"She can joke all she wants." says J�rgen 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.