Tennis: Graf confirms retirement plan

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STEFFI GRAF confirmed last night that she will retire at the end of the season.

The 30-year-old former world No 1 had said after Wimbledon that she would not return to the All England Club next season, but last night she said this would be her last season. "I'm privileged to be able to leave when I wish without being pushed towards the exit door. It was not easy to take this decision but the competition had become too difficult for me," she said.

Graf, who has had 17 seasons on the WTA circuit, will compete in tournaments in San Diego, Toronto and Newhaven before disputing her last Grand Slam, the US Open, which begins on 30 August.

She began her career on the Tour in 1982, and within five years she was the dominant player in the women's game. Graf set a record of consecutive weeks as world No 1 after she took the top ranking on 17 August 1987. She did not relinquish it until 10 March 1991, when her 186-week run ended with her defeat by Gabriela Sabatini in the final of the Bocan Raton tournament.

The onset of knee trouble, which required surgery in June 1997, allied to personal problems surrounding her father Peter's handling of her financial affairs, took its toll on her but this season she has revitalised her game. She won the French Open title in June, when she beat Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the final and maintained her form to sweep through to the final at Wimbledon. There, however, she was unable to deal with Lindsay Davenport, who became the world No 1 by taking the title. Graf, the seven- times champion brought down the curtain on her Wimbledon career following that 6-4, 7-5 defeat.

Graf, who won her first title at the All England Club in 1988, will be chasing a sixth US Open title at Flushing Meadow next month.