women who have played tennis, looking at the numbers it's my completely irrelevant opinion that she is "only" third.

I would still say that Martina's 18 slams beating Chrissie and Chrissie's 19 slams beating Martina are greater accomplishments than Graf's 22 slams beating Sabatini and Sanchez-Vicario. Plus, Martina was dominant in doubles.

Posted by joackim 08/21/2008 at 11:21 AM

Stop with the Seles' nonsense like it's Graf's fault. It was a terrible tragedy for Monica, but it CANNOT and SHOULD NOT diminish Graf's legacy. People say she "took advantage" of it like she rubbed her hands, smiled impishly, and said "good...good..."


do you honestly believe she was in tears and suffer from depression when she heard about Monica's stab?HMMM?I guess no;-)
Monica was by far the #1 player at the time and beating Graf in all their meetings in majors except Wimbledon.

Posted by nica 08/21/2008 at 11:32 AM

Steve,

You keep reinforcing while I like your columns so much.

Graf was one of my all time favorites, probably top 3, if not #1. One of your great lines was one from 2007 in Great Shots Wrap (http://tennisworld.typepad.com/thewrap/2007/12/great-shots-wra.html):

"I remember her footwork—those Adidases bouncing like they were on hot coals—more vividly than any other player's."

A lot of people take away credit from Graf because they think, and I agree, she wouldn't have won as much with Seles around and because of her non-reaction to the stabbing. In my mind, life sometimes gives you lemons and she chose to make lemonade of it. Imagine if she had reacted differently to the stabbing--she could have quit tennis, she could have lost her confidence, she could have lost her will to continue playing, etc. Maybe we all would have had more empathy for her if she had done any of these things, but we all would have been deprived of seeing one of the best of all time. Unfortunately, senseless things happen all the time.

Regarding Nick and ranking Martina and Chris ahead of Graf, I don't agree. I have her ahead even of both and Margaret Court. I think each one or two generations, we have this transcendent champion that dominates his/hers opposition and wins a couple points/games before the match starts. We regard Pete as one of the great champions, but do we take points off because Andre took time off during his career and Pete amassed more championships? People criticized Federer, up until the Nadal ascendancy, because he didn't have a rival when he was so dominant. The thing is you always have to play the matches, there is no given until the result is posted.

Posted by chuck_ster 08/21/2008 at 11:42 AM

Dear Steve Brawner, do you honestly think Martina Navratilova believes she was past her prime when she lost to Steffi in the French '87, Wimbledon '88- ending Martina's 6-in-a-row streak, and the '89 Wimbledon and US Opens? I highly doubt 'Gee, i'm over the hill" ever crossed her mind. Why then did she play to the age of almost 50?

You state that because Martina beat Evert in some of her finals she's the greatest ever. That's quite the narrow minded view of the all time greats, and discounts the rest of the great players of the 70s. Shouldn't a case be made for Margaret Court? She beat both Evert and Navratilova in Slams. Sounds to me like someone watch tennis only in the 80s on NBC and assumed that was it for women's tennis....

Either way, your assessment that Navratilova trumps Steffi is erroneous, simply with the numbers. Steffi beat all of the top players to win her slams, including Evert and Seles, and Hingis, and the Williams sisters. You may keep your claim that Martina is the greatest overall player, sure, but in ladies' singles, no one comes close to toe to toe with Steffi for an entire career.

BTW, excellent post! Steffi was my tennis idol growing up. The first match I ever watched was the 1988 Wimbledon Ladies' Final. I haven't stopped watching ever since!

Cheers

Posted by Arun (Go Smiley Fed) 08/21/2008 at 11:44 AM

"do you honestly believe she was in tears and suffer from depression when she heard about Monica's stab?HMMM?I guess no;-)"

joackim: Do you mean to say Graf should've done that? ;-) Cry aloud sitting in a corner and announce her retirement the very next day!? *sob sob*

Make no mistake - I was vehemently rooting for Seles when this classic rivalry was @ its peak (too young to understand/appreciate the beauty of Graf's game then). It's no secret that Seles definitely would have had 12+ slams (and Graf probably 20-) slams had things stayed the way they were. Even if that had happened, that's not going to diminish Graf's status among the elites among all surfaces (infact it would've enhanced more due to the fighter Graf even during the domination of her greatest rival @ her peak) But why don't we think in terms of the reverse hypothesis that Black Matt stated above? We've to understand that it would be foolish on Graf's part if she'd simply stopped winning just because her rival was not around - fortunate or unfortunate!

Posted by luxsword 08/21/2008 at 11:44 AM

Keep the retrospective stuff coming, I love it ! :)

Posted by steve 08/21/2008 at 11:46 AM

still think i would rank graf at No. 1—all four majors four times may just be the greatest achievement in tennis, no matter who it came against.

the only thing we can say for sure is that tennis was robbed of its rightful great rivalry of the 90s on the women's side. who knows how it would have gone? at least we got a few classics from them

Posted by Arun (Go Smiley Fed) 08/21/2008 at 11:51 AM

"all four majors four times may just be the greatest achievement in tennis, no matter who it came against." AMEN, Steve!

