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Serves and Follies
Alexander Wolff
September 20, 1993
The U.S. Open was just so many crybabies and no-names until Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf dispatched the pretenders
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September 20, 1993

Serves And Follies

The U.S. Open was just so many crybabies and no-names until Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf dispatched the pretenders

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C'mawwwwwwwwn, Whatsisname!

The U.S. Open got it at least half right. Open it was—so much so that seven of the 16 men's seeds were gone by the third round. But U.S. players could hardly be found, especially on the women's side, where, for the first time in the 107-year history of the U.S. Nationals, none reached the quarterfinals. By the time the top players had ceased their infantile whining about the Flushing Meadow food ("Poison," said Andrei Medvedev, a quarterfinal loser), practice courts ("Potholes," said Jim Courier, who went down in the round of 16) and scheduling ("Very poor concerning Becker," said Boris Becker, whose fourth-round defeat eliminated his first, second and third persons), Pete Sampras and Steffi Graf stood alone, as much for the attitudes they maintained as for the tennis they played.

" New York is not as bad a place as people think," said Graf, who might have been speaking for Sampras.

"I just play my tennis and sign my autographs and do what I have to do," said Sampras, who might have been speaking for Graf.

Those comments could lead you to believe that the Open was dull. It wasn't. Ever since April, when an unemployed German lathe operator sidelined Monica Seles indefinitely by stabbing her during a changeover at a tournament in Hamburg, every one of Graf's victories has been fit for a frame of someone else's choosing. That's a shame. Since that fateful event Graf has won six straight tournaments, 36 matches in a row. If not for a narrow loss to Seles in the final of the Australian Open in January, she would own her second Grand Slam. And she has lorded over the women's game while shouldering alone the pressure she once shared with Seles at the top.

The stabbing resurfaced as an issue on the eve of the U.S. Open when Seles showed up unexpectedly for activities honoring the late Arthur Ashe. She was disappointed, Seles told the press the next day, that she hadn't heard from Graf during her convalescence. The remark didn't sit well with Graf, who had visited Seles in the hospital in Hamburg and has tried several times to get in touch with her in Vail, Colo., where Seles is being treated. Even Seles's own people at International Management Group sometimes have a hard time keeping in touch with their client, who behaves like Greta Garbo one day and Madonna the next.

"I don't want to make it sound bad, but I have been trying," says Graf, who graciously mentioned Seles after the final. "It's just impossible to reach her. I know other people have tried."

The two places Graf has Ions called home, the family estate in Br�hl, Germany, and Boca Raton, Fla., where she keeps a house next door to her parents, symbolize the intertwined institutions of her 24 years—family and tennis. That's why she's so excited about her new, $900,000 New York penthouse triplex in a converted police headquarters on the fringe of Manhattan's SoHo district. "To have a place of my own, to be able to decorate it myself, it's something I've always wished for," says Graf, who spent the Open's first week shopping for curtains. "And the neighborhood is not at all like the rest of New York. There are little galleries and shops and restaurants. It's almost its own small city."

Graf patrolled the acrylic greenswards of Flushing Meadow with a distinctly New York countenance. She got right to her points. She served with alacrity, proceeded unsmilingly, avoided eye contact. In her 4-6, 6-1, 6-0 semifinal defeat of Manuela Maleeva-Fragni�re and her 6-3, 6-3 boxing of Helena Sukova in Saturday's final, she wore a black-and-white ensemble, coordinated down to the white headband and black bow. It was all very downtown. Curtains for the living room; curtains for everyone else.

Graf has finally reached the point where the man in her life is someone other than her stern father, Peter. Michael Bartels, 25, is a German Formula 3000 race-car driver, and he and Steffi have been extraordinarily discreet in their courtship. One of their few public lapses took place at a tournament in San Diego in early August, when they promenaded around the grounds hand in hand. In Toronto at the Canadian Open a month ago, after a fan yelled out, "I love you, Steffi!" as Graf accepted the champion's trophy, she responded, "I'm taken."

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