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LOOKING OUT AT NO. 1 : Top-Ranked Graf Commands Both Respect and Admiration From Her Opponents

Special to The Times

Steffi Graf, the world’s top-ranked female player, will be seeking her fifth consecutive grand slam title when she meets Helena Sukova Saturday in the finals of the Australian Open. Here is what some of her opponents say about her:

--Wendy Turnbull: “For a 19-year-old, Steffi is an extremely mature player. She’s a gifted athlete and also very determined, which helps her in tight situations during a match.”

--Lori McNeil: “A very serious person. . . . She is a player with a lot of discipline and determination, which is great to be 19 and have all that.”

--Elise Burgin: “From what I’ve seen, she’s an intelligent person and has matured as a human being over the past two years. It’s not easy to handle super-stardom, but the fact that she’s a star and she’s still pushing to be a better player says something about her character. She has her goals set in her mind and she knows what she has to do in the game of tennis. When you’re that young, it is easy to look at success and say, ‘I know I’ve done it. Now I can go and spend my money.’ Her perception of herself is: ‘The person I am is the person that wants to become the best that I can be.’ ”

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--Pam Shriver (joking): “She has potential.”

--Belinda Cordwell: “Totally professional attitude and has brought nothing but good for the game. She is simply phenomenal.”

--Rafaella Reggi: “I respect her. Not very easy to do (maintain a No. 1 ranking). She doesn’t really talk too much. Nobody really knows her because she always has her dad around her.”

--Nicole Provis: “When I played an exhibition with her in Japan, she was great. She talked all the time, and she now always says hi when she passes by.

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“As a player, she is very professional about the way she does things. She has a great forehand, she’s very quick, and you always feel under pressure when playing her because she’s always doing something with the ball. She also finishes a match as quick as she can, which is what she did against me (describing her 6-4, 6-0 loss to Graf as this tournament).”

--Terry Phelps: “She’s a sweet girl and she’s not arrogant. When I played her at Wimbledon last year, I played great and lost, 6-3, 6-1. I was also happy to last 55 minutes. Her serve is unbelievable, her speed is incredible, and she is so confident.”

--Iwona Kuczynska: “She is bringing a new wave to tennis, and she’s a killer on the court. She wants to win so badly. I don’t like what she’s bringing to tennis. Her style is all strength and speed. There is no touch of finesse to her game, and I would like to see more of that, like it used to be in the past.”

--Mary Joe Fernandez: “She is very modest and very down to earth. She’s very tough to beat, very fast, and before you know it, the ball is back. She has also improved her serve.”

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