"she was the last top player to keep a ball in her off-hand during points." I'm curious about, how it's going to matter - if at all, it's going to make it difficult to keep the off-hand ball in control (courtesy - sweating and nerves), isn't it?

Posted by Steve Brawner 08/21/2008 at 12:00 PM

Chuck_ster,

I would not put Court at the level of the other three because a large percentage of her Slams came at the Australian Open, which most of the top players didn't play.

And I think that Martina's playing competitively until she was 50 reinforces my argument that she was the GOAT. Whether or not she thought she was past her prime when Graf started beating her in singles is irrelevant.

And yeah, I'm 39 and came of age during the Martna-Chrissie rivalry.

Cheers

Posted by Joackim 08/21/2008 at 12:05 PM

joackim: Do you mean to say Graf should've done that? ;-) Cry aloud sitting in a corner and announce her retirement the very next day!? *sob sob*

Make no mistake - I was vehemently rooting for Seles when this classic rivalry was @ its peak (too young to understand/appreciate the beauty of Graf's game then). It's no secret that Seles definitely would have had 12+ slams (and Graf probably 20-) slams had things stayed the way they were. Even if that had happened, that's not going to diminish Graf's status among the elites among all surfaces (infact it would've enhanced more due to the fighter Graf even during the domination of her greatest rival @ her peak) But why don't we think in terms of the reverse hypothesis that Black Matt stated above? We've to understand that it would be foolish on Graf's part if she'd simply stopped winning just because her rival was not around - fortunate or unfortunate!


no way.Steffi was a pro-tennis player and she chose right to keep playing tennis!Monica or any other athlete would done the same.
If you read my first post you will see that i respect Stef's tennis skill.what i questioned was her personality and sportmanship.
i don't ask for Steffi to sit on her corner and cry or announce her retirememt BUT i expect from a player of her status to be more human,more sympathetic when someone else is suffering.especially if the one who was responsible was her fan.not only she showed no compasion but she walked on the court the next day to play!and the worst?she voted against Monica to keep her #1 ranking.from all players she should be the one to vote for Monica.
i respect and admire Sabatini's attitude.not because she was the only player who voted'yes"but because she showed that she had HEART!something that Steffi and many others luck off.shame on them all.

Posted by Arun (Go Smiley Fed) 08/21/2008 at 12:12 PM

"but she walked on the court the next day to play!and the worst?she voted against Monica to keep her #1 ranking."
Oh - I honestly don't know that. If it's true, I would be disappointed a bit. But I thought Graf (and many other players) voted for Seles to keep her #1 rank. And I knew Navratilova was very vocal in support of that idea too.. Also, Sabatini deserves some praise..

Posted by joackim 08/21/2008 at 12:19 PM

Unfortunately the only player who support Monica was Gaby.all the others vote no.

Posted by Black Matt 08/21/2008 at 12:25 PM

Joackim -

I know nothing of the whole voting for number 1 thing, so I cannot comment on it. But suggesting that Graf not go out to play the next day to play after Seles got stabbed is ridiculous. If I remember right, James Blake went and played a match the weekend after his FATHER died. If he felt comfortable doing that, then there is no reason Graf shouldn't have felt comfortable about playing even after Monica's stabbing.

Finally, you cannot criticize someone for not reacting to a situation the same way you do. Different strokes for different folks (no pun intended.) Obviously within the bounds of reason, we cannot except people to feel the same way we do. If Graf had laughed and made light of Seles' stabbing, that's one thing. The fact that she chose not to interject her own self into that affair is something else. We tend to lump rivals together so much we make them conjoined at the hip, but the fact is, while Graf and Seles might have been colleagues, if they weren't actual FRIENDS (not to imply the reverse, that they were enemies) then I don't see why Graf would have had to make a big deal out of it, when again, it had nothing to do with her.

I mean, think about it. The tragedy was Seles' own challenge, which she overcame beautifully. But when she was recuperating, unable to play tennis and trying to make sense out of it all, do you think she would have wanted to hear Graf come out and be apologizing profusely and offering heartfelt, dramatic condolences? Seles might have very well reacted with anger and bitterness, thinking, "oh how nice of her to say that, but she sure doesn't seem sad when she's winning slams." If anything, Graf staying out of it could be seen as something very tactful.

I don't want to sound like I'm demeaning what Seles went through. I think she was a fantastic player with an indomitable spirit, and yes, I think she would have won MANY more slams if she hadn't gotten stabbed. It's perfectly fine to think that she could have gone down as the greatest player in history otherwise. But you can't use it when analyzing Graf's own career. Graf was a tennis player, and the most winning ever.

