The whole problem with Steffi Graf is that she isn't ours. Barely 20, she is the embodiment of everything that has shot American sport to smithereens. The world is closing in on basketball. If those Taiwanese tykes ever grow up, baseball is finished. Men's golf and tennis are long gone across the pond. And now the rivalry of the age, our beloved and very own Chrissie and Martina (well, semi-very own), is a lounge act—Lainie Kazan meets Connie Stevens—in the face of this...this Fr‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√üulein!
Perhaps the hardest part to swallow is that Graf is so humble, soft-spoken and polite, and she's not even a damn Kommunist or anything. And such an infant, too; she hasn't really even started her career. It's downright impossible to harbor jealousy, resentment or dislike for her. And when she suffers one of her rare defeats—as at the French Open two weeks ago—she becomes even more likable. After Arantxa Sanchez of Spain pulled off the historic upset in the championship match, Graf, who was battling a bug that left her visibly weakened, warmly embraced her conqueror at the net.
Moreover, there's the name: Stephanie Maria. Her parents, Peter and Heidi, traditionalists that they are, could have chosen Uta or Silke or Sabine. But neeeeiiin. They went with Steffi. If that isn't just too, too American precious, check the next USA Today rainbow chart of the most popular names for female babies and see if Steffi isn't somewhere in there with Ashley. Heather and Tiffany.
What's more—what's hardly believable even—is that Graf has already won all those tennis tournaments. In the process she has buried the Evertilova axis, won the Grand, uh. Golden Slam (don't forget the gold medal she earned in Seoul after winning the four majors last year), played doubles with the Princess of Wales, hobnobbed backstage with Michael Jackson, rushed around like a Küchen with her head cut off and become one of the more recognizable citizens on any planet without a hint of undergoing a personality change. Without, in fact, becoming a star.
June 25, 1989
That's the other deal with Graf. We can love or hate or at least talk about international stars because they act the role. For instance, Katarina Witt, who comes from the other side of the Berlin Wall from Graf, haughtily skated into the public consciousness with her magnificent nose pointed due north. The Graf nose—alas, an appendage along the lines of Dick Tracy's chin—seems to elicit more response than the wicked Graf forehand, the most dominant stroke of the modern era. Otherwise, she is always just there. Rushing to the next point. Hoisting the trophy. Playing the cards. Cooking the noodles. Going to the bed—at nine o'clock sharp.
The Graf era has been longer arriving than it should have been. Everybody in tennis talks about the amazing longevity of Navratilova and Evert, but did they stay on top so long because they were so good? Or was it because Tracy Austin and Andrea Jaeger, who should have supplanted them somewhere in the early '80s, turned out to be so bad, or at least so broken down? They shoot two-handed baseliners, don't they? Years after Austin and Jaeger abandoned the natural chain of succession, into the breach came, nay, charged, the young belle of Bruhl.
Says tour player Isabel Cueto of Aspach, West Germany, "I see Steffi in tournament when she was eight years old. She was running between the points to receive the serve. Her forehand wasn't even her best shot then. She had such a beautiful backhand. No slice or topspin, no nothing. I was nine. My parents and I couldn't believe it. They knew I would need some more lessons."
Adds another player, Eva Pfaff of K‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√ánigstein, West Germany, "I play Steffi when she was 12 and so tiny I could hardly see her over the net. She looked like a gymnast. She was running into the corners all the time. I couldn't imagine she had such a forehand, but I found out. I won very close. Then, yes, of course, she rushed away. Three years later we play again. It was like I was nonexistent on the court."
Still. Graf didn't win her first pro tournament until three years ago, in Hilton Head, S.C. Now she has won 36. She didn't win a Grand Slam title until the French Open in 1987. Last year, she began a run of five straight Grand Slam triumphs and planted herself in a zone of domination that sent everyone else scurrying for cover. Although that glorious run ended with Sanchez's 7-6, 3-6, 7-5 wins over her in Paris, let's not forget that the defeat was only the second in 47 matches for Graf in 1989, and that she remains the odds-on favorite to begin another string of major championships, starting with Wimbledon, which gets under way in England next week. As it is, she just missed joining Maureen Connolly, Margaret Court and Navratilova as the only women to have won six straight Grand Slam crowns.
