Graf slips into the right gear

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The Independent Online
Steffi Graf overcame a hesitant start to reach the final of the German Open clay-court tournament for the 11th time with a 7-5 6-1 victory over the Croatian third seed, Iva Majoli, in Berlin yesterday.

Graf, the top seed, who first won this tournament a decade ago, got her game into gear after a tight first set and produced another confidence- boosting display before the French Open later this month.

The German ace is lacking match practice this year after injury worries in her build-up to Paris, the second Grand Slam of the year. "Every match helps," Graf said. "I am getting better from game to game. It was important to have a tight first set. That is important before the French Open."

In today's final, Graf faces Slovakia's unseeded Karina Habsudova, who continued her superb week with a 6-1 7-6 defeat of Russian Elena Likhovtseva in the second semi-final. Likhovtseva had disposed of the defending champion, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in her quarter-final. Habsudova clinched the match by winning the second-set tie-break, 7-4.

Habsudova, who had knocked out the Swiss teenager Martina Hingis, the French star Mary Pierce and the German fourth seed, Anke Huber, on her way to the final, said: "Steffi's playing at home, she's the big star and I've got nothing to lose."