Sorry for these absurdly long posts. I never knew I carred for Steffi Graf this much. I'll stop now. :)

Posted by joackim 08/21/2008 at 12:45 PM

Black Matt i happen to feel different from you.
Monica's father died 2 weeks before the FO in '98 and Monica played in the tournament and even reach the final but it was very different.
if i was steffi and my opponent was stabbed from one of my fans,in MY country and he was set free without spending a day in jail i would feel deeply ashame.the last think i would care about is a tennis match the day after someone got nearly killed.

so you feel it was better that she showed like she didn't cared at all?i mean c'mon think about it.

anyway i wrote my personal opinion about the player Graf.right or wrong i don't know but that's who i feel about her.

Posted by SteffiFan 08/21/2008 at 01:03 PM

I follow tennis because of her. I had never watched tennis before the 1987 Wimbledon, and she just captured my eye. She was just so amazing to watch....so effortless and graceful. She was like a kid when she won her last slam in 1999. Women's tennis has been kind of sucky ever since she retired, but at least the men's side has been interesting.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 08/21/2008 at 01:27 PM

YOu've reminded me once more, Steve, why I keep looking for new posts from you and why it doesn't faze me when you don't post for a spell. When you do, you deliver.

Two observations about Steffi Graf struck home for me. The first was how she seemed to march thorugh her matches, especially between changeovers. I recall thinking much the same thing watching her.

The second, when you wrote, "She may not have been flawless, or even technically all that sound, but it was clear that that wasn’t going to matter." Spot on. Her athletic gifts, as greatb as they obviously were, were second to her passionate pursuit of winning, quickly.

I seem to recall that very few of Steffi's matches lasted more than an hour. If an opponent had extended her to 70 minutes or more, it was a well-played match, despite the score.

And while her forehand was hit a bit late with that high take-back and eastern to continental grip, it was, as you say, a weapon which she could kill with. It was target practice at its most basic level.

I always admired and adored Steffi, even more so because she always kept a great deal of herself off limits. She was elegant, even stately. I see a bit of this in Ana Ivanovic, who somehow manages to appear accessible while not really being that open. But they both share that stately womanliness that I find irresistible in attractive female athletes of the highest order.

She does not get her due, and it's due in large part to the career-altering stabbing of her main rival. I have never held that event against Graf. She still had to go out and win, and she had to do so with the knowledge that she was in some way a factor in Seles' demise, though completely unbeknownst to her at the time.

That she chose Andre Agasi as her lifelong mate speaks volumes, as well. For he is intelligent, articulate, thoughtful, and has done so much good beyond the boundaries of the tennis court.

Posted by JR 08/21/2008 at 01:56 PM

"I still rank Martina and Chrissie ahead of her in the female GOAT race. Those two would have had many more majors apiece had they not had to play each other."
True, but if we're playing "what if," they might have had a few less if the next generation--Austin and Jaeger--had normal careers.

Posted by richie 08/21/2008 at 02:51 PM

Steve - Great post about Graf. I remember one handshake between Steffi and Martina at the end of one slam final early in Steffi's career. She had lost and was a little "icy" to Martina, who was taken aback. But, to me, this symbolized Steffi - all business and not happy about losing.

Posted by Fhound 08/21/2008 at 03:24 PM

I clearly recall the scene when Seles was stubbed. And yes, it was terrible. Dramatic. But, after all, the truth is extremely cold to say: the wound wasn't serious at all (thanks God!), and Seles could have been back on courts 3 or so months later. The wound wasnt on her back, it was in her mind. She couldnt recover psicologicaly, and so she took more than 2 years to play competitive tennis again, and yes, she won the AO (Steffi couldnt show up because of injuries). And then, they met at the US Open, and we all know the result and Monica was never the same player again.
We will never know how many more slams Monica would have won after the stabb, and yes, it was another challenge for Steffi (as if she didnt have already many -just remember her father's case with the law, and i havent heard any of you wonder how could she go on after all she was going through). But as such a great and determinated champion she was, you just can't say that Steffi wasn't on track to get on top of Monica, wich, i certainly do think, she found a way to regain the top of the game, and if you let me say, just as i think Roger will do.

Posted by Markic 08/21/2008 at 03:35 PM

How many slams would Martina have won if Chrissie had been stabbed in 1980?

It wasn't the fact that Graf failed to console Seles, or that she carried on winning (the WTA ain't no charity), it's that she categorically failed to acknowledge the incident, even though it had been committed, successfully, on her behalf. That's like throwing in your lot with Gunther Parche. she was also, after the Navratilova-Evert camaraderie, the player who introduced the 'I didn't play my best today' chestnut to press conferences, and pretty much never gave people credit when they beat her. We've seen better players and better sportspeople.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 08/21/2008 at 03:39 PM

Nice article, Mr. Tignor. I must admit that I never even thought of remarking on the 20th anniversary of the Golden Slam. It seems that despite being the women's GOAT, dominating the WTA for nearly fifteen years, and now being married to Andre Agassi, Graf has faded into near obscurity. She has only been seen peeking out from behind some concrete pillars at Arthur Ashe stadium during an Agassi match. Perhaps she gave the game a whole lifetime's worth of devotion in those fifteen years.

