Tennis: Graf steps on accelerator to dismiss Sanchez

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The Independent Online
IF THE old blues singer Ma Rainey were still around, she'd be warbling, on behalf of racket-flapping womankind: 'Won't you come home, sweet Monica, won't you come home] We've cried the whole year through.'

More tears flowed on behalf of the women's game at Flinders Park where Steffi Graf belted Arantxa Sanchez Vicario black-and-blue, 6-0, 6-2, for yet another Australian Open title in a contest which hardly raised the stock of the WTA Tour.

It may have raised Steffi's morale - 'I can remember few times when I played as well' - but this was a distant drumming from the exciting three-set finale that Graf and Seles waged a year ago, Monica's last hurrah prior to the stabbing.

Sanchez Vicario claims a dubious place in the Australian record book: she shares with Jan Lehane the title 'worst beaten finalist'. Lehane was run over by her Australian countrywoman Margaret Smith (Court) in 1962, also 6-0, 6-2.

'This is the best I've ever seen Steffi,' said the spunky Sanchez Vicario, who reaped a tremendous outpouring of applause from 11,730 customers at the 31-minute mark of the 57- minute encounter. Why? She had at last won a game after being blitzed in the first seven.

On a cool, cloudy afternoon, there was a glimmering of sun, and hope for Sanchez Vicario, when she broke Graf in the second set to 2-3, and served an ace to 40-30, a point from 3-3. But she never got nearer. 'I try my best, but she's still killing me,' sighed Arantxa.

Her busy, swift legs were ever off the pace of Fraulein Forehand's thunderbolts to the baseline and the corners. 'She play his best,' said Sanchez Vicario, who may have had pronoun (as well as Graf) trouble, but the solecism seemed apt - Steffi was booming them more powerfully than the ordinary man.

If Graf was in full bloom at the stadium where she launched her 1988 Grand Slam, it may have been because romance is blooming, too, for her. (The German racing car driver Michael Bartels has been in town with her for the fortnight, and sat with Steffi's parents for the final).

For two weeks Steffi may have been trying to show the boyfriend that two can play at the gas-pedal stomping game. Graf made the seven-match course in a total of 6hr 23min to collect dollars 460,000. That's nine minutes under the time for the longest recorded men's singles match, John McEnroe over Mats Wilander in a 1982 Davis Cup joust. Steffi played throughout as though she and Michael were afraid to be late for tea.

Graf threw a scare into her colleagues at the outset of the tournament, stating that 'for the first time in years I feel really healthy. I've been able to train much harder than ever; I'm fitter.' She's always so trim that it was apparent only in her shotmaking and verve. 'Now my goal is to be the very best I can.'

So what about another Grand Slam, tying Rod Laver's all-time achievements? 'We'll have to wait now and see what happens in Paris. Of course I hope Monica is there.'

So does everybody else. When, oh when, Monica? She has ruled out the winter indoor season. Might she appear at Indian Wells, California, on 22 February? It's a property of her agents, International Management Group. But it's hard court stuff, and Graf will be there.

More likely is clay, leading into the European season. Possibly Houston in March? That's another IMG event, and a weak field, bereft of Graf. If Monica doesn't surface soon, the WTA may have to dig up Ma Rainey as an attraction, singing 'The Blues My Missing Sweetie Gave to Me'.