Graf attacks her money-minded compatriots

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TENNIS

Few events attract leading players for the sheer joy of competing, as many national associations assembling teams to participate in the Davis Cup and the new-style Fed Cup would confirm.

Steffi Graf is undecided whether to put her suspect back into Germany's Fed Cup campaign this year. But after pushing her career earnings beyond $15m (£9.4m) by successfully defending the the Lipton title here on Saturday she insisted that money is not a factor and criticised her male compatriots, Boris Becker and Michael Stich, for squabbling over millions to play in the Davis Cup.

"If I play, it is for my country, and I don't care about money," Graf said. "It has been such a big issue in Germany with Stich and Becker. I think it is terrible the way it has been going so far, and I have no intention of doing something like that.''

Only Martina Navratilova, with $20.3m, has won more prize-money than Graf, whose latest winner's cheque was for $205,000. Her total wealth, incorporating sponsorships and endorsements, can only be guessed at (£30m is a popular estimate).

Graf is about to spend most of her time in the shower, filming a deodorant commercial and contemplating how best to conserve her vulnerable lower back for the major tests to come at the French Open and Wimbledon.

Since missing the Australian Open in January, the 25-year-old winner of 15 Grand Slam titles has once again raised her game to a level above her rivals, though this has yet to be reflected in the rankings.

Graf has not lost a set in 14 matches, Saturday's 6-1, 6-4 victory against Kimiko Date in the Lipton final placing her only 0.6213 of a point behind the current world No 1, Aranxta Sanchez Vicario, who was eliminated in the third round.

Ten consecutive wins on the rubberised-concrete courts of Florida have followed four indoors on a carpet in Paris, where Graf returned to the game last month. "I am extremely happy with the way my back is feeling," she said, "especially after playing six matches in eight days.''

She is now concerned how her physical condition will be affected by the clay courts, which tend to be kinder to the body, except in one respect. "It is the sliding," Graf said. "That is really a lot tougher on my sacroiliac joint. I felt some problems when I tried playing on clay courts in December. Hopefully it is going to be all right this year.''

Two hours of treatment daily, and the precaution wearing of a support for her back during matches, have helped ease Graf through her schedule so far. "I wanted to get this tournament over before deciding what to do in the next few weeks," she said. "I have a commercial to do for the next four days, then I will try to work a little more on my conditioning.''

She does not know how her back will respond to grass, but intends to continue her usual policy of preparing for Wimbledon on the practice courts rather than in one of the build-up tournaments at Birmingham and Eastbourne. "It's just too close between Paris and Wimbledon," she said, "I prefer to have enough time in between so I can get a couple of days off and get ready for the grass.''

By winning the Lipton for a fourth time, Graf established new landmarks in her career. It was her 89th singles title, one more than the number won by the Australian Evonne Goolagong Cawley, which places the German third in the all-time list behind Navratilova (167) and Chris Evert (157).

There was one more thing. Prompted by Pam Shriver during the on-court interview, Graf sent a message to Monica Seles: "If you are listening, Monica, I hope you are coming back. I really miss you, and everybody else misses you." Many heads were nodded wisfully.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 28

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