Another point worth noting is how it is impossible for people to have a conversation about Graf that doesn't involve a) questioning her status as the GOAT, and b) reassessing her as a player and person with reference to Seles and the stabbing and a million alternate realities.

Debating a) is bearable, if a bit of a fool's game, while arguing over b) is about as pointless as a tennis ball. The Seles stabbing was a terrible event, unique in sports history, and as such, becomes extremely difficult to discuss in a rational or meaningful way. I recommend simply lamenting its occurrence and focusing on the Graf-Seles matches we did get to enjoy.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 08/21/2008 at 03:48 PM

Elevennis Anytwo? -- I agree with your last statement.

And by the way, if we're looking for others whom the game seems to have forgotten, we should remember Margaret Smith Court. She was, in my mind, the best of them all, followed by Graf, Evert, Navratilova, and Lenglen.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 08/21/2008 at 04:19 PM

Yeah, what is with the total banishment of Margaret Court from the tennis establishment? Is it of her own volition?

Posted by mri 08/21/2008 at 04:44 PM

Steve, Thanks for the nice write-up on Graf. She was definitely a unique player. As much as it can be argued that Seles stabbing took away some of the sheen from Graf's accomplishment, it can also be said that Monica's ascendency was preponed because of Graf's lacklustre form in 1990 and 1991 due to her father's affairs. My opinion is that Monica would not have won eight grand slams in that stretch if Steffi was not distracted from tennis. As much as we cannot grude Monica her grandslams during that period, we need to give steffi credit for showing up in the absence of Monica and winning the slams.
Steffi is probably one of those few players who played tennis for the joy of it and not for any records. She had repeatedly said that records didnt mean much to her.

Posted by Slice-n-Dice 08/21/2008 at 04:57 PM

I suspect that Court's leaving the game so completely to pursue her country life just didn't sit well with the tennis establishment. But I don't blame her, and who says a top player has an obligation to contribute to their nation's tennis futures? That's a very personal decision, IMO, and apparently the one she made wasn't acceptable. Shame, really. Great champion. The best.

Posted by MikeDC 08/21/2008 at 05:26 PM

I love the "Marching" comment. The description is so appropriate.

It is somewhat worth noting that Graf did visit Seles in the hospital the day after the stabbing I believe, and then did publicly speak of the loss to the game resulting from Seles's stabbing during her 1993 US Open acceptance speech. I don't remember exactly, but they were of course kind words.

Whether or not she did "enough" is debatable (some say Steffi didn't try to contact Monica, others say Monica cut off contact from anyone - who really knows), but she never ignored the situation.

Posted by Elevennis Anytwo? 08/21/2008 at 05:55 PM

Re: the "marching" description

There's a great description of Graf from Ted Tinling in John Feinstein's Hard Courts. He says that she would hit a winning forehand and turn away from the ball and start walking back to the baseline corner to receive serve even before the ball had gone by her opponent. Tinling said this was also the habit of Maureen Connolly, haughtily dismissing the point, quickly ready to do it again in the next one, saying 'Let's finish this thing.'

Posted by Eric (Federer is not G - A - Y) 08/21/2008 at 06:44 PM

I recall Graf's career in awe, not only because she was such a force, but because she was able to become such a force in a racquet sport weilding essentialy only one wing! Seriously, a slice as your bread-and-butter backhand stroke? Graf missed out on back-to-back Grand Slams when she lost to Arantxa Sanchez in 89; and if you'll recall, Arantxa had a brother who essentially had only a slice off the backhand wing. Emilio Sanchez was a cool player to watch and he hid his backhand well just like Steffi did, but he never came close to having the success she had. It still simply blows my mind that someone could have learned to mask a such a giant weakness to that degree and succeed inspite of it. Graf's backhand was the biggest elephant in the smallest of rooms, but I suppose that it's just another indication of her heart as a champion.

Posted by steve 08/21/2008 at 06:52 PM

thanks, mikedc, i didn't know that about graf visiting seles

perhaps her iciness is more a perception that came about because she didn't go out of her way to advertise her niceness?

Posted by skip1515 08/21/2008 at 07:10 PM

Thanks for a very well written article, Steve. A pleasure to read.

My recollection of her forehand is that it was the best shot I'd ever seen in its ability to change the direction of the ball; it's easiest to hit any ball back to the spot whence it's come, and far, far tougher to make it go in a new direction. I don't know if I've seen any single shot since Graf's forehand that has as much potential for changing the ball's path during rallies.

I also remember thinking, time and again, how the game had lost an opportunity to have a great volleyer in Graf, since that's not how she was taught to play. She certainly had the athletic skills. But perhaps it wouldn't have been a good psychic fit – a bad match between her temperment and a style of play that didn't suit her – and as a volleyer she wouldn't have been successful, and we'd would never have heard of her.