"Steffi will not reach her best form for two or three years at least," says her 33-year-old coach, Pavel Slozil. "To satisfy the game, that's the goal." That sounds like some kind of mystery-speak, as if Graf's only worthy opponent is tennis itself. In fact, despite the loss to Sanchez, Graf's nearest rival is Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina. On the eve of last year's Wimbledon, the Sunday Times of London featured the beauteous Sabatini on the cover of its magazine section with this mysterious billing: THE NEW QUEEN OF WIMBLEDON.
But Sabatini is 3-16 against Graf. Of the last 11 sets they have played in Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympics, Graf has won 10. In April, Sabatini beat Graf at a tournament in Amelia Island, Fla., but five weeks later in Berlin, Graf thrashed her 6-3, 6-1. The one time they have played at Wimbledon, in 1987, Sabatini won the first set 6-4 and in the next two sets scratched out two games. When it comes to Sabatini, the Sunday Times suffers from the syndrome expressed in a Bruce Hornsby lyric: "Oh my, my, when she walks on by. It's hard not to get lost in the view."
In the view of another Argentine player, Patricia Tarabini, Graf is "so simple to be so good. She laughs with me. She plays pinball. She is my friend. Gaby just says yes, no. I like Steffi more. She is just another player off the court. She is not like: I am Number One and you guys get out of here. She is so plain, so normal."
Graf has become abnormally preeminent so quickly and at such a young age that the plain folks back in Bruhl hardly know what to do about her either. Bürgermeister Gunther Reffert has bestowed on her gifts of a dog and a horse and has named a small playground and park in the middle of town after her. Town fathers are in dismay over what honors should follow a second Grand Slam. "We can hardly give her a zoo," says Reffert, laughing. "And if we put a monument in the park, well, we cannot make it look like a graveyard. Steffi is still a teenager!"
At least she was when the Bürgermeister said that. Graf turned 20 on June 14, and until she discovers the first touch of gray or does something to surpass the feats of her final teen year (join the men's tour?), she may remain—as one of her musical faves, Joe Jackson, sings in his current hit, Nineteen Forever.
West Germany has two Bruhls and almost a third. Buhl, which tends to confuse matters further. "The Germans," said a famous German. Goethe, "make everything difficult, both for themselves and for everyone else." Buhl, which is south of Baden-Baden, is known for its luscious Zwetschgen (plums). The Bruhl between Bonn and Cologne is usually identified by a splendid castle that's sometimes used for affairs of state. With Graf's ascendance, however, that Bruhl has become a virtual non-place. As a West German telephone information operator recently asked. "Bruhl? Do you want Steffi's Bruhl or the other one?"
Steffi's Bruhl, a bustling suburban bedroom community of 14,000, has been fairly swallowed up in the industrial sprawl extending south from both Mannheim, where the Grafs lived until Steffi was seven, and Ludwigshafen. "This is the ugliest city in Germany," Graf's 17-year-old brother, Michael, said recently while riding through Ludwigshafen to a Stevie Wonder concert. To the east of Bruhl are the asparagus fields of Schwetzingen. A few minutes southeast is Lei-men, Boris Becker's small hometown. Farther southeast is glorious Heidelberg, with its university district and its own famous castle. Graf only recently discovered the cobble-stoned treasures of Heidelberg, on leisurely forays there with her new boyfriend, Alexander Mronz, 24, of Cologne, who has risen from 278th to 172nd in the computer rankings since he started dating Graf.
Supposedly sophisticated West German tennis journalists compare Bruhl to Buffalo in the States. "We don't bother with it," one says. Moreover, Fritz Seidel, the head of Graf's old educational stamping grounds, Bruhl's Realschule, which she quit in the eighth grade, says, "The amazing thing is not that Steffi is from here. Famous personages have to be from somewhere. It's that she stays here."
In Bruhl, Graf can get up early, as is her wont, bike or drive to the nearest bakery for croissants and milk, grab the newspaper and return home for breakfast without anybody bothering her, including her family. As close as the Grafs are—and no other public family seems to have been closer since Ozzie and Harriet and David and Ricky—no one else in the house is usually awake until long after Steffi is finished in the kitchen. "Everybody knows me here," Steffi says of Bruhl. "I am one of them. I don't think I'll ever leave."
