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Tennis Roundup : Even at the End, Graf Comes Out on Top

November 23, 1987| From Times Wire Services

Steffi Graf left no doubt of her claim to the No. 1 world ranking Sunday when she polished off a remarkable year by sweeping 10 games en route to a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4 victory over Gabriela Sabatini in the final of the $1 million Virginia Slims Championships at New York's Madison Square Garden.

The 18-year-old West German, who completed 1987 with a 75-2 record, became only the second woman to surpass $1 million in earnings during a year.

Graf's only losses came in the two biggest championships of the year when she was defeated by Martina Navratilova in the finals of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

"It's been quite a year," Graf said after winning the tournament's $125,000 prize to boost her earnings for the year to $1,063,785. Navratilova set the record of $2,173,556 in 1984, winning 78 of 80 matches.

Graf won 11 tournaments in 1987, and reached the final in all 13 she played, a feat never before accomplished by a woman.

This is the only tournament where women are asked to play a possible five sets, and it was clear Sabatini was unable to go the distance at full steam. The 17-year-old Argentine self-destructed with 17 double-faults.

"I knew at some time she would get tired," Graf said after beating Sabatini for the 11th time in 11 tries. "I don't think I was playing well in the first two sets. I was trying to let her run a lot to get her tired.

Sabatini outplayed her doubles partner for the first two sets. But, playing a five-set format for the first time, she was unable to maintain the pace.

"Maybe for the first two sets I played one of my best matches, but in the third set I was tired," said Sabatini, who beat Navratilova in the semifinals. "It was a tough week. I played some tough matches."

From the 10th game of the second set, Graf put together her string of 10 games that carried her to a 3-0 lead in the fourth set. During that streak, Graf gave up only 14 points.

Although Sabatini seemed hopelessly out of the picture at this time, she found the strength to win three games in a row to draw even at 3-3.

However, her final double-fault of the day to start the 10th game provided Graf the lift to make the decisive break, and the West German ended the 2-hour, 8-minute match with a forehand crosscourt off a service return.

Top-seeded Pat Cash of Australia overcame third-seeded Brad Gilbert, 7-6, 4-6, 2-6, 6-0, 6-1, to win the $370,000 South African Open at Johannesburg. It was the first tournament victory for Cash since winning Wimbledon in July.

Cash, who won $46,400, said the last two sets were "as good as any I played" in a tournament final.

Cash's victory assures him of one of the eight berths in the upcoming Masters tournament in New York.

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