Posted by misael 08/21/2008 at 07:15 PM

I'am sorry but Monica made the semis of the first Slam she ever played ,Roland Garros 89, where she lost to Steffi, who had just won the last 5 slams, by 6-3 in the third. Steffi said at the time I hope she does'nt become a Monster, so sad that a Monster stopped Monica's brillant career.

Posted by MikeDC 08/21/2008 at 09:15 PM

Here's tidbits from NYtimes articles post stabbing describing immediate contact post stabbing...

Graf, distressed to learn that the attacker claimed to be motivated by his desire to see the German eclipse Seles in the ranking, visited the 19-year-old Seles in her hospital room yesterday. Like Seles, Graf has been criticized for her reluctance to mix with the public, and like Seles, she shares a traumatic encounter with a fanatic. While she was still a teen-ager, Graf watched as an infatuated male fan slashed his wrists in front of her, a nightmare not only horrifying but terrifying, for she had no way of knowing whether the man intended a murder-suicide or a mere stunt.

Seles said because of medication and treatment she had spent most of her time in the hospital sleeping. She recalled her visit with Graf.

"It was emotional for both of us," Seles said. "We were crying. It was difficult for me and for her."

Posted by wimby moon 08/21/2008 at 11:17 PM

Nevertheless, Steffi did go right back out to try and win that tournament that Monica had to exit because of being stabbed. Then Graf followed by voting not to protect Seles' ranking. Graf further kept her mouth shut when there was no punishment whatsoever for Gunther Parche. She should have spoken out at the lack of justice. It would have meant something coming from her. It would have been a comfort to Monica if Graf and the WTA had shown a desire for justice, pure and simple.

Judging from those actions, one might think that whatever tears Steffi shed in Seles' hospital room were more likely for herself than for Monica. It would not be surprising if she was saddened that she had such a sick fan and that he was convinced she was finished, that Monica was superior and so he had to take lethal action to get Steffi back on top.

It's a sad situation for all, but obviously Steffi's accomplishments cannot be considered like any other players as her main rival was stabbed expressly so that she could regain the #1 ranking - and that's the way she did it.

As has been said, if either Chris or Martina had been stabbed early in their careers, either would have won an insane number of grand slam titles, 36 or more. It's disingenuous to pretend that Graf garnered her titles in a normal and fair fashion.

To the person who stated that Graf made lemonade when she got lemons - you're totally misunderstanding or misusing that example. Steffi didn't get lemons, she got grand slams handed to her. That's not what you call lemons. She was a total beneficiary of Gunther Parche's knife. Like I said, it's sad for everybody, we'll never know what Seles or Graf would actually have accomplished but any honest appraisal of the situation must involve recognition that Graf's titles after the stabbing are indeed tainted and always will be.

Posted by mizzy 08/21/2008 at 11:43 PM

Wimby Moon, Great point about the lemons, I'am so tired of Steffi fans pretending that Steffi was the victim,she benefited from the stabbing, I'am not saying that she jumped from joy, but lets get it right Monica was the victim.

Posted by Bobby 08/21/2008 at 11:51 PM

Steve, thanks for your piece. Considering her very significant achievements Steffi doesn't get nearly enough credit these days. She's my all-time favorite tennis player. Maybe I'm biased but I think she's the greatest player of the modern era.

What you said "the last top player to keep a ball in her off-hand during points" is very interesting...

Posted by rg.nadal 08/22/2008 at 12:21 AM

Steve!That was brilliant. Made me emotional to read. Graf was/is and will be my favourite player. Her dominating years were the best tennis years for me. Thank you for writing this lovely piece.

Posted by nickmagoo 08/22/2008 at 02:06 AM

Honestly, the only two people who should care about Graf's response to Seles' stabbing are Graf and Seles. It is impossible for any of us to know what our own behavior (for better or worse) would be in that situation, it's just subjective conjecture and pointless. Graf was obviously ill at ease in the spotlight and had some deeply personal emotional stuff to deal with (check out this old SI article - http://www.geocities.com/steffiarticles/94-03.htm). It's good to see her so much happier now with AA and family.

Also - I would've voted against Seles retaining #1, because that was the right thing to do, even if it wasn't the sentimental thing. Whenever any player is off the court due to injury for an extended period, his or her ranking goes down - and then he or she fights to get that ranking back - period!

Posted by aussiemarg(lowner of legs unwrapped) 08/22/2008 at 03:45 AM

we have seen some great tennis women in our past and present,stefi graff ans the f.hand will always be cemented in my mind,great athlete,serena, venus,hingis and recently retired justine,but in my mind,there is only one,whose record today has not be broken,by men or women,margaret court,a true lagend,the goat,margarets record in singles,doubles,mixed doubles,is outstanding,margaret once said,she wished she had played lefhanded,she would have won more titles,margaret was lefthanded,played with her right,also her training methods,for her day,were like the men,she trained hard with weights,to as she said to amke her stronger,regardless of her views,christian beliefs,we must judge her on her incrediable record,maragaet court,legend and goat status.

