She is not. Which means continuing frustration for a player like Sloane, who was ranked 106th on the computer when she lost to Graf at the French Open last year and 26th when she fell to her last week. That's a 300% improvement, yet Sloane still lost ground to the only player who matters. "It's no fun playing Steffi." says Sloane. "She has no weaknesses, none. Right now I'm playing the best I've ever played, and she beats me oh and one. It's scary."
Although Graf has developed an effective backhand and a powerful serve, her paralyzing forehand—a shot that lifts her a foot into the air every time she strikes it—is still what separates her from the field. When Evert was the world's dominant player, she begat an army of two-fisted baseliners, and Navratilova produced a number of serve-and-volleyers. But Graf has no imitators. "There's nobody else in the world who can do what she does," says Zina Garrison. "She's just total power. Her forehand puts fear in everybody."
Graf began 1988 at the Australian Open, where she crushed Gabriela Sabatini—the game's best hope for providing Graf a rival—6-3, 6-0 in the semis and overcame Helena Sukova 6-4, 6-4 in the finals. Next, at the Virginia Slims of Washington, Graf mowed down Stacey Martin in 39 minutes, gave up only 16 points to Carling Bassett Seguso in a 6-0, 6-0 victory and won the first 20 points of the championship match against Garrison. At that juncture, 5-0 against Garrison, the seventh-ranked player in the world, Graf was within four points of winning what is known as a Golden Set. "I couldn't believe it," says Graf. "After the third game, I asked myself. Should I go for a shot? Or should I play it safe and try to get to 6-love without losing a point? It was funny."
Distractions like that may be Graf's only remaining obstacle. In this case Graf lost concentration (Garbo speaks!) and wound up winning the match 6-1, 7-5. "You have to keep your mind in that specific moment," she says. The fact is, Graf believes that her ability to focus solely on tennis is her principal advantage over other players. "I don't know how much concentration they put into it, how much will," she says.
Not everyone agrees that her victories are triumphs of the will. "One or two balls a point—how hard do you have to concentrate when you have weapons like that?" says Garrison.
Says Bassett Seguso, "I would hit a good shot on the run, and she would hit a winner off it. I think the only type of player who has a chance against her is an unbelievable serve-and-volleyer, double what Martina is now. Some of the things she does don't seem human."
The more often she is described as a machine, the more painfully obvious it becomes how human Graf is. She looks much less stern when her ponytail and her game face come down, and she is just becoming aware of what she is sacrificing for tennis. Last week she spoke animatedly about having seen The Phantom of the Opera—calling it her favorite Broadway play—and then admitted that she had left at the intermission because she had a match the next morning. When her younger brother Michael stopped in Boca Raton last week on his way to a vacation in Hawaii, she said, forcing a wry smile, "It's not fair. He's going to Hawaii, and I have to stay here and practice. I've never even been to Hawaii. But I keep telling myself my fun times will come later."
They can't come soon enough for the rest of the women on the circuit. "The players all wish she'd fall in love, get married and get pregnant," says Evert. Graf, however, isn't going anywhere. "I feel more relaxed than I did last year," she says, referring to the pressure of winning the Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal in 1988. "Everywhere I went people were asking me about the Grand Slam. I could never get away from it." Nonetheless, she finished the year with a 72-3 match record.
Winning back-to-back Slams would be nice; no one has ever done that. And there was a lot of talk last week about her going through an entire year undefeated, something else no one in the modern era has done. Despite Graf's loss of a set on Sunday, no one believes she is slipping. Said Evert, "To get a set off Steffi when she's playing this great is something."
Graf seems to despair at the notion that people now expect her to be perfect. "You'd have to be so much higher than all the others," she says. "One year of concentration." Her head droops as if she is feeling the weight of this idea.