Just the other day Peter squelched a newspaper report that the Grafs would move full-time to their American residence at the Polo Club in Boca Raton, Fla., by telling Bürgermeister Reffert that they will "always" stay in Bruhl. "I think it's important we stick to our roots." says Peter. "Steffi is comfortable here. She can relax. It's important for her to appeal to the masses, important for the country that we stay."
Then, in an unveiled slam at Becker, who long ago split for the tax haven of Monte Carlo, Peter said. "I think we can afford the taxes."
This Peter's principles have included a low-key marketing concept for his daughter. In contrast to Steffi's childhood chum Becker, whom his manager and guru, Ion Tiriac, has lifted to international celebrity-hood, the Graf campaign has been aimed at the West German middle class. Steffi endorses Opel cars, not Mercedes: Granini fruit juices, not champagne. Herr Graf didn't renew a contract with the upscale Gerry Weber fashion line. "I don't wear those clothes," says Steffi. "They are too old for me." Nineteen Forever.
The Grafs are also phasing out of a deal with Jade, a body-product line that's a trifle yuppie for their tastes. "Style is out the window, gone, finished, anyway, isn't it?" says Ted Tinling, the 6'4", shaven-headed, earringed, near-octogenarian tennis-wear designer and historian, who has set the standard for style in his sport for a half century. "Style now is wearing the same pants as the window cleaner. One has to communicate with the masses, touch the public. I think Miss Graf is totally "today.' "
And totally West German. "Real Germans in the truest sense, both in negative and positive ways," says Helmut Sorge, a writer for the West German magazine Der Spiegel, of the Grafs. "Steffi, Peter and the family may be boring, but it is vastly appealing that they are a normal, everyday German family coping with extraordinary circumstances. They're doing a terrific job, I might add. We admire the loyalty to country, closeness of family, the consistency this girl has shown on the court, the normality in her life. Now if that first boyfriend had been a Turk...."
Meanwhile, since bolting to prominence four years ago by winning Wimbledon at the tender age of 17, Becker has fired his boyhood coach, hopped into glamorous cars and haberdashery, fallen for a Riviera Rita of a girlfriend, skipped out on his military service, transferred homes, lived on the razor's edge (though he was barely shaving age) and had the gall to lose at Wimbledon twice. Though he has fluttered back into German grace on the wings of his relationship with Hamburg's exquisite Karen Shultz, he may have to win a couple more All England titles to match Graf's popularity in the homeland.
"The attraction is the common girl reaching uncommon heights," says Sorge. "Steffi's so reliable; she's like a German sewing machine, a N‚Äö√†√∂¬¨√ühmaschine. She probably sews her own clothes." Now wait just a minute.
In truth, appreciation for Graf extends to the highest precincts. On the occasion of her 19th birthday, Cesare Lanza, an Italian commentator for the magazine Eva, found her "too ambitious, too cruel, like a juggernaut, inhuman like a computer." A day later the West German daily Bild came rushing to Graf's defense by quoting none other than Chancellor Helmut Kohl. "Steffi is a splendid German maid," said Kohl.
When Deutschlanders discovered that the relationship between their favorite tennis maiden and her new guy, Mronz, had reached epic proportions—that is, they had dated a couple of times in Australia in January, and then he made an appearance at the Grafs' Florida retreat—the West German press went gaga. After all, this was the first man in Steffi's life other than her father, a development that has caused massive consternation throughout the country. "We remember [Claudia] Kohde-Kilsch," says one German writer. "Once Number 5 in the world. Sheltered by her father. Now she's Number 18."
Mronz obviously prospered in propinquity to Graf, taking 17th-ranked Aaron Krickstein to five sets at the Lipton International in March and winning his first tournament, a $50,000 event in Martinique, two weeks later. By the time he arrived back home to play a tournament in Munich in May, he was a celeb and possibly the first player ever to hold a press conference after losing in the qualifying round. When Mronz called home, his answering service reported 60 interview requests. Bild splashed color photographs of Alexander and Steffi across three pages and speculated in headlines: STEFFI: VERLOBUNG NOCH DIESES JAHR? ("Steffi: Will an Engagement Come Within the Year?").
"If they ask me about this subject, I have an answer for them." said Graf last month in Hamburg during the Citizen Cup tournament, which she won. "I'm going to say, "Haven't you heard? It's all set. I'm already picking out a wedding dress.' "
Stop the presses. Steffi cracks a joke. Alas, nobody asked.
