The Victory at the French Open

Graf’s self-protective armor is understandable given her father’s well-documented problems with tax evasion and drinking. Still, she has always remained publicly loyal to him. “He took care of everything, which allowed me to concentrate on my game. If it hadn’t been for him, I’m not sure what would have happened with my career.”

The Victory at the French Open

In May, Peter Graf, who served 15 months in prison for tax evasion, drove from Germany to Paris to see his daughter’s victory at the French Open. It was the first time he had seen her play since 1997. When Graf left the court, they embraced. And last summer, she attended his wedding. (He and Heidi divorced last March.) “Our relationship will never be like it once was,” Graf says. “Obviously, some things had to change and they did. But I was happy that he felt comfortable enough to come to the French Open and see me play there that last time.”

Sitting in the hotel restaurant, Graf looks at her watch. It is a few hours before her retirement ceremony, and she is beginning to squirm at the impending public praise. “I don’t like ceremonies,” Graf says. “It’s nice that people want to show their appreciation. But my career is in the past now, so I don’t want to think about it. I’m thinking about the future.” Continue reading “The Victory at the French Open”

Grand Slam Victory

Publicly, Graf was the perfect, if unemotional, sportswoman. She rarely questioned a call, but if a match went awry she took to her bedroom in a black mood. “You could barely speak to her during those times,” Gunthardt says. “She didn’t talk, she growled. But no one realized how sensitive Steffi was. They saw her as a robot who won matches without blinking an eye.”

One of the few people who could cajole her into a better mood was her mother. “She was my rock, my pillar,” Graf says, lighting up at the mention of Heidi Graf. She recalls a flight home after a particularly difficult Wimbledon loss. “I was really down and nothing was helping. So my mother took a hand puppet given to children on the flight and began this performance making fun of my mood, which made me laugh. I realized that a tennis match wasn’t the most important thing in life.”

22nd Grand Slam Victory

Graf’s determination and perfectionism may have been off-putting to some around her, but they also enabled her to overcome career-threatening injuries. She has had surgeries for inflamed sinuses and bone fragments in her feet. In 1997, she underwent reconstructive knee surgery that required an eight-month layoff. Despite her doctor’s doubts that she would ever compete again, Graf set out to prove him wrong. When she prevailed over Lindsay Davenport, Monica Seles and Martina Hingis on her way to winning the French Open last May, it seemed miraculous. Her 22nd Grand Slam victory put her within reach of reclaiming the No. 1 ranking and tying Margaret Smith Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles. But Graf wasn’t tempted by history. “I never played for others–I played for myself,” she says.

Her egocentrism and a disdain for promoting women’s tennis off the court remain the only blemishes on an otherwise perfect career. Unlike her predecessors Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, Graf felt that she owed the game only her best tennis. For most of her career, she rarely “worked” a sponsor party or conducted clinics. She refused to get involved in the tour’s business affairs and did not lend her support to the women’s campaign for equal prize money at Grand Slam tournaments. Continue reading “Grand Slam Victory”