SAN DIEGO — They stood wide-eyed, clutching undersized rackets and waiting patiently for the woman who plays tennis better than the rest.
Steffi Graf, besieged by an staggering number of requests for her time, still gave some to eager young fans Friday morning at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club.
She smiled. She laughed. She posed for pictures.
Then the official tournament superstar quickly gathered her gear and was whisked away in an official tournament vehicle to another destination, another commitment, another demand.
"She'll be back at 3 this afternoon," said Graf's agent to no one in particular.
Graf is the top-seeded player and the top draw of the Great American Bank Tennis tournament, to run Monday through Aug. 6 at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club.
According to Phil de Picciotto, Graf's agent of nine years, he has received at least 40 requests for interviews, excluding press conferences such as the one she addressed Friday.
"I get over 1,000 requests a year," said de Picciotto. "I could easily have her calendar filled every day of the year."
Graf, 20, is about to enter her third year as the No.1-ranked player in the world. She arrived in San Diego from her second home in Boca Raton, Fla., Wednesday night. Here, she has been granted somewhat of a reprieve from the attention she receives in her native West Germany.
She is recognized, but she is not bombarded.
"(The recognition) is not as much as anywhere else," Graf said. "In Germany, for example, it's not possible to walk around like I do here. They do recognize me (here), but it's enjoyable."
This is Graf's first tournament appearance since she won Wimbledon three weeks ago. After a short vacation to Spain, Graf and her family returned to Bruhl, West Germany, for a few days before arriving in Florida.
Graf bypassed the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles--which starts Aug. 7 and includes Martina Navratilova, Chris Evert and Gabriela Sabatini--to play in this event.
"Everyone's been telling me (San Diego is) the best place," Graf said. "This is the first time I've been here. I was really looking forward to this. I like the mountains and the beach. It is much better than L.A. There's not the smog."
Her rigorous schedule has her practicing twice a day with her coach and practice partner, Pavel Slozil. Still, Graf is taking advantage of her first visit to San Diego.
"You don't usually get a chance to play in tournament's you've never played in before," Graf said. "This is different here. You want to see something new."
All her energies will be focused on tennis beginning with her first-round match against Canada's Renee Simpson Monday, but Graf is still allowing time for non-tennis interests.
"I'm going deep-sea fishing," she said. "And everyone's telling me to go to Sea World. I've been to the one in Miami, but they say the one here is much better. I'm sure I'll find a couple more things I can do. Do you recommend any others?"
Opponents would gladly send her on an all-expenses paid tour of the city, anything to keep her off the courts. Graf has appeared in 10 consecutive Grand Slam finals and won six of them.
But she doesn't keep count. There is no number of tournaments she hopes to win, no performance that marks the pinnacle of achievement. She strives, she says, simply to do more.
"I never set myself any goals," she said. "I'm always just trying to play the best I can. That's what I go for. That's my goal. I hope to reach it someday."
Graf said she is constantly challenging herself to reach new heights in her game. She insists she is never bored, just as her rise to this position was never easy.
"I don't think it's been too easy," she said. "I don't think it ever was. Even if opponents aren't that strong, you have to try to play better yourself. It's never boring."
Graf didn't welcome the suggestion that the tournament's draw isn't enough of a challenge.
"It's not such an easy tournament," she said. "There's Lori McNeil, Zina Garrison and Claudia Kohde-Kilsch. It's not like it's going to be that easy. It's a great tournament, especially with the U.S. Open coming up."
It has become standard procedure for Graf to rest a week after a tournament, giving her body and soul a chance to revive.
Said Graf: "I keep my adrenaline if I take one week off, play in another tournament, take a week off. I think this is the best preparation to have. It gets your mind away again, gets you ready for the next tournament. I think it's the best way to do it, for me anyway."
Graf said that while being Steffi "is not easy. I'm getting more and more used to it. It could be easier," she never had the chance to fold under the inevitable pressure of countrymen simultaneously winning Wimbledon (Boris Becker was the men's champion).
"It was a good thing I was leaving right away to Spain," she said. "They couldn't catch me really. My father tried to keep everyone away as much as he could."