CARLSBAD, Calif. — Frustrated and aching and 1 hour 58 minutes into her match Tuesday night, Steffi Graf ripped off the bandana she always ties around her forehead, shook her head no and left the court against Amy Frazier, retiring from the match and giving Frazier the victory.
Even though Graf had just won a point, using one of her trademark slice backhands to put her at deuce on Frazier's serve, Graf could do no more, trailing 6-4, 5-7, 1-2, and down a service break in the second round of the TIG Tennis Classic at La Costa.
This is why Graf has begun to speak of retiring from tennis. When the fans see Graf win the French Open and get to the Wimbledon final, they stop Graf and ask why she has said these were her last French Open and Wimbledon appearances. But when she limps away from a match against Frazier, a player who had never beaten Graf before, a player who has never had a weapon with which to hurt Graf, when she must stop after the 11th game of the second set to have her left hamstring wrapped, when these muscles and joints and ligaments keep breaking down, this is why Graf talks about the end of her career.
After that final slice backhand the decision to end the match was easy, Graf said, "because it was very hurtful. I could not move another step."
The same hamstring had given Graf trouble at Wimbledon. It is the thought of these constant hurts that caused Graf to say after her French Open victory that she would probably not play there again and to say as well after losing to Lindsay Davenport in the Wimbledon final that she would not play singles on Centre Court again.
As to when her final tournament will be, "that's something I'll do spontaneously. It is something you feel in your heart. As I'm playing, I'm playing," Graf said Tuesday night.
This was not a typical Graf match. Frazier broke Graf's serve seven times. And as Frazier said afterward, "To compare myself in any way to Steffi is not in the realm of reality. I don't really consider it winning, to be up 2-1 in the third. Steffi retired from the match. To say I won, that wouldn't be correct."
After having her serve broken in the 11th game of the second set to go down 6-5, Graf called for a trainer and had her left thigh wrapped. Graf again had her serve broken, for the seventh time, to start the third set.
In six previous matches, the 26-year-old Frazier had won only one set and she burst into astonished giggling when asked if she had considered herself a rival of Graf. "It's just an honor to be out there competing against her," Frazier said.
Earlier in the day, No. 8-seeded Nathalie Tauziat, who was a Wimbledon finalist in 1998, was eliminated by qualifier Anke Huber, 6-3, 6-1, in a first-round match. The qualifier label is deceptive, however. This field is so strong, 17 of the top 20 women entered, meaning No. 29-ranked Huber was forced to qualify. Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, seeded No. 6, was pushed to three sets before defeating Elena Likhovtseva.
And No. 2-seeded Martina Hingis won her second-round match, despite trailing by a service break in the first set, 7-5, 6-3, over Chanda Rubin.
Hingis was down a break in the first set to Rubin, who had beaten Hingis earlier this year at Indian Wells. This was Hingis' first match since being blitzed by Jelena Dokic in the first round at Wimbledon, and Hingis, 18, is showing off bigger shoulders, courtesy, she says, of intense workouts the last month.
Anna Kournikova eliminated qualifier Meilen Tu of Porter Ranch, Calif., 6-2, 7-6 (7-3).
Kournikova was asked if she noticed all the photographers at her match, if she noticed the shirtless guys in the top row with letters on their chest spelling out K-O-U-R-N-I-K-O-V-A, the ones who might need to think about getting a summer job.
She was asked if she minded being referred to as a sex symbol, and, even less sensitively, she was asked if her clothes were a little less, um, sexy than in the past.
That was it, finally. "Is that all you want to ask me about," Kournikova said, staring down a local reporter. But that's how it is when you are 18 years old, tall, tanned, beautiful and earning millions of dollars in endorsement money despite never winning a professional tennis tournament.
TIG Tennis Classic
Beginning 11 a.m.
Ai Sugiyama vs. Dominique Van Roost
Amanda Coetzer (7) vs. Anna Kournikova
Lindsay Davenport (1) vs. Irina Spirlea
Beginning 7 p.m.
Venus Williams (4) vs. Natasha Zvereva