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Graf’s Father Criticizes New Ranking System

Special to The Times

Steffi Graf wins matches. Her father Peter issues ultimatums. They don’t happen with the same frequency--winning and whining--but her father is managing to keep pace at the U.S. Open in Flushing Meadow.

The latest: Peter Graf is threatening to form a separate women’s tour in 1990.

What happened to cause this new problem, according to Peter Graf, developed due to an imminent change in the Women’s International Tennis Assn. (WITA) computer ranking system. Last week, the players--111 were present at a meeting, but not Steffi Graf--voted unanimously to make adjustments in the current system. Points for regular series events were increased and points for Grand Slam events were decreased.

Essentially, the move creates the possibility that top-ranked players could lose points when competing in $200,000 or smaller-prize money events. Graf, the world’s No. 1 ranked female player, would be hurt the most because she has the highest point average, 307. No longer would she be assured of reaching her average--as she is now--by winning a smaller event in 1989. For example, she met her average in a tournament of Mahwah, N.J., beating a lesser player, Nathalie Tauziat, in the final.

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Now Graf would need to beat players ranked in the top 10 to even reach her average at smaller events. So, under the new system, Graf would lose points even by winning. And it would be easier for someone like Martina Navratilova to catch Graf because her average, 232, is much lower. Navratilova or Chris Evert wouldn’t be forced to rack up the big points in just Grand Slam events.

“I will not in the future speak to (WITA officials) because they have lied to me,” Peter Graf told USA Today. “It is very unfair.”

Merrett Stierheim, WITA executive director, held a news conference Tuesday at the National Tennis Center and told a different story.

“I hope when it’s all over, he’ll reconsider,” Stierheim said. “We knew this was coming for quite some time. When I went to Hamburg and I had more meetings with Steffi and Peter.”

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Peter Graf says he won’t let Steffi sign for a commitment to play in 1989, which is due Sunday, unless the WITA changes the system to his liking. On Sunday, players give the WITA a list of the tournaments they want to play.

On the prospect of the Grafs starting a rival tour, Stierheim said:

“I think that would be a major mistake. One obviously we’d resist. I think the sport is a lot bigger than one person.”

Pam Shriver, who is ranked No. 4, openly scoffed at Peter Graf’s notion of a second tour.

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“He can start lining up pigeons for Steffi,” Shriver told the Baltimore Sun.

If anything, Peter Graf’s timing was anything but good, coming on the brink of a possible Grand Slam here by his 19-year-old daughter. Look back one year, however, and his timing at a tournament in Los Angeles was equally as bad. There, Peter Graf threatened to pull Steffi from the event if she was forced to play a night singles semifinal match.

He won that one. Graf became the new No. 1 player two days later after her father’s threat. Fearing that the media will throw off Graf’s concentration on the eve of a Grand Slam, her agent, Phil dePicciotto asked that the large international contingent of reporters refrain from asking Steffi about the matter. Good luck on that one.

Shriver doesn’t see what the fuss is about, anyway. Graf has lost two matches in 1988 and just one set in the first three Grand Slam events of the year.

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Shriver said, “What bothers a lot of the players is that she doesn’t even have the time to be involved in the organization. If she makes an effort, it is a half-baked one.”

Already, the WITA has caved in to one of Peter Graf’s demands here at the Open. At the WITA awards dinner at the start of the Open, Graf received her award as Player of the Year first, instead of last, departing from tradition. Peter Graf said if Steffi went last she wouldn’t show. Instead, Soviet Natalia Zvereva received her award as Rookie of the Year last in the program even though she had a match the next day.

Zvereva promptly lost to a qualifier in the first round and her coach Olga Morozova mentioned the late evening tired the 17-year-old. Meanwhile, Graf was idle.


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