Tennis:Graf denies tax trial has hurt form

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The Independent Online
Steffi Graf has spoken publicly for the first time about her father's conviction for tax evasion, saying it was not affecting her play. Graf also said she had never thought of leaving Germany because of high taxes on her earnings.

The German world No 1 ended a week of personal and sporting problems with an easy victory over Lisa Raymond of the United States in the second round of the Pan-Pacific Open in Tokyo.

For the first time since her father was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail by a German court last Friday, Graf did not brush aside a question about the case.

"No, it didn't affect my game," she said.

Peter Graf was convicted of evading tax of 12 million marks (pounds 4.6m) on his daughter's earnings. Steffi Graf is also under investigation in the affair.

Commenting on reports that, like fellow German Boris Becker, she might consider living outside Germany because of high taxes, Graf said: "That is absolutely not in my mind at the moment. I've never said anything like that."

Looking relaxed for the first time in days, Graf won the hour-long match against Raymond 6-3, 6-2. The last time the pair met three years ago in San Diego, Graf needed three sets, including a tie-break, to win.

Graf, who last week was knocked out of the Australian Open in the fourth round after problems with an infected toe and heat exhaustion, made her return to tennis on Tuesday in an exhibition doubles match with Pam Shriver, which she also won.

In the indoor match against Raymond, the German did not drop her serve once and pronounced herself fully fit again.

"There's room for improvement but I felt pretty good for my first match [in a week]," she said. "My injured toe hasn't been a factor for days."

Graf, the winner in 1986, '90 and '94, stopped to sign autographs after the match but had to run to safety when fans broke through ropes holding them back.

The Australian Open champion, Martina Hingis, the second seed, swept to a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Italy's Gloria Pizzichini in her second-round match. Like Graf, she had a bye through the first round. Afterwards, Graf even had praise for Hingis.

"Her Grand Slam came a little earlier than mine. She is really progressing fast," Graf said.

Graf and Hingis are seeded first and second so that they could possibly meet in Sunday's final. Hingis said: "I like this kind of fast [indoor] surface, because you don't have to run so much."

Like Graf, Hingis is having to deal with the distraction of her the media turning its focus on her father, Karol. As Hingis became the youngest person in the Open era to win a Grand Slam last week, Karol watched on television from his small flat in Kosice, eastern Slovakia.

He has never been invited to see her play at a Grand Slam tournament but, soon after celebrating his daughter's finest moment, Karol's life has begun to change almost as much as the his 16-year-old daughter's has been transformed.

Hingis, a groundsman at his local tennis club, has become the envy of many locals and the focus of media speculation that he has been spurned by his daughter, who left the then-Czechoslovakia in 1987 aged seven with her mother, Melanie, for a new life in Switzerland.

In fact, little has changed in his life since Martina turned professional two years ago and began climbing the rankings.

Karol has rarely managed to see her since she left, the last time being late last year when Martina and Melanie visited the Czech Republic for an exhibition match.

"Isn't this problem big enough already for me, to not be with my child?" he asked. "What would my daughter think about me after all this? I went to see her whenever it was possible for me," he said.

"[However,] if they don't invite me, they probably don't want me to be there," he added.

Karol's wish to see more of his daughter in person may be fulfilled soon. The Slovak tennis authorities have chosen Kosice as the site for the first round of this year's Fed Cup match between Slovakia and Switzerland in March.

But Mr Hingis would not say whether he will have to buy a seat for the chance to watch his daughter play. He added: "My child has tennis before her, let us not talk about these things. Why should she deal with all this stupid din?"