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Proceed with caution
Graf sees danger in second-round opponent
Posted: Monday June 21, 1999 10:06 PM
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Seven-time champion Steffi Graf knows she might not survive her second-round match at Wimbledon against South African Mariaan De Swardt.
Four years ago, the hard-hitting De Swardt beat Graf in three sets indoors in what Graf said was "the best that a woman has ever played against me."
Need more proof? In their only other match, Graf struggled in the third round at Wimbledon in '92, escaping against the South African 5-7, 6-0, 7-5.
Second-seeded Graf won with ease Monday in the first round, defeating Ludmila Cervanova 6-1, 6-4. De Swardt defeated American Jolene Watanabe on Monday by the same score.
"It's not going to be an easy second round," said Graf. "I know her game and I'm trying to prepare for it."
And there's more pressure. Graf is teaming in mixed doubles with three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, one of her own tennis idols. Writing in a British newspaper a few days ago, McEnroe called the German star a "tennis goddess."
That seemed to fluster the winner of 22 Grand Slams singles, just two short of Margaret Court's all-time record.
"I've never had that [comparison], ever. I appreciate it," said Graf, who broke into a smile and blushed slightly.
"I don't know what to say, but I hope it doesn't make me more nervous playing with him. I admire his talents so much. That's the one player I've always enjoyed the most watching."
Graf's victory two weeks ago in the French Open final over Martina Hingis was unexpected -- and so special that it prompted her to say she wouldn't return.
Another Wimbledon singles title would be No. 8 for Graf, one short of Martina Navratilova's record of nine. So will Graf say good-bye to Wimbledon if she wins here?
"I don't know," she said. "I really don't. It's nothing that I think about right now. It [the French] is somthing that came in a moment after the finals -- and it's nothing that I thought about any earlier than that."
Graf said winning the French hadn't changed a thing. Well, almost.
"It's not that I feel I need to do anything different after Paris," she said. "It took something away -- not pressure -- but it made it easier."
Against Cervanova, Graf dippedlow to slice her backhands, and hit her famous forehand with off-and-on authority. There was no sign of knee surgery and back problems that kept her out of four Grand Slams until she returned here a year ago, only to lose in the third round.
"In the last few weeks I've been able to train more than I'd been able to before Paris," she said. "I felt that in Paris I wasn't serving as well as I could and I know that's going to be important for here."
But is her speed -- her most important weapon -- what it used to be?
"I hope it's still a big asset," she replied, "I feel pretty good out there for my age."
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