Norina and Robert Nuchereno of Buffalo are minding their own business, lounging poolside at their hotel in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, one afternoon in December when the invasion occurs. The Nucherenos are thinking about what to do for dinner, wondering how many degrees Fahrenheit it is back in upstate New York, when SI photographer Walter Iooss Jr. arrives, bearing cameras and attitude, casing the pool as if he owned the place. He is followed by cell-phone-wielding swimsuit editor Elaine Farley, who is to this operation what Norman Schwarzkopf was to Desert Storm. In their wake come a retinue of assistants and a honey-haired, hard-bodied woman who seems, to the Nucherenos, vaguely familiar. The brevity of her costume—she sports a white bikini that, wadded up, would fit easily into an airplane ashtray—calls attention to her terrific...assets. She is extraordinarily attractive, muscular but not in an overdone, Hans and Franz way.
"She's beautiful," says Norina, who sells pharmaceutical products and is not tough on the eyes herself. "I know I've seen her. I think she's the tennis player." Robert, a commercial real estate broker, shoots his wife a patronizing look, a look that says, I don't think so. Though I have been sworn to secrecy, I have to vindicate the grievously wronged Norina. Gazing straight ahead, moving my lips as little as possible, I say, "It's Steffi."
The Nucherenos look at me, then at Steffi Graf. "I thought so," says Norina.
By now Graf has climbed atop a stucco wall 10 feet from us. She is looking out on the Sea of Cortés, her back to the camera, her clenched fists on her hips, a la Wonder Woman. "Legs a bit farther apart," says Iooss. "Now stand on your tippy toes." As Graf rises, her calves and quads quiver. "God, that's powerful," says Iooss, clicking away.
"I don't mean this in a bad way," says Robert, "but Steffi's better looking in person."
I know what he means: On the court Graf, 27, is all scowls and grimaces. Watching her dismember some hapless foe in 44 minutes, you don't reflect on how attractive she is. You reflect on what an efficient predator she is.
This afternoon there's no escaping the fact that Graf is also a knockout. That turns out to be less surprising, to me, than the revelation that she is, in addition, a kind, authentic, grounded person. During a break Graf hops down from the wall and suggests to Robert that he apply some sunscreen.
"Am I red?" he asks.
"Very red," she says in an English that has the barest hint of a German accent.
"Do you want us to get out of your way?" Norina asks.