Tennis: Graf finds resilience to beat Fernandez when she needs to

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The Independent Online
STEFFI GRAF is an intimidating force anywhere but it is on the red clay of Berlin that her citadel is built. Only Monica Seles has breached her defences since 1986 when she won the first of six German Open titles in seven years, although Mary Joe Fernandez yesterday threatened to do some damage, writes Guy Hodgson from Berlin.

The American, who has failed to beat Graf in 10 attempts, was beaten 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in a 2hr 29min semi-final yesterday, yet she rattled Graf's supremacy almost to breaking point. She was 4-2 up in the second set and 3-0 ahead in the third but could not finish her opponent off. The German has now reached her 18th consecutive final on home soil.

It was a match that was dramatic for the result it might have provided rather than the tennis it produced. Both women struggled; their shots were erratic, sometimes in, frequently a long way out. European clay is supposed to breed long rallies; instead there was barely a passage of more than a few hits before a mistake. Graf was particularly error-prone in losing the first set, her usually formidable forehand out of control.

Fernandez, at present ranked eighth in the world, hadn't taken a set off the German before, so this was a landmark. Gaining in confidence, she broke Graf twice in the second and was within two games of a famous victory until the Wimbledon champion asserted herself with a reminder of her previous domination, taking the set 6-4.

Fernandez's spirit was still intact, however, and instead of a German landslide she fired a parting shot of two breaks of her own in the final set before Graf took six successive games to win.

The German will attempt to repeat this today against Gabriela Sabatini, who avenged her defeat in the Italian final last Sunday by beating Conchita Martinez in three sets. 'I told myself to step in and take the ball early,' she said. 'To impose myself.'

GERMAN WOMEN'S OPEN (Berlin) Semi- finals: S Graf (Ger) bt M J Fernandez (US) 4-6 6-4 6-3. G Sabatini (Arg) bt C Martinez (Sp) 6-3 4-6 7-5.