Tennis: The Centre Court heiresses

Wimbledon 97: Steffi Graf (left), winner of 21 Grand Slam singles titles, seven of them at Wimbledon, is contemplating retirement at the age of 28 after undergoing surgery to her left knee, the latest in a catalogue of injury setbacks. Unable to defend thip this year, Graf spoke to John Roberts about three of the sport's exciting teenagers

GRAF ON MARTINA HINGIS

Martina plays a very intelligent game. She knows exactly what to do. She is very quick, takes the pace from the opponent, plays sharp angles. No matter how hard you play her, she takes your speed and hits with incredible depth. Her down-the-lines are probably the best in tennis.

She also has one of the important things for the young players, a life besides tennis. People say, `Why is she still horse riding, or doing these things?' but you've got to do something. I did skiing when I was 21 or 22, and I broke my finger, but there are some things you have to do because you want to do them. And you know the risk, so it's not like we don't know what we're doing.

On a personal level, it doesn't seem like we're connecting very well. For some reason we are not going far beyond hello, and I don't know why.

GRAF ON ANNA KOURNIKOVA

Anna has a lot of shots and is trying too many things. It seems to me that she's trying to hit it, she's trying to come to the net. She has a lot of shots but she doesn't exactly know how to select them.

She is very different from Martina, who knows exactly. She has these few weapons, and she's using them perfectly. Anna and Venus are raw material at the moment. The next one or two years are going to be crucial for them.

I talk a lot with Anna, sometimes for up to half an hour in the locker- room. She talks very freely and is extremely easy-going. Maybe it's because she has that self-confidence, which I think is good.

What I wish for all the young players is that they have somebody who can show them how to be the best on the court and have fun with that.

GRAF ON VENUS WILLIAMS

With Venus, you just don't know. She's got so much talent, I just wish that she had somebody to guide her how to use it, somebody who would give her some kind of game plan. She has so many shots, but I don't see that she's structuring her points the right way.

She is very quick around the court, especially for her height, but it is very obvious that experience is missing, because she hasn't played enough matches, even as a junior. I do not agree that this was the right way to go about things. Hopefully, she's going to play more tournaments, because that's where she's going to grow in confidence in her shots and what to do on the court.

You can only learn those things by playing. I can practise as much as I want, but until I play a couple of matches, I'm not going to gain the feel for the point. It's just different practising than playing matches.

She would an ideal player for grass. She can really play well at the net. So if she gets a stronger serve, because she has the height for it, and comes in a little bit more, she could be a very good grass court player.

It is not easy to talk with Venus, beyond hello, because she always has her family around her. That doesn't mean she doesn't enjoy herself. Maybe she's grown up differently than others, and maybe she's afraid of approaching other players. It's difficult to judge.

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