Graf close to the 100 club

Click to follow
The only part of Steffi Graf's pre-Wimbledon itinerary which could be described as customary is the time she is spending at home in Bruhl, resting after her latest triumph at the French Open and preparing to mark her 27th birthday quietly on Friday.

Next week, instead of simply practising on grass as usual, she is due to make her debut at the Direct Line Insurance Championships at Eastbourne, which says a good deal about her current level of fitness and her determination to win a seventh Wimbledon singles title.

Should Graf make a successful defence, it will take her Grand Slam singles total to 20, one ahead of the American Helen Wills Moody and only four behind Australia's Margaret Court, the all-time leader.

Taking into account Graf's success on the regular WTA Tour, plus the gold medal she won at the Seoul Olympics, she has amassed 99 singles titles - a neat statistic for the Eastbourne promoter, who in the past has only been able to secure her for the Under-21 event. With luck, he will be able to parade both Graf and Monica Seles, who are jointly ranked world No 1.

Numbers tend to mean less to Graf than the circumstances surrounding them. It was typical of her to emphasise that any records associated with Saturday's victory against her Spanish rival, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 6-3, 6-7, 10-8, were "overwhelmed by the match, which is probably the most spectacular one that we have had''.

While technically falling short of being a classic, it certainly ranked for excitement with Graf's victory against Sanchez Vicario in last year's Wimbledon final, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, which will beremembered for the marathon 11th game of the final set: 20 minutes, 32 points, 13 deuces, six break points, eight game points.

Drama is created by vulnerability as well as strength, and there was an abundance of both in the 40 games on Saturday, the longest ever French women's singles final.

It was anticipated that Graf would win in straight sets when she took a 4-1 lead in the tie-break, but she "just got real tight and nervous". That was also evident at other times, although many of her 72 unforced errors could be ascribed to her willingness to take risks.

Sanchez Vicario, retrieving with her usual verve, was unable to convert either of two break points for 5-2 in the third set, and twice was broken when serving for the match.

"I think she [Graf] was more lucky on the important points, and I just have to congratulate her," the Spaniard said. She added: "Of course, you are a little disappointed to lose, but after, when you think a little bit more about it, you are also a little bit happy, because you gave your best.''

Graf was delighted with her performance, especially after missing the Australian Open in January, when she was convalescing following a foot operation.

For once, Graf was able to accumulate points without physical pain, and her joy in that respect seemed to make it easier to address the anguish in her personal life. In her victory speech, she made special mention of her father, Peter, who has been in prison in Germany for the past 10 months, accused of evading tax on his daughter's earnings.