Posted by steven 08/22/2008 at 05:42 AM

Like it or not,Seles will always be mentioned,and will always be discussed when we talk about Graf,they will always be tied together...We the fans missed out on what could have been an even bigger rivalry.Remember Evert and Navrotilova pushed eachother ,and like those two legends,Monica and Steffi could'nt have be more different.

Posted by barry 08/22/2008 at 11:28 AM

That video is priceless - many thanks for the tribute to Steffi, Steve.

I bought the graphite Dunlop 'golden slam' racket marketed the following year with my first 'real' paycheck.

Suppose the same reason Justine draws little love in the U.S. is the same for Steffi - both are introspective individuals. Though Justine somewhat came out of her shell last year after reconciliation with her family, neither will be mistaken for the arrogance or drive for attention wrapped within so many personalities inside the sports and entertainment fields.

To discover from a linked video the admiration Steffi and Justine have for one another is just a good ol' scoop of accidental happiness icing on the cake.

Again, many thanks for the retrospective.

Posted by Cynthia 08/22/2008 at 11:42 AM

I always thought that Steffi's Grand Slam total was due to the fact that Monica was taken out of the game while she was still improving, and if not for the fact, Monica would have been GOAT.

Posted by EP 08/22/2008 at 01:07 PM

As already mentioned by 2 or 3 of us here, I myself also don't see the point why Margaret Smith Court has not been mentioned. As far as Court's achievements are concerned, I believe she is really the "Greatest Female Tennis Player of All Time". Next to her would be Martina Navratilova then Doris Hart. Yes, even Doris Hart is also worth mentioning, I guess. She has made records which could not be broken just like that.

I even think that "Greatest Female Tennis Player of All Time" is an understatement. "Greatest Tennis Player of All Time" could be appropriate. No man has ever had Court's achievements, even with Martina's and Doris'.

In the entire history of tennis, only of three them have achieved the so-called boxed set (winning every possible Slam tournament-singles, doubles and mixed doubles). Billie Jean King only lacked an Australian Open mixed doubles title, and Serena Williams only lacks an Australian and a French Open mixed doubles to achieve this. I think it will still be very possible for Serena to have a boxed set.

Aside from the boxed set, each of them has set records of only their own. Hart won the "triple crown" singles, doubles, and mixed doubles championships)in 1951 at Wimbledon, playing the finals of all three events on the same day. She also won it at the French Championships in 1952 and the U.S. Championships in 1954. She won 35 Slam titles (6 singles, 14 in doubles, and 15 in mixed doubles. Navratilova, won 59 slams all in all-18 singles, 31 doubles and 10 mixed doubles, which is the most number in the Open Era. She is also record holder in the doubles category. Court won 62 Slam titles overall (24 singles, 19 doubles, and 19 mixed doubles), more than any other player. She is the first woman during the open era (1970) to win all four Slam singles titles in the same calendar year. She is the only person to have won all 12 Slam events at least twice. She also is unique in having completed a boxed set before the start of the open era in 1968 and a separate boxed set after the start of the open era.

I think Court's achievements weigh more than Martina's and Doris'. They are sufficient enough for her to be called the "Greatest of All Time".

Graf's achievements are only as far as the singles category, even Sampras', Agassi's and Federer's, which is only one category. I observe that people, including experts, tend to base greatness on the singles tournament only. The doubles and mixed doubles tend to be overlooked and I really don't know the reason why. I think watching players play in pairs is also fun since another totally different skill of a player is displayed and tested: the ability to play in a team.

A true great player is not just one who has the ability to win when playing just for himself but also when another is involved. A true great player must be versatile and flexible. It really takes a lot to have these skills. I think this is really one thing tennis is all about.

If tennis were only an individual sport why do tournaments, including Slams, have the doubles and the mixed doubles category?

Although in may be in the Olympics, which is may may not be technically, a Slam, I find it refreshing for Roger Federer to get some notice and credit in winning the doubles category after years of all the attention he's been having winning the singles category. Maybe he (also other top players) could start doing it in the Slams.

Posted by jp 08/22/2008 at 02:51 PM

Oke, she was a great player but come on, the way you wrote your peace is like a 12 year old who talks about his great idol. The simple fact is that she is one of the greatest players in the history of the game, you can't deny that. But i would expect a little bit more serious writing for this site then stuff wich could be written by a child...

Posted by sally 08/22/2008 at 05:30 PM

imo, steffi is the goat, but i never felt she enjoyed it and she seemed soul less and miserable most of the time. and if seles hadn't been stabbed, how many slams would graf have?

Posted by tennissance 08/23/2008 at 11:12 AM

How about an age of enlightenment?

Posted by VE 08/23/2008 at 12:17 PM

So much to say, but let me start here...I began coming to Tennis.com as a disciple of Bodo, but as of today, he has been eclipsed by Tignor, full stop.