"She can joke all she wants." says Jürgen Dennstedt, the editor of West Germany's tennis magazine. "What she doesn't realize is that Germany will not sleep well until it is sure Steffi and Alexander have slept together."
The effects of the relationship on Herr Graf seem to be taking little toll. "This is good for Steffi, good for all of us," he says. "It is time for the break. It is not so difficult as I thought to let go. We knew it would be hard on the first [boy]friend. But I think Steffi can make good judgments. She sees you, she knows if you are O.K. Alexander is a tennis player. He knows tennis comes number one with Steffi. I think this is a good arrangement. At the end of the day, if she says to him, 'It is nine o'clock now, I have to go to bed.' and he makes like this [Peter rubs his hand around his shoulder and puckers up] and says, 'Goodnight' and lets her go, I think everything is O.K."
Back in Bruhl, Seidel the schoolmaster jokes that a union would change nothing, that the region would remain a "Grafschaft," a wordplay on the family surname. Graf is a title that means "earl" or "count," and Schaft is the German word for "county." Thus, Grafschaft is the estate belonging to an earl or a count.
In real life, the home in which Steffi has spent most of her childhood is a simple one-story stone structure only a few paces off a busy little commercial street and hard by the indoor tennis club Peter once managed. Across the street is a health-food store and a welder's construction yard. Out front is Heidi's well-kept tulip garden and a BEWARE THE DOG sign on the gate. Steffi's two shepherds, Max and Zar, and one boxer, Ben, stand tranquil guard inside the house. It's hardly the domicile/international headquarters expected of one of the richest and most famous young women in the world.
The only point of interest for those in the many tourist buses that creep by the house each day is a high redbrick fence that runs along the street and surrounds six acres next to the house. Hidden behind the fence are Graf's practice court—"the surface of Flushing Meadow," she says—and the skeleton of the family's brand-new house, or rather, triplex compound. It will afford private quarters not only for Peter, Heidi and Steffi but also for Michael and his 25-year-old girlfriend, Anetta Baca-Halter, who is from El Paso. Texas. She lives with the Grafs and drives Michael back and forth every day to Mannheim, where they are both studying. "If people like each other, it has nothing to do with age," says Peter of his son's May-August relationship, sounding less like the Svengalian father who is constantly upbraided in the press for being overprotective and more like an assistant scriptwriter on As the World Turns.
The buses are filled with outlanders. True Bruhlians do not concern themselves anymore with the Grafs. "Steffi is not so special, I think, in Bruhl," says Reffert. "We are proud and happy that she has not run away for the money. But we are used to her. Everybody who would have been interested in autographs has them already. People from afar like to look for the controversies and the scandals and the neuroses, yes? But this girl remains normal—maybe too normal for everybody else."
Steffi and her father have the same hard-edged imperviousness and steely will. They brook no failure and zero in on life's jugular. "The way Steffi is on the court, that is Peter everywhere else," says a family friend.
Nonetheless, given her personality, reticence, sense of humor, desire for solitude and the sharp, sometimes harsh angles outlining her farm-girl face. Graf may be even more her mother's daughter. Heidi, whom Peter met after spotting her on a balcony at college, could almost pass for Steffi's twin were it not for Heidi's stylish, high-fashion outfits, perpetual tan and the fact that she smiles a lot. "I want to stay in the background and build the best family for all of us," says Heidi, the only Graf who displays any evidence whatsoever that anybody in the clan makes more than the minimum wage.
In addition, it is a misconception that Peter stood alone in molding Steffi into a champion. In the early years, while he labored trying to make a go of the local tennis club, Heidi drove Steffi to all the tournaments and then flew with her to the far corners of the world. Heidi will not be interviewed on the subject of her daughter, but around her, Steffi takes on a gentler, softer air. She seems more at ease and more vulnerable, perhaps even more feminine.
Heidi is also the Ms. Fixit of the family, Peter being one of those stumblebums who have trouble changing a light bulb. "The new house? It will be ready by August," said Peter last month, gesturing expansively toward the backyard, where he says he's "supervising" construction of the dream compound.
Heidi shook her head, fairly snickering. "Christmas," she said.
Steffi purports to be interested in history and museums—"old airplanes, old cars, old bones, things you get out of the ground," she says. "I saw a Picasso at the Louvre and studied everything about that picture."
