Graf takes care of business on and off court

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reports from Key Biscayne

Steffi Graf's ability to unburden herself on the court has never been more crucial as she prepares for the demands of the summer season while her father-manager remains in prison, awaiting trial accused of tax evasion on her millions.

Peter Graf's predicament appears to have had a fatalistic affect on the 26-year-old Wimbledon champion. "I'm not afraid of anything any more, including death," she said this week in an interview with the New York Times.

The question of mortality was broached after mention was made of Graf's boyfriend, Michael Bartels, a German racing driver. "You can't stop someone from doing what they care about," she said. "But I knew Ayrton Senna a little bit, and what bothers me is that a year after somebody dies it's like they're forgotten, like they were never there at all. That to me is scarier than dying, that people react that way.''

Her relief to be playing - and comparatively pain-free at present - has been intensified by the need to involve herself in complex business issues in her father's absence.

"I don't enjoy business," she said. "It's been an awakening, and not the usual kind. It's been interesting but depressing.

"I'm glad I never had to deal with these people before. I spent the start of the year talking to investigators, choosing lawyers, caring about book- keeping and kind of taking responsibility from A to Z for what's happening to my father.

"I think I've been dealing with a group of people who care about money, image and ego only - even the ones I'm paying. This man [her father] sits in jail, and the only people around him are lawyers, and the other 23 hours he's by himself. It's very hard on our family and if this is business, I don't like business.

"I want to see what I'm going to do with the rest of my life now. But outside of my tennis, it's all kind of a mystery. And with all the problems I'm always having, tennis is still a challenge.''

That is a business she appreciates. Usually the severest critic of her own performances, Graf has played so well during the Lipton Championships here that on one occasion she was moved to outstretch her arms and beam at the heavens.

Her form in defeating Mary Joe Fernandez, 6-1, 6-0, in the fourth round on Monday night was so outstanding that after the players had split the opening two games the match became a showcase of Graf's skills. "It was all her out there," the ninth-seeded Fernandez said.

The American is accustomed to losing to Graf, as their head-to-head of 14-0 shows. Occasionally, Fernandez has created opportunities to win. Sometimes she has frozen in the dazzle of the German's shot-making. Here, she must have wondered why she had bothered to turn up.

Graf declared herself to be "astonished" by her performance. "I felt I could hit whatever I felt I wanted to do. I could have kept on going.''

In contrast, her quarter-final victory against Kimiko Date required resilience. The Japanese fifth seed, who was beaten by Graf in last year's final, 6-1, 6-4, had more success with her flat groundstrokes yesterday. Date led in each set before Graf asserted herself to win, 7-6, 6-3.

The semi-final against Lindsay Davenport may also prove difficult, judging by the closeness of their recent match at Indian Wells (Graf won, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4) and the way the tall American swatted the third-seeded Anke Huber yesterday, 6-0, 6-1.

Stefan Edberg's encouraging run ended in a fourth-round defeat by the Frenchman Arnaud Boetsch, the No 15 seed, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.