Perhaps the greatest game of them all

JOHN ROBERTS

Tennis Correspondent

Next time you have to wait 20 minutes because your train is delayed, or there is a problem with air traffic control, or the table you reserved has been given to somebody else, console youself. It is merely the time it takes to complete one game in a Wimbledon women's singles final. A unique game, it must be added, between a tall, athletic German and a short, lively Spaniard who looks as if she might have popped out of a bouncy castle.

Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario enraptured the Centre Court on Saturday in what ranks among the greatest of matches. It will be remembered for "The Game", which Virginia Wade encapsulated as "a match within a match", but there was much more to it.

The standard of play was high from start to finish, the ball driven or coaxed to the corners of the court, barely clearing the net - except when Graf was executing 11 winning smashes - and the players a blur of action, straining for the initiative. There were errors - how else would time have been found for the men's final yesterday? - but they were made chiefly in the quest for superiority, not because of a lack of nerve.

Graf triumphed after two hours and two minutes, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, but Sanchez Vicario finally had materialised as a major personality in the grass-court game, no longer the fringe figure at Wimbledon whose name seemed to attract an inordinate amount of attention when she competed in tournaments elswhere on the globe.

The 23-year-old from Barcelona repeated several times that she was proud of herself and considered herself unlucky not to have been presented with the Venus Rosewater Dish. Instead she added to the fun by pretending to steal the trophy from an opponent who had already won it five times.

Many voices tried to reassure the loser. The Prince of Asturias "told me it was only some points that Steffi was lucky to have" and the Duchess of Kent "said in the next few years I will lift the trophy up".

Sanchez Vicario tended to whinge about line calls which went against her, including one in "The Game". But Spanish observers were inclined to recount another of those 32 points - the fifth of her eight which which she might have won the game - when a backhand stop-volley carried a touch too much pace, enabling Graf to run the ball down and lash a backhand pass down the line.

The important thing was that Sanchez Vicario had convinced herself that the Wimbledon prize is now within the scope of her game, which previously had only prospered on slower surfaces. She has the necessary variety of shots, and had the confidence to go for them.

That is how she succeeded in winning an excellent opening set and was able to recover after being broken to 1-2 in the final set, extending the duel, which was being fought in hot, almost airless conditions. When Graf was about to serve, 4-5 down, an American colleague expressed the hope that the match would not end there and then, because it deserved a longer run. Little did we know.

After the mental and physical exertions of the epic 11th game, it may have seemed a formality for Graf when she served for the title at 40-0 in the concluding game, having drawn three errors from her opponent. The truth is she was trembling so much that she could hardly keep her racket still. "I had to say to myself, 'OK, OK, keep cool, now you have got it'."

The serve was deep, and strong enough to deny Sanchez Vicario options on the return, and when Graf punched a confident backhand volley, the Spaniard responded with a backhand which drifted beyond the baseline.

So ended the most wonderful women's match of my experience for all-round entertainment. Some would argue that Margaret Court's 1970 win against Billie Jean King, 14-12, 11-9, was better. All a matter of taste and opinion, of course. Laurie Pignon, a former colleague, has never enjoyed a final more, and his mind casts back as far as Alice Marble, in 1939.

Two cranes have presided over the All England Club's grounds during the fortnight, evidence that the future of the Championships is under way. It seemed appropriate to be reminded that the event is nothing without great matches, and that the women are determined to continue their contribution to the rich tapestry.

Incidentally, Graf and Sanchez Vicario are not the first women to find a place in the record books after disputing a point or two. Vicky Nelson and Jean Hepner would not let one go for 29 minutes. The ball crossed the net 643 times during a rally in a tie-break. Nelson won the shoot- out, 13-11, in an hour and 47 minutes. It brought her victory, 6-4, 7- 6, after six hours and 31 minutes.

But that was in a run-of-the- tour event in Richmond, Virginia, in 1984. This is the Big W.

TWENTY MINUTES THAT THRILLED THE WORLD

Saturday's 20-minute game between Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the women's singles final has passed into Wimbledon lore. It will be remembered alongside the 20-minute tie-break between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg in the fourth set of the 1980 men's singles final, which the American won 18-16, only to lose in the fifth set, and the 112-game match between Pancho Gonzales and Charlie Pasarell in 1969.

The contest between Graf and Sanchez Vicario stood at one set all and 5-5. This is how the points were decided.

0-15 Sanchez forehand long

15-15 Graf wide on forehand returning second serve

30-15 Netted forehand by Graf

30-30 Sanchez forehand over baseline

40-30 Sanchez forehand drop shot.

Deuce Graf forehand winner

Ad Sanchez Forehand pass down the line

Deuce Sanchez wide with cross-court backhand

Ad Sanchez Ace

Deuce Graf passes with cross-court backhand service return

Ad Graf Sanchez nets backhand

Deuce Graf hits forehand service return over baseline

Ad Sanchez Low backhand cross-court pass

Deuce Winning smash by Graf

Ad Graf Forehand cross-court pass

Deuce Sanchez low angled backhand drop shot

Ad Graf Sanchez nets forehand approach

Deuce Graf hits forehand long from deep Sanchez backhand

Ad Sanchez Forehand cross-court pass

Deuce Graf backhand pass from Sanchez stop-volley

Ad Sanchez Graf backhand wide from Sanchez backhand to corner

Deuce Sanchez wide with backhand down the line

Ad Sanchez Graf long with backhand service return

Deuce Graf forehand drive

Ad Sanchez Forehand pass

Deuce Sanchez wide with cross-court backhand

Ad Graf Sanchez wide with forehand

Deuce Forehand cross-court pass

Ad Graf Sanchez missed with backhand down the line

Deuce Sanchez backhand drop shot down the line

Ad Graf Graf intercepts Sanchez cross-court forehand with forehand volley

Game Graf Sanchez unable to control her backhand from Graf's winning cross-court forehand drive

Duration: 20 minutes

Points: 32

Deuces: 13

Break points: six

Game points: eight

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