How different it was for Graf, who did not drop a set in reaching the final and provided a daily window on the way a champion deals with emotional hurdles. The French Open was nothing compared with the ordeal Graf has been facing back in Germany. Her father, Peter, remains in jail in Mannheim awaiting trial for alleged tax evasion, and the cloud of suspicion over Steffi herself has not yet lifted. The explanation for her fearless state of mind against Sánchez Vicario was that Graf knows real trouble when she sees it—and a tennis opponent does not qualify.
But if Graf is more demonstrative, she is also more vulnerable to momentary lapses of control. She was two points from winning the tiebreaker in the final when she reeled off four straight wild misfires from the baseline and then double-faulted to give Sánchez Vicario the set. "I got so nervous I couldn't keep a ball in the court," Graf said.
It was Sánchez Vicario's turn to fold in the third, which lasted an hour and 21 minutes. She sprayed three unforced errors in each of her two crucial service games. Fatigue set in as well. "If I had to run like she did, I'd have been gone," Graf said.
If Graf has established herself as a great champion, Sánchez Vicario's legacy appears to be that of a perennial foil. The 24-year-old Spaniard is 3-7 in Grand Slam finals. While she has pushed Graf to play some wonderful tennis and briefly interrupted her reign as No. 1, theirs has not developed into a rivalry on which legends are built.
Monica Seles has been the more daunting foe for Graf, pushing her out of the top ranking for most of 1991 and all of '92, before Seles was stabbed and left the game in 1993. Seles returned to tennis last summer with her game intact but she is admittedly out of shape, fighting chronic injury and in need of a rigorous training regimen if she is to avoid embarrassments such as her straight-set quarterfinal loss to Jana Novotna at the French.
For Graf's chief historical rivals, Evert and Navratilova, there was no shortage of quality competition; they had each other. It is irresistible to wonder: How many Grand Slam singles titles might either have won without the other to stand in her way?
Numbers and statistics offer only vague possibilities in answer. But some indisputable numbers show that Graf, with 19 titles by age 26, compares favorably to Evert, who did not win her 18th until she was 31, and Navratilova, who won her 18th at 33. Graf is also the only woman other than Court to have won the Grand Slam. Graf knows the significance of all this, and calls breaking Evert and Navratilova's record "pretty incredible." But, she says, "this isn't the time to talk about it. The match overwhelmed the record."
History may take a different view.