She reads Hemingway and Stephen King and has become intrigued with a West German author, Patrick Süskind, because of his No. 1 bestseller in her country, Perfume. A movie buff, she can discuss Mississippi Burning as if she were aware of the early '60s, not to mention alive then. Out on the circuit she plays a lot of a card game called Doppel Kopf with Peter and Slozil. "You can go crazy and get real mad at each other in this game." says Steffi.
She also occasionally hits some sociology, government and physics schoolbooks, although, she says, "Physics is the book I like least to put in my hand." For a couple of years Graf traveled with a tutor, but she is several years away from coping with the Abitur, the exam that West Germans must pass to move on to college. She insists she wants to obtain a diploma. Peter doubts she ever will.
Dress Graf in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt (preferably black, her color of the moment), put her behind the wheel of a fast car, point her toward a Big Mac or an Italian restaurant or a pastry shop, give her a Walkman blasting rock music through her brain, and what you have is Every-girl. "It is not amusing to read about how I live only for tennis." she says. "I have so many other interests. I train for tennis four hours a day, and during a tournament, I practice and play my match. Then that is it. I'd go crazy if I didn't have other things. Only tennis? This is not possible."
Upon arrival at a tournament, says Slozil, the first thing Graf does is check out the rock-concert schedule in the area. She has dragged him to the performances of George Michael in London. Tina Turner in New York City, Kool and the Gang in West Germany, Noiseworks in Australia and Was (Not Was) in Paris. Time and again in interviews Slozil, a native of Prague, has described how much harder he has had to work since leaving the men's tour to coach Graf. In addition, he says. "I've never heard so much music in my life. Steffi didn't use to like to dance in front of people. But after a disco night in Paris with Was (Not Was), she was completely soaked."
Tournament victories in Hamburg and Berlin immediately preceded Graf's doomed assault on this year's French Open. However, the high points of her return home from abroad this spring were when the Bee Gees greeted her at their gig in Hamburg and when she delayed her trip to Paris to catch her favorite group, the British band Simply Red, in Mannheim.
A few weeks earlier, on one crystalline afternoon in April, Graf went shopping in Mannheim and visited relatives in Heidelberg, making the rounds like any other girl home from college for a weekend. (If she had not learned to keep a tennis ball in play for 45 minutes straight when she was six, Steffi says she would "probably be studying something creative, maybe majoring in art.") That evening at the Eberthalle in Ludwigshafen, Graf emitted more squeals watching Stevie Wonder than she has in any six months of tennis tournaments. When Wonder electronically induced his voice to a high pitch and suddenly sounded like the 12-year-old prodigy who sang Fingertips, Graf seemed familiar with a song popular seven years before she was born.
"I am such a fan of music," she said later while driving her—what else?—Opel home with Michael at approximately the speed of sound. "Meeting these people is interesting because they are never as you expect after reading about them. It's like my own stories. If I believed everything I read about myself, I wouldn't know me. I met Michael Jackson in Marbella, Spain. Sure, he is quiet and shy but fairly normal, not bizarre. He took pictures with me just before his show, and I asked him how he can do all this and then concentrate to go out onstage. He just seemed to get very loose, or something. He said, 'I love what I do. Everything else gets blanked out.' "
Given Graf's intimidating concentration on court, this was mountain-to-Muhammad stuff. But the celebrity who has most impressed her has not been a pop singer. "Max Schmeling," she says. "That was the best. He was such an idol for us Germans, even if I'm not of his generation. I was at his house once, and we were very simpatico with each other. He follows my career. He gave me good advice. He said to stay the way I am."
The next morning, while going to practice on a clay court down the street, Graf could have used Schmeling or any other heavy puncher when a deranged, lovesick local man who had bothered her before—last year he reportedly sent poisoned marmalade to the Graf residence—showed up virtually on her doorstep. This time, Graf explained that she had a boyfriend and that she was on her way to play tennis. As she turned to go, the man took out a knife and started slashing his wrists. Steffi recoiled in horror, and Peter rushed to her aid as the man collapsed. The police and an ambulance were called, and the man was taken to a hospital and, later, a mental clinic.
