Steffi Graf honoured at Madison Square Garden

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The Independent Online

Steffi Graf stood on centre court at Madison Square Garden one more time on Tuesday night, the spotlight shining on her career this time.

Steffi Graf stood on centre court at Madison Square Garden one more time on Tuesday night, the spotlight shining on her career this time.

"You have been a role model for all those who love sports," Judy Levering, president of the US Tennis Association told Graf. "You have been an inspiration to all of us, young and old alike."

Surrounded by a number of other players, Graf was honored for a career that spanned 17 years and produced 107 tournament titles, including 22 Grand Slam singles crowns.

Among the many gifts she received were the door to her locker, No 19, at the French Open, and a picture taken by her favorite photographer, Peter Beard.

And a banner inscribed with her name and the years she won the season-ending WTA Tour event played at the Garden was raised to the rafters, joining the one honouring Martina Navratilova. Theirs are the only two banners that do not belong to members of either the New York Knicks or the Rangers, the two teams that call the arena home.

"You came back dramatically from many injuries to make a strong sport even stronger," said Bart McGuire, chief executive officer of the WTA Tour. "You've been great fun to watch."

The appreciative Garden crowd agreed, greeting Graf with a standing ovation that lasted until they turned up the lights in the arena. It almost brought her to tears, as did the flood of memories that came when a video of her career was shown, accompanied by Whitney Houston's version of "One Moment In Time."

"I've had so many of those," Graf said.

She said there were too many people to thank individually, but mentioned her parents - her mother Heidi was sitting in the stands - and her coach, Heinz Gunthardt.

"I don't only call you a coach," she told Gunthardt. "I call you a friend, too."

Then, after a pause, she said, "I knew I would get emotional."

Dave Checketts, president of Madison Square Garden, presented Graf with a Rangers jersey with the No 5 and her name on the back. He explained the 5 was the number of season-ending championships she had won at the Garden.

He also presented her with a basketball signed by the Knicks - one of her favorite athletes is Knicks center Patrick Ewing - and a Knicks sweatsuit, along with a diamond pendant.

Levering and Geoff Pollard, president of Tennis Australia, represented the four Grand Slam tournaments. Besides the locker door from Paris, she received a picture from the Australian Open, a framed record of every match she played at Wimbledon from the All England Club, and a plaque from the US Open that included a picture of Graf along with a piece of the court from Louis Armstrong Stadium where she won several of her titles.

Her fellow players each presented her with an autographed racket, and former Knicks stars Earl Monroe and Dave Debusschere helped raise her banner.

During her thank you speech, a fan bellowed, "Where's Andre?" referring to Andre Agassi, Graf's romantic interest.

"He's probably at home watching," she said.

Then she turned to the crowd again.

"Thanks to everybody who has made my life very special," Graf said. "I'll miss you all."