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MIKE DOWNEY

No Seles, Too Much Graf Robbing Women's Tennis

May 02, 1994|MIKE DOWNEY

Never, never, never would I poke fun at someone who was stabbed in the back.

But dammit, Monica Seles, get over it. Start playing tennis.

We need you, kiddo. Women's tennis is a disaster. Steffi Graf beats everybody. The whole tour is Steffi Graf and 97 sisters named Maleeva. The end of Martina Navratilova is at hand. Jennifer Capriati is busy at the mall. Pam Shriver worries more about Camden Yards than Flushing Meadow. That pretty much leaves us with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario or pray for rain. Gaby Sabatini wins the big one about as often as the Buffalo Bills and nobody knows Helena Sukova from Helena Rubenstein.

Resurface, Monica.

We know you got cut. We can't imagine such trauma. But the time has come to come back. Monica, it didn't take the Santa Monica Freeway this long to get repaired. This is one of those falling-off-the-horse things. Get back up. This monster who attacked you, who wanted you out of tennis? If you stay out, he wins. Don't let the bad guy win.

We just marked the anniversary of the attack that drove Seles out of tennis. Her wound was superficial. It was the emotional pain that ran deep. Everyone sympathized and told Monica to take her time about returning. Trouble is, the longer she sits, the longer it lingers. You sit around long enough, all you will do is think about it. And talk about it. And agonize over it.

Months later, Seles sat on the sideline of the U.S. Open and said she was close to playing again. But suddenly we are closer to the next U.S. Open than the last one.

And we already know who will win.

Just as we already know who will win Wimbledon, who will win the French Open. Only three opponents can stop Steffi Graf, and their names are Puffy Knee, Stiffy Neck and Iffy Elbow. Oh, once in a blue moon, the Grafinator turns human and gets beaten, the way she was Sunday by peppy little Sanchez Vicario. But for 50 weeks a year, the only time Graf gets feet of clay is when she plays Roland Garros. She still stomps all over opponents, leaving footprints like a dinosaur's.

Meanwhile, women's tennis suffers. Hey, you can only watch Claudia Kohde-Kilsch reach the quarterfinals so many times. Sure, everybody tries hard. Yes, everybody plays excellent tennis. But how can you enjoy a match when you know, you absolutely know, that whatever Conchita Martinez does, she is not going to beat Steffi Graf. That on the best day of her life, Amanda Coetzer is going to finish second. That try as she might, Mary Pierce is looking at 2-6, 0-6.

Postcard to Monica:

Having a dull time in Paris and London. Wish you were here.

We miss your ground strokes and ground grunts. We miss that I eee-arrrggg yell of yours that scared the birds. We miss your hair of many colors. We miss the gossip mongers wondering whether you're skipping Wimbledon because you're off doing the town with Donald Trump. And mostly, we miss your game. You versus Graf was like an episode of European Gladiators. Two wonder women, the toughest on Earth.

Nobody can blame you much for being reluctant. Back in Germany recently, even Graf got threats. Tennis doesn't need to tighten security so much as seal it. Pretty soon they are going to have to throw a net over the whole crowd. I have two words of advice for the professional players' association: One of them is metal and the other is detectors.

As a human being, my heart goes out to Seles. As a realist, my inclination is to advise her to get back to her career, the sooner the better. You can only mourn or whine for so long. You have to move on.

Women's tennis was so close to being competitive. There were two young super-strokers (Seles, Graf) and at least one grande dame of the Grand Slams who still had some bounce in her sneakers (Navratilova) and a couple of up- and-comers who seemed a lesson or two away from leaping to the head of the class (Sanchez Vicario, Sabatini, Capriati).

Instead, what we have now is a CBS special, "Steffi and Friends."

Tennis will miss Navratilova, who has been queen of the hops for so long. Young or old, there wasn't a day in her life when there existed an opponent she couldn't beat. Navratilova is about to retire. I predict she will either become a prosperous businesswoman or backup quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

Chris Evert, well, she's busy having babies and speed-walking down the highway with Kathy Smith. Women's tennis has too many bit players. It needs stars. It needs one of those Fernandez or Maleeva women to take her game up a notch. It needs Capriati to be as good at 18 as she was at 14. It needs somebody who can beat anybody.

It needs Seles.

Come out, come out, wherever you are.

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