"Shriver will no longer say those things to me." says Peter. "She knows what I can do. She ever makes a kiss-off my way, she also knows what will happen." Whomp! He slaps his fist into his hand.
Says tennis magazine's Dennstedt, "We have explanation for Becker, for McEnroe, for Martina, for Borg. We have no explanation for Peter Graf. Two years ago even, he had a daughter who was Number 1 in the world, a stylish wife and a terrific son—a wonderful, beautiful, loving family. Meanwhile, he thinks he's the enemy of five billion people on earth. He still does. Why?"
Once burned, twice sly. Peter allowed a correspondent from Stern, the West German newsmagazine, into the Graf inner sanctum two years ago. A satirical piece that made fun of the family and the house and its rather plebeian furnishings appeared. Already paranoid about the press, Peter has now closed off almost every media access trail to Steffi that he has not plotted out beforehand. The first line of defense includes Peter's old friend, Horst Schmidt, a balding, round mound of alternately furtive glances and cheery smiles, and Phil DePicciotto, the family's Washington, D.C.-based agent from Advantage International, who's sometimes referred to on the circuit as "the dread Pinocchio." Still, they have convinced the head of the clan that all of tennis is not out to devour him as well as his daughter, and Peter has become more easygoing. "Peter spent so many nerves watching Steffi all these years." says Schmidt, chuckling. "He has no nerves left."
Paul Zimmer, a free-lance photographer from Stuttgart who has been aiming cameras at Steffi since she was four and is close to the family, concurs. "If you get to know him, Peter is calm, considerate, cooperative, a good guy," says Zimmer. "All these writers that have burned him? They cannot turn around and say good things. Who looks like the idiot then?"
Even amid Steffi's, and what should have been women's tennis's, most glorious moment—at last September's U.S. Open, where she completed the first Grand Slam in nearly two decades—the WITA membership, whose whining and pouting could almost be heard over the roar of the nearby subway, seriously considered changing the computer ranking system so that the No. 1 player would actually lose ranking points by playing a small tournament, even if she won it. Peter became so enraged by the proposal that he threated to start his own tour with Steffi. The two sides eventually compromised. Then, in a new low of pettiness, some WITA officials were observed rooting against Graf in the final.
How cozy could Steffi feel toward such an organization? Who could blame her for treating her spectacular accomplishment with insouciance? There are a hundred like her back in the States? Where are they hiding? Or for taking the first plane out of Dodge City? Auf Wiedersehen, sweethearts. And that goes for all those 100 of you just like me.
To be sure, Graf's place in history is already forged. In a fascinating piece in the March 1989 issue of World Tennis magazine, Tinling, who began his storied career by umpiring more than 100 matches for Suzanne Lenglen on the French Riviera in the 1920s, constructed a hypothetical tournament consisting of his alltime Top 20 women players. On paper, according to Tinling, Graf deserved the fifth seed, behind Navratilova, Lenglen. Connolly and Helen Wills Moody. Guess who won.
In the quarterfinals against Moody, Graf's speed was the difference as she came back from 1-4 down in the third set to win the last five games. In the semis against Martina—hasn't this one been played a few times?—Graf fought off two match points while serving at 4-5 in the third set and went on to win 6-7, 6-3, 10-8 on "determination." Against Little Mo in the finals, "it was primarily a matter of positioning," wrote Tinling. Connolly won the first set on a net cord. Graf got the second easily before Connolly took a 3-1 lead in the third. Surviving a second service break at 3-3, a 50-minute rain delay and Mo's superior backhand, Graf ran out the match 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 "with a stream of dazzling forehand winners."
Ah, but Mr. T did not choose to match Graf against his cherished Suzanne, who lost 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 to Connolly in the other semi. "By the time I saw Lenglen she was 24, and the careless rapture was gone," says Tinling. "It's already going from Steffi at 20. But even with the emotions factored in, she prevails. I never thought anyone would play as well as Suzanne. But four times I've seen Martina when she was better. Then I saw what Steffi did to Sabatini at the Australian Open this year, and that was it. She is better than them all."
After the great victories, Steffi always derives strength and sustenance from her family—even more so after losses. And the Graf family has suffered losses. While driving home one night just after having returned from the war, Heidi's father never saw the speeding train. He smashed into it and was killed instantly. Heidi was a year old. Peter's mother died when he was 17, and his father virtually abandoned him for another wife shortly thereafter. "I had to live alone and travel 40 kilometers just to eat dinner with an aunt," says Peter. Not until he was 30 and married did he reconcile with his father.