Steffi Graf returned to tennis Monday eight months after knee surgery, showing some of her old fire in winning a doubles match before an exuberant home crowd in Hanover, Germany.
"Not until eight weeks ago, was I sure I could come back," Graf said. "It was great to be back on the court. I had to stop myself from bursting into tears."
Graf and Barbara Rittner defeated Meike Babel and Wiltrud Probst, 6-3, 6-1, in an all-German match that lasted 69 minutes at the $450,000 Faber Grand Prix.
The victory brought a standing ovation from the 3,500 fans on hand to watch the start of Graf's comeback.
"I was just overwhelmed by the reception," Graf said. "It was really special."
Graf several times broke into a smile on the court, especially after shaking off early nerves. When she slammed an overhead winner to put her team up, 4-3, in the first set, Graf slapped hands with Rittner.
The 28-year-old looked trim and strong. There was some rustiness as she rushed and missed shots. But the Graf of old was also evident, with passing shots fired down the line.
Graf, the No. 1 player for much of this decade and a seven-time Wimbledon winner, has dropped to a No. 49 ranking. She is seeded second in this event, with her first singles match Wednesday. She will face the winner of today's match between Barbara Paulus of Austria and Andrea Glass of Germany.
Jana Novotna is top seeded in a tournament that features six of the world's top 13 players.
At the moment, Graf is not thinking about playing such young stars as Martina Hingis and Venus Williams, who have taken over women's tennis since she was sidelined last June.
"All I wanted is to be where I am now--back on the court," Graf said.
But Graf made it clear she wants to regain her previous status as the game's dominant player.
"If I don't have that ambition, I shouldn't come back," she said. "In the last few months, I've been burning to play tennis."
Graf last played in the French Open. One week after her loss to Amanda Coetzer, she had to have knee surgery.
She was forced to abandon three comeback attempts--in Australia, Tokyo and Paris. A strained calf at the Paris Open prompted her most recent withdrawal.
"My bag's been packed for eight weeks now," Graf said. "I've been nervous every practice because I've known it's only a matter of time now before I'm back on the court."
In first-round singles, Karina Habsudova of Slovakia beat Rittner, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4); Barbara Schett of Austria defeated Florencia Labat of Argentina, 7-5, 6-1; and Patty Schnyder of Switzerland downed Anne Sidot of France, 6-0, 6-2.
U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter won a tough tiebreaker to defeat French qualifier Arnaud Boetsch, 6-2, 7-5 (10-8), to advance to the second round of the $1-million European Community Championship at Antwerp, Belgium.
In other matches, Frenchman Guillaume Raoux downed Spain's Francisco Clavet, 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-2; Jeff Tarango defeated Belgian wild card Dick Norman, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3; and Sweden's Magnus Larsson beat German qualifier Marc Goellner, 6-2, 6-1.
The Jacksonville Jaguars signed free agent Bryce Paup, a four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, to a five-year deal worth nearly $22 million. In averaging $4.39 million per year, Paup, who had 9 1/2 sacks with Buffalo last season, becomes the second-highest paid linebacker in the NFL behind San Diego's Junior Seau and his average of $4.667 million.
Pernell Whitaker's suspension for alleged cocaine use was lifted by the World Boxing Assn., clearing the way for the welterweight's April 25 title bout against Ike Quartey.
The WBA ruled that a positive test result for cocaine use after Whitaker's Oct. 17 defeat of Andrei Pestriaev was invalid.
"The procedures that they took were not the most appropriate or correct ones, and they didn't even take a second test," Gilberto Mendoza, executive director of the WBA, said.
The tests were administered by the Mashantucket Pequot Gaming and Athletic Commission, which was the host for the fight at Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut. The commission suspended Whitaker indefinitely.
If the positive test result had stood, the commission's options ranged from an extension of his suspension to revocation of his license. The fight's result could have been overturned, or it could have been declared no contest.
Whitaker also could have lost his purse, which was $1 million.
The WBA also conducted drug tests on Whitaker over the past two months, Mendoza said. All the results were negative.
Whitaker has maintained he did not use cocaine. He testified at Monday's WBA hearing on the suspension. WBA rules prohibit a boxer from participating in a title fight for two years after a positive drug test.
Marty Clark of New York, N.Y., defeated Mark Lewis of Boston, 9-1, 9-4, 9-1, in the finals of the U.S. Squash Championship in Los Angeles. In the women's bracket, Latasha Khan of Seattle defeated Ellie Pierce of New York, N.Y., 9-6, 9-5, 9-2, in the finals.