I'm a huge Steffi fan, who considers her to be the GOAT regardless of gender, I have to say wonderful, wonderful piece. For anyone who questions her dominance, simple stat: between 1987 and 1997, Steffi Graf was never NOT FOR ONE WEEK ranked lower than No. 2. If Federer or Nadal can hang for another 5 years, I'll consider his GOAT application with similar reverence.

Momentarily, I'll channel the writer of the other blog here in saying that Martina's doubles accomplishments should own her spot, hail, maybe a subwing, in the doubles wing of the Hall of Fame, but it's a different game. And it's a game that's not on the same level as singles. (For anyone in denial, see Federer/Wawrinka vs. Bryan/Bryan)

In singles, Steffi was the best (yeah, Court, 11 in Australia, totally agree).

I also ask what if:

What if Maureen Connolly hadn't had that terrible accident?

What if Martina Hingis had signed with Adidas and not ruined her feet?

What if Serena Williams had failed her first screen test so miserably no one in Hollywood would give her a second look?

I'll tell you what, we could be discussing three other legitimate GOAT contenders right now. The deal is you have to play the cards that are dealt. Specifically, in sport, you have to play the matches, end of story. I view things simply in regard to Monica, much like the others who were denied untouchable greatness due to circumstance. we'll never know, that wasn't how the story played out. If Gunther Parche were named Gustavo Rodriguez and was a Sabatini fan, would some many view Graf's legacy with such questions? To deny Graf's greatness because her chief rival was unable (or decided not) to play for two years is to forget that who matters in the arena of sport is the person on the court. To take this tack is to discount the game, the heart and the desire of the 127 other players who showed up every time Steffi won a major in Monica's absence. An irrational decision that I'd call unfair, at best; appalling at worst. For the record, Steffi was 6-4 against Monica BEFORE the stabbing and they split their last two matches the 92 Wimbledon and 93 Aussie Open finals. Seles had won the prior encounter to those two, that fabled 92 French Open final 10-8 in the third...she was not exactly dominating Steffi as people might believe. http://tinyurl.com/yq6bab


Steffi Graf was the consummate competitor. In fact, she reminds me (in terms of on-court demeanor) of my current oft-injured WTA fave, Maria Sharapova. Both women share an "iciness" that make them appear coolly unfazed by the grit, grime and gamesmanship of competition. Both play brutal, relentless tennis with single-minded focus and indomitable wills to win. Steffi (and Maria) are who they are because they can tune out the noise, because they want to win more than their opponents and because their sometimes ugly, technically bereft games are built upon mental bedrock to slay lesser rivals.

Here, here Steve. There's only one player who produced a Golden Slam; only one player who won every major four or more times; one player who spent 377 WEEKS at No. 1. Her name is Steffi Graf, thanks for doing her justice.

Posted by Tony 08/23/2008 at 02:55 PM

Ve, great post. This string of posts gets repeated every now and then, with the same old arguments hashed and rehashed. Perhaps we should all be content with the judgment of no less than Chris Evert herself. For Evert, Steffi Graf was the greatest female tennis player of all time, the GOAT of singles in tennis. A case may be made for Martina being the all around greatest because of her record in doubles and mixed doubles. Still, Evert knows her history, and Graf was the best of all time, the greatest woman tennis player of all time. Margaret Court still has the overall record in slams won, but surface must be considered as well. Court won most of her slams when three of the four slams were grass court events. Today, and here the Nadal-Federer rivalry shows it well, the ability to win on ALL surfaces is a major criterion for greatness. Steffi's record: 7 Wimbledons (which Seles dismally never won, even at the height of her supposed powers), 6 Roland Garros, 5 U.S. Opens, and 4 Australian Opens, remains unmatched, and probably will never be matched again. Oh, I forgot, there was that Olympic Gold Medal as well, and how many year-ending championships did she win??? Plus the overall streak at number 1... enough said.

Posted by O.Wood 08/23/2008 at 04:42 PM

Saying " I relished seeing Graf stand stand up to Navratilova's overweening sense of entittlement" only shows your ignorance,and hostility.
Martina had every right to feel natural joy,and pride in her accomplishments.
When I read your statement,the thought I had was "Oh,another one of those".Another mean spirited little man bashing Martina.They were pathetic when she was playing,and they are even sadder now.
I have certainly had enough negative writers in the sport of tennis.Writers who have no real sense of journalistic perspective.
They are more likely to go on about their own personal loves,and hates.I suppose that's fine if your're a teenager on a message board.
Dull,and tiresome.

There is an article by Bruce Schoenfeld on Forbes.com;"Why is tennis writing so bad"?Good question Mr Schoenfeld.I collect tennis books,and magazines and I can honestly say the level has fallen dramatically.
Probably time to let the subscription to Tennis magazine go.

Posted by Rain 08/24/2008 at 09:24 AM

“””Graf’s 6 Roland Garros Titles”””

Pre-stabbing: Graf got only 2 titles while Seles got 3 “consecutive” titles and was the defending champion. At this site, Seles defeated Graf in 2 finals.

