Tennis: Graf's breeze after storm

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The Independent Online
THE flagpole was leaning slightly, and the Sunshine State was cool enough for Steffi Graf to start her match wearing tracksuit bottoms, but the dollars 3m ( pounds 2.1m) Lipton Championships were back in business here yesterday. Not that the fate of a tennis tournament merited much consideration after a weekend of death and destruction on this side of the Atlantic.

Many Florida residents had barely had time to pick up the pieces strewn by Hurricane Andrew last August when winds of up to 109mph blew them away again. Eighteen people were killed in the storms here, and there were a further 20 deaths as blizzards struck higher up the eastern seaboard of the United States.

Compared with the desolation of the inappropriately named Homestead, a few miles away, Key Biscayne is in reasonable shape, though mangled palm trees and gaps in the landscape are a reminder of Andrew's havoc.

The tennis centre at Crandon Park had to be closed on Saturday, when an iguana was one of the few beings to venture on to the centre court. Last August's high tides stranded fish on the courts, but caused little structural damage; chiefly because there are few permanent structures on the site.

After formally announcing on Friday that agreement had been reached for a long-promised stadium to be built for next year's championships, Butch Buchholz, the tournament chairman, gave aconstruction workers' helmets to the media as souvenirs. They did not expect to have a need for them.

A handful of players attempted to practise during the tail-end of the storm on Saturday morning, serving to the right-hand court in order to give themselves an outside chance of landing the ball in the left-hand court. Graf decided that this was not her sort of game and went jogging with her coach.

Graf, the leading competitor in the women's event in the absence of Monica Seles, was greeted by a clear blue sky and a gentler wind when she returned to Crandon Park yesterday for her opening match against Chandra Rubin, a 17-year-old American who reached the fourth round of the United States Open last year. 'Compared with yesterday, it's beautiful,' Graf said after winning 6-2, 6-1 in 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, Britain's Jo Durie advanced to a third-round meeting with Zina Garrison Jackson by defeating Sandra Cecchini, of Italy, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1.

Goran Ivanisevic's confidence is leaning at a steeper angle than the flagpole. The Wimbledon runner- up to Andre Agassi was able to offer little resistance to Patrick McEnroe, who defeated him, 6-3, 6-3. A year ago, Ivanisevic lost in the third round to McEnroe's celebrated older brother.

The Croat, who missed the Australian Open because of a stress fracture to a foot, is growing concerned with the tentative nature of his return to competition. 'I have lost my confidence,' he said. 'Today everything I won was with his mistakes. The way I am playing I would be struggling with the women's tour. Maybe McEnroe has a sister I could play, if not, the third brother. I have to beat somebody, anybody, it doesn't matter who, just to win a match.'

It was a memorable day for David Engel. The 25-year-old Swede, who has yet to make it big, as a world ranking of No 167 shows, not only shared a court with Jimmy Connors but defeated him, 6-3, 6-3.

The 40-year-old Connors, whose ranking has dropped to 138, was unable to give the spectators much of a show. 'I don't stay match tough because I don't play enough matches,' Connors said. 'The family keeps me tied up, and I also have business to attend to.'

Concerning his tennis, Connors continues to work on the organisation of an over-35s tour and says he may make an appearance at Wimbledon if offered a wild card. Asked if he may be tempted to play Monica Seles in view of his victory against Martina Navratilova in Las Vegas last year, he placed his tongue in his cheek and said: 'Who knows? I'm the unofficial women's champion now. I think I deserve a challenge.'

Results, Sport in Short, page 31