Peter can be criticized for many things in the way he has managed his daughter's career. He has been accused of playing the computer by manipulating her schedule to preserve her ranking, of abusing officials and of coaching her illegally from the stands. But no father can guard his daughter from the perils of the tennis universe too judiciously. If you think the fellow in Bruhl was an unwelcome stranger, you ought to meet a cross section of the promoters, sponsors and agents in the tennis biz. "I used to sell cars for a living," says Peter, "and I thought there were some serious liars in that world. But...."
Despite tennis's internationalism, the fact that the Grafs come from Germany, with all its historical baggage, helps explain their early wariness. They suffered from what the Germans call Verfolgungswahn, a persecution complex. It's no secret that when Steffi suddenly started showing up in tournament finals, whipping up on all of our—and the rest of the world's—fresh young things as if they were harmless gnats, the American-dominated women's tennis establishment wasn't exactly thrilled. "You think they didn't see a [potential problem] coming?" says a high-ranking tour official. "They didn't exactly relish the idea of a foreigner owning the game."
Evidence persists that the Women's International Tennis Association (the WITA didn't add the word International to its name until 1986, about the time Graf began her rise) took measures to use her and her father's naivetè to Steffi's disadvantage, even by outright gypping her in some matches. In one, Graf, who was nursing a sore knee, mistakenly used the word "cramp" to a trainer, who informed her she could not receive aid for a cramp. The rules permit a player to receive aid for an accidental injury, but not a chronic one, for as long as five minutes from the time the trainer arrives. At a tournament in Mahwah, N.J., in 1985, Kathy Rinaldi was losing to Graf when she fainted from heat stroke. Even though fainting doesn't qualify for the five-minute "accidental" allowance, she was allowed a timeout, which the Graf contingent clocked at more than nine minutes. Rinaldi came back to win.
"I hear about that one, and I go immediately to [tour official] Lee Jackson," says Peter. "I tell her this is unbelievable. I tell her I fight her. I make the fight between Europe and America. I tell her she want fight? She got it this time."
Nobody can remember Steffi uttering a single cross phrase against another player—unless one counts her recent comment about Sabatini: "I can't believe that Gaby hasn't picked up more English after living in the States so long." Peter, however, is less forgiving.
When Steffi was 13, she played an exhibition in Filderstadt, West Germany, with Austin, who was a top player at the time. The uninhibited teenager rushed onto the court without waiting for the established American star. The score was 4-all in the first set before Austin ran off eight games to win. What do you think, Tracy? Can the kid play? How good is she? Does she have a chance to be No. 1 someday? The West German press wanted some answers. "There are a hundred like her back in the States," said Austin.
"I never forget this remark," says Peter. (Note to Tracy: Since Daddy still controls Steffi's game plan, if you're serious about this latest comeback...don't be.)
More kindling: In 1985, also in Filderstadt, Pam Shriver stuck out her tongue, waved at Steffi's out balls and generally cut up before a laughing crowd while defeating Graf 6-4, 6-3. Ah, those were the days. Candy from a baby, right, Pam?
Afterward, a furious Steffi said she would never again play in Filderstadt, and she hasn't. In seven matches against Shriver since, Graf has lost only once, at the Virginia Slims championships in New York last November, when she was ill. In six sets at Wimbledon and at the U.S. Open, Graf has granted Shriver but 12 games. A nasty Peter-Pam feud continues. Shriver shouted at him to "shut up" during her match with Steffi at Wimbledon in 1985 and, he says, gave a "kiss-off" sign to Kohde-Kilsch's father at another tournament, a gesture that for some reason offended Herr Graf as well.
"Shriver will no longer say those things to me." says Peter. "She knows what I can do. She ever makes a kiss-off my way, she also knows what will happen." Whomp! He slaps his fist into his hand.
Says tennis magazine's Dennstedt, "We have explanation for Becker, for McEnroe, for Martina, for Borg. We have no explanation for Peter Graf. Two years ago even, he had a daughter who was Number 1 in the world, a stylish wife and a terrific son—a wonderful, beautiful, loving family. Meanwhile, he thinks he's the enemy of five billion people on earth. He still does. Why?"
