Graf feels her way back to form

Click to follow
The Independent Online
It was noticeable that Steffi Graf did not bound out of her chair after the changeovers. For once, her opponent was the first to return to the baseline, ready for play to resume. After six weeks' absence from the game, and with a chronic back problem to consider, the former world champion is evidently taking a little more care.

There were also a number of uncharacteristic errors from Graf, particularly on the forehand. Otherwise, it was business as usual as she advanced to the second round of the French Open with a 6-1, 7-5 win in precisely an hour against Ines Gorrochategui, the Argentinian she defeated in the quarter- finals here last year.

As the score indicates, the second set did not go so smoothly for the No 2 seed as the first set, which seemed to disappear almost before you could say Gorrochategui; indeed, the Argentinian had three game points for 3-0 before being broken and then created two break points for 4-2.

Graf, having played her first Grand Slam match of the year - the back injury prevented her from competing in Australia - ascribed her mistakes to impetuosity. "I started off extremely well in the first set," she said, "and kind of let loose in the beginning of the second set, when I was trying for just a little bit too much."

Graf would have had a longer workout if her opponent, ranked No 28 in the world, had shown as much confidence in taking her chances as she had in making them. As it was, Graf finished the job impressively and pronounced herself "satisfied" with her match, which was another rarity.

"I think if I would have played safer it could have been easier," she said, "because I felt like I was putting pressure on her and I felt more in control of the points. But it is my first match, and maybe my concentration wasn't one hundred per cent there."

There was a communal sigh of relief from the women's game at large that Graf had come through the first test unscathed, though she made light of the situation, saying that it did not compare with her successful comeback at the indoor event in this city in February after playing only one tournament in the previous five months. "That was a totally different thing," she said. "I felt insecure about my game because I hadn't played for so long, but six weeks is almost nothing."

In common with Graf, other leading players survived an opening day during which not all the interesting characters were on the court. The President's seat on Centre Court was occupied by a figure dressed up as a black dog who turned out to be a member of the French handball team who recently won the world championships in Iceland.

The "dog" took particular interest in Andre Agassi's match, and was better dressed than the world No 1, who resembled an extra from Les Miserables. Black shoes and black socks have not enhanced the baggy gear he introduced in Australia.

Taking the point that handsome is as handsome does, Agassi looked pretty smart as he began his quest to complete a set of the four Grand Slam singles titles. He accounted for Karsten Braasch, a German left-hander, 6-1, 6- 4, 6-4, and was generous enough to overrule linesmen and concede a couple of points to his opponent.

"I have trouble reading his serve every time I play him," Agassi said. "There is so much body happening that it is tough to keep your eye on the yellow fuzzy thing. But I think his quirkiness is the strength of his game. The fact that he would try a drop shot when you hit an approach shot to him is a perfect example. You are just not sure what to expect."

A few more lighter touches would have been welcome in the opening match of the championships on the Centre Court, though it is only fair to acknowledge that Jim Courier's chief concern was to settle into the tournament. The champion of 1991 and 1992 defeated his American compatriot and good friend Jeff Tarango, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Jeremy Bates, 32, the oldest man in the draw and the lone Briton in the singles events - a new low in the nation's Grand Slam history - probably played his last match on a clay court when losing to France's Guillaume Raoux, 6-3, 6-0, 0-6, 7-5.

Comments