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Graf Has Taken First Step on the Road to Grand Slam

January 24, 1988|Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia — Steffi Graf, the Australian Open women's champion, now has her sights set on winning the elusive Grand Slam.

Graf, 18, won the Australian Open and her second Grand Slam title Saturday with a 6-1, 7-6 victory over Chris Evert.

It was the first step on the long road to winning tennis' four major events in one year.

The men's title was to be decided Sunday, when Wimbledon champion Pat Cash of Australia played two-time Australian Open winner Mats Wilander of Sweden.

Graf, the 1987 French Open champion, realistically admitted winning the Grand Slam was a tough goal--but a goal she's firmly fixed on.

"It's a good way to start--the best I could have," she said after beating Evert.

"To win here is very important for the whole year, but I have won just one tournament. It's a long way ahead to start talking about winning a Grand Slam."

Graf's coach, Pavel Slozil, agreed with the West German teen-ager.

"I think there are still players who have a good chance of beating her on grass," he said.

"To win a Grand Slam is a major achievement," Slozil said. "There have been so many players with plenty of ability who failed to do it.

"Bjorn Borg (of Sweden) came so close to winning a Grand Slam but never made it. He was probably the best player of all time and yet there were so many hurdles in his way."

Evert, 33, winner of 18 Grand Slam events, is a good source to judge Graf's potential.

"I would be surprised if she won a Grand Slam--especially this year," Evert said. "I would be surprised if anybody won it--the competition is getting tougher.

"Steffi is (ranked) number one. But there are five or six players who are all very close behind.

"She's a front-runner. She plays better when she's ahead. It's hard to tell how she's going to handle the pressure. None of the players have got her into that situation."

Evert said she was impressed by Pam Shriver during this tournament, and cited Gabriela Sabatini, Hana Mandlikova and No. 2-ranked Martina Navratilova as among the players capable of beating Graf.

"I've said it before: playing Steffi is different from playing anyone else," she said.

"There are a lot of great serve-and-volley players, but there hasn't been anyone like Steffi--except maybe Tracy Austin. And even she didn't hit the ball that hard.

"The more I play her, the more I'm going to get used to her game."

The last woman to achieve a calendar year Grand Slam was Margaret Court of Australia in 1970. Navratilova completed a non-calendar year Grand Slam by winning the 1984 French Open after winning Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open in 1983.

Against Evert, Graf won the first set handily and led 5-1 in the second set, before the American rallied to win five straight games. Graf recovered to win the next game and force the tiebreaker, which she won impressively.

Graf blamed impatience for letting Evert back into the match.

"The match depended on how I played," Graf said. "If I used my forehand, it was hard for her. If I play well, I know how difficult it will be for another player.

"It's up to me."

The victory was Graf's fifth in a row over Evert in straight sets, although Evert still leads their series 6-5. It was Evert's sixth Australian Open final, but she has won only two.

Graf, who had not made it past the first round in two previous Australian Opens, went through the tournament without losing a set and extended her winning streak to 21 matches.

The $110,000 first prize pushed her career earnings past the $2 million mark.

The match--at the new $60 million National Tennis Center--which lasted only 1 hour 11 minutes, was the first Grand Slam final to be played indoors.

"Steffi is a much better indoor player than I am," Evert said.

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