“”””Graf’s 4 Australian Open Title:”””

Pre-stabbing: Graf got only 2 titles while Seles got 3 “consecutive” titles and was the defending champion. At this site, Seles was undefeated since her debut. She defeated Graf once before the stabbing incident.

“”””Graf’s 5 US Open Titles:””””

Pre-stabbing: Graf and Seles got the same number of titles of 2 each but Seles was the defending champion for 2 "consecutive" years but unable to defend her title on the 3rd time because she was stabbed.

“”””Graf’s 7 Wimbledon Titles:”””

Pre-stabbing: Graf amassed 5 titles while Seles got nothing except that one final where she lost it to Steffi. But then again, Seles was prevented to grunt otherwise she will be finalized. Just imagine, she supposed to focus mainly on her game but unfortunately she has to keep in her mind not to grunt? In simple word, she was not allowed to play her normal game.

Pre stabbing: Graf got only 11 Slams compare to the young career of Seles with 8 Slams.
Note: Seles was the fastest among the active WTA then to garner slam, second to Margarett Court.

Post stabbing: Graf racked up another 11 Slams mostly during the absence of Monica Seles.

“””Ohhh that Overall Number 1 streak”””

Pre stabbing: An aging 22 yrs. old Graf was less than 190 weeks at the top, or so, when the surging 17 yrs. old Seles kicked her ass out of that spot.

Post stabbing: The miserable second rate Graf resumed the #1 spot right after the stabbing at the very next tournament she played. She “did not re-acquire” that spot by winning points against her opponents but someone at the courtside plunged the knife to kill unstoppable Monica, then to admit later that he did it to make Steffi get back to No. 1 again and winning more slams. This simple word from the very mouth of the man who orchestrated the evil act was a testament that the score between Monica and his idol Graf was terrible. Otherwise he need not commit a…..crime.

Seles was holding top spot strongly for 2 consecutive years and if you Grafters, believed that Steffi will regain that spot then the more the Selesians believed that Monica is locked to No. 1 as she was clearly peaking up. She just turned 19 at the time of stabbing compare to Graf who is 22 years old then. A single week for Steffi to get back at the top spot again is hard to imagine because based on Slams and Numbers Seles undeniably overshadowed everybody including Graf.


“”and how many year-ending championships did she (GRAF) win?””

Here, to add more to your disappointment, Seles was the 3 “consecutive” title holder and was the defending champion … See? What else?

The 6-4 h2h in favor of Graf does not mirror true competitiveness between them, because most of those wins of Steffi were against to the new & upcoming Seles. But look at the stage where they played as seeded 1 & 2, Seles was better than Graf.

Unfair to compare the untainted and great accomplishment of Navratilova to that of Graf.

Blasphemy to put Graf above Margarett Court.

GOAT is a product of KADism.

Sorry for the long post.

Posted by jbradhunter 08/24/2008 at 01:35 PM

Thanks Steve!
Steffi was my favorite player beginning when I watched her on TV, beating Capriati in the 4th round at the USO in 1990-- the forehand, the ponytail flying up, the intensity she brought and focused into winning matches-- Monica had this too-- both of these ladies were amazing tennis champions..
When thinking about their careers though, I go back to two matches where a "full flight" Steffi could just answer everything Monica threw at her... They played a final on hardcourt in Houston in 1991? and Steffi was on fire- and she cried when she beat Seles 3 and 4 I think it was- and Steffi was so dominant over Monica when they played that 92 Wimby Final- right after the epic FO final Monica gutted out
And I also remember Chris Evert saying during commentary that Steffi did in fact go visit Monica in the Hamburg hospital and that the 2 ladies could do nothing much more than cry
I still give Steffi the edge when comparing the two players-- and Steffi's play in 95-96 was her best IMO-- just rewatching the 2 US Open Finals that Seles and Graf played against each other- I'm surprised to see Steffi hitting her forehand harder than Monica as well as the increased effectiveness of her slice backhand-- same Monica it seemed but a stronger, faster, more accurate Steffi

Posted by roGER 08/25/2008 at 05:57 PM

Something that may be relevant here is the fact that Steffi is German; we Northern Europeans tend to keep our emotions under wraps. It's just the way our culture works.

But people not familiar with that culture might make the mistake of thinking we're all cold, emotionless, haughty, whatever whatever...

I'm not saying Steffi is or was he life and soul of the party - she is an introvert, and her iron determination to win was sometimes scary to see. Perhaps even that was caused by being 'in the zone' - I remember one interview where she claimed she was actually surprised when the umpire said "Game, set and match" because she'd been so focussed on playing point by point and didn't realise what the score was.

It's a good time to remember her total dominance - the current state of the women's game shows us that such "reigns" are not automatic or inevitable.

Posted by steffi_fan 08/28/2008 at 05:49 AM

Thanks for this piece. Steffi has contributed much to tennis.

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