Tennis: Graf poised to profit

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The Independent Online
THE dollars 350,000 (pounds 212,000) Midland Bank Championships in Brighton, which start today, have provided Steffi Graf with pleasant and profitable autumn visits to England. The Wimbledon champion has won the title five times in the past six years (she did not appear in 1987), and is unbeaten in Sussex since losing to Britain's Jo Durie in 1985.

Any prospect of the pair meeting this time seems remote, with Durie not only situated in the other half of the draw but also due to play the No 2 seed, Mary Joe Fernandez, in the opening round. Graf begins her defence today against Larissa Savchenko-Neiland, of Latvia, whom she defeated in straight sets in Leipzig early in the month.

While Graf is strongly favoured to continue her success at the Brighton Centre, this year's event has attracted an impressive list of contenders, including eight other players in the world's top 20. Conchita Martinez, Anke Huber, Jana Navotna, Nathalie Tauziat and Lori McNeil are among them, and Katerina Maleeva (No 6) is accompanied by her 17-year-old sister, Magdelena (No 21) who eliminated Martina Navratilova in the second round of the United States Open.

The Brighton tournament is Britain's only high-grade international indoor event, since the November men's championships, switched from Wembley to Birmingham last year, has been priced out of the market. This ATP Tour event will now be staged in Antwerp.

'It was going to cost probably pounds 1m,' John Feaver, the Lawn Tennis Association's director of tournaments, said. 'My job is to put on events, but at what cost? For pounds 1m you could put up an indoor centre for kids to play.

'Our players now probably aren't quite of a high enough standard to warrant a Birmingham event. What would it do for us? Two wild cards for British players. Is that a pounds 1m investment? We could put on 20 satellites for that and help our players get better.'

He added: 'For the moment, we've got to get the grass roots right, through the National Club League and through the British tour. We are capable of getting in the market place and finding an event. We are a wealthy enough association, we have the bottle, and, with commerical backing, we can buy events and make them work when we need to.'

Qualifying results,

Sport in Short, page 33

The state of British tennis, page 32