Then there is Brühl. "A quiet, sleepy town of 14,000 people," she says. She has been a familiar presence there for such a long time that she can walk the town's narrow, twisting streets, past its shops and markets, and go almost unnoticed, except for an occasional wave from a merchant or guten Tag from a passerby. And she can dash out her front gate and across the street for a lunchtime bowl of broccoli and corn, or perhaps pick up a wedge of quiche at the natural-food place. Since the conclusion of the U.S. Open six weeks before, Graf has spent her time in Brühl. A staff of therapists in Heidelberg, 12 miles away, has been working on her sore left knee, and she occasionally takes a few days out to join German race-car driver Michael Bartels, her boyfriend of four years, on a getaway, such as their recent trip to Monaco.
Bartels has been a calming buffer against the winds that have lately swirled around Graf's life. "He's been an extremely big help," Graf says. "He knows a lot about people, and he's been through this with me."
Graf also hops into her BMW once a week and heads to Mannheim, 10 miles to the north, to see her father. She does not attend his trial, which began on Sept. 5, not wanting to add yet another ring to the circus; besides, it's painful enough to see him in prison, where the prison guards and other visitors intrude on their time together. Indeed, the death of Darrow is not the only thing troubling Graf this morning in Brühl. It is the day after her most recent visit to her father. He has been in prison almost 15 months, an inordinately long stretch for someone on trial for tax evasion, and she senses that the ordeal is taking its toll on him.
Steffi is in the office that was once her parents' bedroom. She is sitting at the black desk of Hans Engert, a longtime family friend whom she hired in May to take her father's place as her personal manager. As she speaks about her relationship with Peter, she stretches her arms forward on the desk and struggles to find words. "It's a difficult situation," she says. "It's changed. If you had seen him yesterday morning, you would probably have seen what has changed. Not physically, but mentally. I can't talk about it. It goes so deep."
Nevertheless, Peter's appearance and demeanor in court reveal nothing of the ordeal he has endured inside the prison walls. The day before one of Steffi's visits last month, as the court session ended and the lawyers piled documents in portmanteaus, Peter brightened when someone asked if he'd had a visit from his daughter. "Steffi is coming to see me tomorrow!" he said, beaming. Asked how he feels in general, he held out his right hand, palm down, and rotated it slightly. "Sometimes bad, sometimes not so bad," he said. "But I run six miles a week in prison, and I feel well."
Twice a week since Sept. 5, Peter has left his cell and trundled into the airless, fluorescent-lit courtroom bearing in his hand a plastic cup of peppermint tea, the symbol of his prolonged drying out from alcohol and drug abuse, and has taken his place next to his lawyers. Aside from Max Schmeling—whose popularity owed as much to Nazi racial dogma and the drumbeat of the coming of war as it did to his athletic prowess—Steffi has been the most celebrated athlete in German history. For years she has been the darling of Deutschland. Unlike Boris Becker, who fled to Monaco to escape Germany's 50% income-tax rate, Steffi has remained loyal to her homeland. So Peter's trial, in its opening days, was covered as no courtroom drama in Germany had been in 50 years. "This is the first show trial here since Nuremberg," says Engert.
British tabloids have nothing on their German counterparts, and for the first couple of weeks the trial story did handsprings across front pages from Berlin to Munich to Bonn. Three reporters from Der Spiegel, a German newsmagazine, published a book called Reiche Steffi, armes Kind (Rich Steffi, Poor Child), depicting her life as a tennis prodigy under Peter's Svengali-like control. The tabloid Bild published excerpts from an 83-page confidential psychiatric profile of Peter written for the court by a Heidelberg psychiatrist. The profile purported to expose the roots of Peter's tragic undoing: how his deep love for his father, Alfons, had turned to loathing after Peter discovered that Alfons had taken a young lover while his wife—Peter's mother, Rose-marie—lay in a hospital; how Rosemarie had committed suicide several months later by ingesting hydrochloric acid; and how Peter, an excitable, insecure high school dropout, had become addicted to alcohol and prescription drugs (mostly tranquilizers and sleeping pills) as he faced the mounting stresses brought on by Steffi's climb in the world of tennis.
The story was a national soap opera. In his lone statement, delivered on the opening day of the trial before a rapt and crowded courtroom, Peter distanced Steffi from the mess he had made: "I hereby declare unambiguously that until 1995, our daughter was in no way conversant with tax matters." This was seconded by Joachim Eckardt, Peter's former tax consultant and his codefendant at the trial. While discussing Peter's role in the collection of tournament appearance fees, which are not allowed under the rules of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), Eckardt said, "Graf's first rule was to shield Steffi."
Indeed, while the German state of Baden has laid out a case implicating Peter in a vast tax-evasion scheme by which he sent millions of dollars of Steffi's earnings through front companies in Amsterdam, the Netherlands Antilles and Liechtenstein, none of the paper in the chase has led to her. "We have seen all the files, and we know that she is out of it, in substance," says Franz Salditt, one of Peter's lawyers. "There is really nothing that would point in her direction." Peter has been responsible for paying Steffi's taxes since she started earning money on the tour as a minor, in 1982, and he continued running interference when she became an adult. But no one filed tax returns for Steffi from 1989 to '93. "It was her money, but it was not her responsibility," Salditt says. "It was her father's wish that she concentrate on tennis. We have tax fraud only if you know what you were doing."
"That's the way they see it," says Hubert Jobski, a state prosecutor, who considers Steffi's culpability a matter of interpretation. "She is not the one who pulled the strings, but we believe she does have responsibility." In fact, under German law, as under U.S. law, ignorance is not a defense, although it may be considered a mitigating factor. An investigation into Steffi's role will begin at the conclusion of Peter's trial in early 1997.