Tennis: Graf goes in search of greener pastures

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STEFFI GRAF'S determination to grace Wimbledon again is underlined by her decision to play in the Direct Line Championships, which starts, weather permitting, in Eastbourne today.

Graf, the 29-year-old former world No 1, has not hit a ball in anger at Devonshire Park since she was a junior and when she entered two years ago she injured herself in practice.

But Graf made her latest comeback from injury in the DFS Classic at Edgbaston, where she reached the semi-finals before rain forced the tournament to be abandoned yesterday with netiher of the semi-finals being completed.

And now she is eager for further grass-court practice and a chance to prove to herself that she is fully fit and ready to tackle Wimbledon again.

Jana Novotna and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario shared the Eastbourne title last year when the final was washed out and they are top and third seeds, respectively, with Graf seeded second.

The Eastbourne line-up also includes Anna Kournikova and the Williams sisters Serena and Venus, whose mother Oracene broke her ankle falling down stairs in the house the family have rented in Wimbledon.

British interest is limited to the national No 1, Samantha Smith, who proved she was deserving of a wild card when she overcame the higher ranked Rachel McQuillan and Sarah Pitkowski in Birmingham last week.

n Paul Hand became Britain's first Wimbledon casualty this year when bowing out on a rain-disrupted first day of qualifying at Roehampton yesterday.

Hand was the only one of the 13 Britons attempting to qualify for the tournament proper - which starts next Monday - to complete a match and he lost 6-4, 6-2, to Jared Palmer, of the United States, ranked 184 places in the world above him.

n The International Tennis Federation will vote at its annual meeting in Killarney, Ireland, next month on a proposal to abolish the let rule from the start of next year. However, the proposal has not been met with universal approval by the players. Pat Rafter, the US Open champion, and others, have raised the possibility of boycotting the Australian Open if the no-let rule is in place.

"You could have a Grand Slam final decided by a serve that catches the tape and takes a really weird bounce which gives the returner no chance of getting to the ball," Rafter said.