Tennis: Nerves get the better of Graf

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The Independent Online
LOGIC having left the Lipton long ago, the first cloudless and near windless day of these beleaguered championships produced a women's final in which two of the world's most experienced players had trouble keeping the ball in court. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario eventually made a better fist of it and so retained her title with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 victory over a strangely wayward Steffi Graf.

'It's a very nervous match,' observed Mark McCormack from his courtside box. That cut to the heart of the matter, and the face of Arantxa's new coach Carlos Kirmayr, so recently with Gabriela Sabatini, only emphasised the strain on new relationships.

Yet despite the plethora of unforced errors - particularly off the Graf forehand that had been firing so lethally against Sabatini in the semi-final, the match contained some dramatic rallies of high quality which kept the 13,000 crowd in full voice.

But the week had not always been so pleasing. By the time play was interrupted for the 13th time, Butch Buchholz would have been excused had he done a midnight flit and headed for Miami Airport where all those strange airlines can deposit you on remote jungle strips far up the Amazon. Short of a tidal wave washing the whole thing out to sea, there is nothing much else that can happen to ostensibly the fifth largest tennis tournament in the world.

The site was flattened by the hurricane last August. Another gale-force wind tipped over tents and made play impossible on the first Saturday, and then, when the sun did arrive, water started seeping through the newly laid acrylic composite Stadium Court, in a repeat of what happened at the New Haven tournament last summer.

If they could still bear it, Buchholz, the former Jack Kramer touring professional who created this event eight years ago, and his brother, Cliff, who is tournament director, may have checked the results and ruminated on the carnage of top names: Boris Becker's sudden attack of the flu removed him from competition before he had hit a ball; Michael Stich lost to Marcos Ondruska and the world No 1 Jim Courier, asked to play twice in a day, lost his mind, his temper and eventually his fourth round encounter with Mark Woodforde.

Alison Blake, Cliff Buchholz's assistant who is closer to nature than most around here, at least had an explanation for the embarrassment of the broken court. 'It was a full moon, and as you know, the moon is currently closer to the earth than it has been in centuries. So it follows that the gravitational pull has to be greater. So with the tidal surges raising the water table, the water was pulled up through the surface.'

By the time darkness fell on Friday, not much had been resolved in the men's quarter-finals. Stefan Edberg, returning to court for the fourth time, never discovered sufficient rhythm to prevent Petr Korda beating him 7-6, 7-6, but that still left the referee, Alan Mills, wondering how he was going to finish the remaining three matches. With the darkness black as pitch around the floodlit court, Ondruska, born in Bloemfontein of a Czech father 20 years ago, kept things moving by outplaying Woodforde in straight sets - a result that said much for the South African's burgeoning talents.

Woodforde, who at 28 is heading for the top 20 for the first time in his career, won the US Professional Indoor in Philadelphia last month and was very much the form horse after his well-plotted victory over Courier. 'We tried to draw Jim to areas of the court he doesn't like and keep attacking off Mark's forehand,' Woodforde's veteran coach, Ray Ruffels, confided. Brilliantly as that strategy worked against Courier, the Australian redhead was never positive enough against Ondruska who signalled his pending rise up the computer - he will leave the forties behind after this week - by reaching the final at Scottsdale three weeks ago. Andre Agassi beat him there but the Wimbledon champion has done little since and was bombed out of the fourth round by Richard Krajicek's massive serve.

Later on Friday night, that Dutch service was not good enough to prevent Pete Sampras from easing his way into the semi- final 6-3, 7-6, Krajicek handing the American the match with a double fault.

(Photograph omitted)

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