Tennis: Graf wins one for the grown-ups

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The Independent Online
STEFFI GRAF behaved like a champion and was made to feel like Suzanne Lenglen. Martina Hingis spat the dummy, threw the rattle out of the pram, and was made to feel like Marie-Antoinette.

We must cherish every moment that remains of Graf's career. She bade au revoir to the French Open in her moment of triumph, and will be 30 next Monday. Wimbledon, the United States Open and the Australian Open are still on her itinerary, but not, perhaps, for much longer.

Graf acted her age in Saturday's final, recovering from the brink of defeat with the skill and composure that comes with experience, and won, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.

Hingis, alas, also acted her age, which, lest we have been blinded to it by her dazzling success in soaring to No 1 in the world since winning the junior title at the French Open at 12, is 18. The astonishingly mature player became a petulant teenager.

The century's youngest winner of a Grand Slam title came within one false move of creating another record by becoming the first woman to be disqualified at a Grand Slam championship. Hingis received a code violation for breaking a racket during the fifth game of the opening set, and was penalised a point for crossing the net while disputing a line call on the first point of the third game of the second set, when she was leading 2-0.

Yesterday Hingis was fined $1,500 (pounds 935) for the second offence, unsportsmanlike conduct, but suffered greater punishment on the court, both from the outrage voiced by the spectators and from the negative vibes her action transmitted to her opponent. "I was surprised she got so upset about that point," Graf said. "It obviously showed that she was pretty tight and she wanted it bad."

Hingis began to lose heart after failing to serve out the match from 5-4, 15-15 in the second set. "I was not only fighting against Steffi, but the whole crowd, the umpire, the referee, the line calls. And Steffi played too good in the third set, I have to respect that."

Respect, or a lack of it, was a sub-plot to the drama. Hingis did not enamour herself to the French public in January by referring to Amelie Mauresmo, who is a lesbian, as "half a man". And a year ago, Hingis implied that Graf was a spent force. "Sometimes she hasn't been respectful to her opponent," Graf said. "I'm not even talking about myself, but others. It is something she really should take a closer look at, because we're all out there, we're all trying hard, we're working for it."

Graf said she was not offended when Hingis saved the first match point serving underarm. "I thought it was a hell of a serve," Graf said. "I had the feeling the crowd thought it was an insult, but it was a good decision from her point." Graf was less impressed when Hingis hit the ball out underarm when she was meant to be serving to save the second match point. On this occasion, Hingis climbed the umpire's chair and explained that she could not hear because of the noise of the crowd.

Hingis took a bathroom break after the opening game of the final set. Graf followed suit, and was the first to return, lifting her racket to join in the crowd's Mexican wave. Although Hingis had a game point for 3-3, she lacked the will to win. At the finish, she left the court to boos, and was brought back in tears by her mother and coach, Melanie Molitor, for the presentation. Hingis's only redeeming moment came when she addressed the crowd in French.

No excuses can be made for Hingis's behaviour, but her obdurate character may have roots in her background. Her maternal grandfather was a Czech anti-Communist dissident who received a death sentence, which was commuted. He spent eight years in prison. Melanie Molitor, who believed she was denied any chance of a career in tennis because she was not allowed to leave the country, instilled in Martina the need to stand up for herself. Melanie named Martina after Navratilova, not simply because Navratilova was a great player, but because Navratilova had the courage to defect.

Wimbledon stages the next instalment of the tennis opera. It is possible that Graf's record of seven singles titles at the All England Club will see her promoted one place above her ranking to No 2 in the seeding, and projected to meet Hingis in the final. Graf will also play mixed doubles with John McEnroe. And the latest bulletin on Jana Novotna's injured right ankle encourages optimism that she will return to defend the title.