Once burned, twice sly. Peter allowed a correspondent from Stern, the West German newsmagazine, into the Graf inner sanctum two years ago. A satirical piece that made fun of the family and the house and its rather plebeian furnishings appeared. Already paranoid about the press, Peter has now closed off almost every media access trail to Steffi that he has not plotted out beforehand. The first line of defense includes Peter's old friend, Horst Schmidt, a balding, round mound of alternately furtive glances and cheery smiles, and Phil DePicciotto, the family's Washington, D.C.-based agent from Advantage International, who's sometimes referred to on the circuit as "the dread Pinocchio." Still, they have convinced the head of the clan that all of tennis is not out to devour him as well as his daughter, and Peter has become more easygoing. "Peter spent so many nerves watching Steffi all these years." says Schmidt, chuckling. "He has no nerves left."
Paul Zimmer, a free-lance photographer from Stuttgart who has been aiming cameras at Steffi since she was four and is close to the family, concurs. "If you get to know him, Peter is calm, considerate, cooperative, a good guy," says Zimmer. "All these writers that have burned him? They cannot turn around and say good things. Who looks like the idiot then?"
Even amid Steffi's, and what should have been women's tennis's, most glorious moment—at last September's U.S. Open, where she completed the first Grand Slam in nearly two decades—the WITA membership, whose whining and pouting could almost be heard over the roar of the nearby subway, seriously considered changing the computer ranking system so that the No. 1 player would actually lose ranking points by playing a small tournament, even if she won it. Peter became so enraged by the proposal that he threated to start his own tour with Steffi. The two sides eventually compromised. Then, in a new low of pettiness, some WITA officials were observed rooting against Graf in the final.
How cozy could Steffi feel toward such an organization? Who could blame her for treating her spectacular accomplishment with insouciance? There are a hundred like her back in the States? Where are they hiding? Or for taking the first plane out of Dodge City? Auf Wiedersehen, sweethearts. And that goes for all those 100 of you just like me.
To be sure, Graf's place in history is already forged. In a fascinating piece in the March 1989 issue of World Tennis magazine, Tinling, who began his storied career by umpiring more than 100 matches for Suzanne Lenglen on the French Riviera in the 1920s, constructed a hypothetical tournament consisting of his alltime Top 20 women players. On paper, according to Tinling, Graf deserved the fifth seed, behind Navratilova, Lenglen. Connolly and Helen Wills Moody. Guess who won.
In the quarterfinals against Moody, Graf's speed was the difference as she came back from 1-4 down in the third set to win the last five games. In the semis against Martina—hasn't this one been played a few times?—Graf fought off two match points while serving at 4-5 in the third set and went on to win 6-7, 6-3, 10-8 on "determination." Against Little Mo in the finals, "it was primarily a matter of positioning," wrote Tinling. Connolly won the first set on a net cord. Graf got the second easily before Connolly took a 3-1 lead in the third. Surviving a second service break at 3-3, a 50-minute rain delay and Mo's superior backhand, Graf ran out the match 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 "with a stream of dazzling forehand winners."
Ah, but Mr. T did not choose to match Graf against his cherished Suzanne, who lost 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 to Connolly in the other semi. "By the time I saw Lenglen she was 24, and the careless rapture was gone," says Tinling. "It's already going from Steffi at 20. But even with the emotions factored in, she prevails. I never thought anyone would play as well as Suzanne. But four times I've seen Martina when she was better. Then I saw what Steffi did to Sabatini at the Australian Open this year, and that was it. She is better than them all."
After the great victories, Steffi always derives strength and sustenance from her family—even more so after losses. And the Graf family has suffered losses. While driving home one night just after having returned from the war, Heidi's father never saw the speeding train. He smashed into it and was killed instantly. Heidi was a year old. Peter's mother died when he was 17, and his father virtually abandoned him for another wife shortly thereafter. "I had to live alone and travel 40 kilometers just to eat dinner with an aunt," says Peter. Not until he was 30 and married did he reconcile with his father.
So a generation later: A plain man is finally prepared for the complexities in his bewildering new life as the father of a daughter gifted beyond all others in a game she adores. These two treasure their relationship with each other and with the rest of the family. Three years ago Steffi was asked what was her fondest wish. She said, "To live all the life long, but with my whole family, please."
The wish hasn't changed. "It doesn't come clear when you're young," says Graf now. "The fights with the brother, when he steals your coat or the other way around. The cleaning the room. The trips away from home. The coaching. My father had a difficult time separating being a coach and a father. But when you get out into the world, get into difficulty, learn about life, see other families not giving or caring, you realize how important your own is.
"To live in a family that really works, to be part of one that is always there for you, and you for them, that does everything for each other—I think that is very rare and very special."