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ANALYSIS : Only One Sight to See on This Tour

TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

Like Disneyland without rides, the women’s professional tennis tour is currently a flawed attraction. It is a weekly competition without any, match play with no matches.

Sunday, the tour’s Goliath, Steffi Graf, flicked away another of the tour’s Davids, Amanda Coetzer, in the final of the $400,000 Evert Cup. The scores were 6-0, 6-4; the crowd was a half-full 6,791 in the Stadium Court at the Hyatt Grand Champions, and the most drama for the media centered on who would win the pool on how long it would take Graf to win. The thought never occurred to anyone that she wouldn’t.

For the record, it took Graf 57 minutes and the $33 pool was won by a writer from Pravda.

Such is the current state of women’s tennis.

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Barbara Perry, co-tournament director of the Evert event and an executive with the International Management Group (IMG) that is such a huge driving force in the sport, calls the current women’s situation “a marketing issue.”

“Right now, there’s just a small group of top players,” she said. “It’s a serious issue in the women’s game.”

Another way to put this is that, this week, Conchita Martinez took over the No. 3 spot in the women’s rankings, behind Graf and Aranxta Sanchez Vicario. Needless to say, Conchita Martinez, a very fine player, is hardly a household word.

The blame for this can be traced directly to two people: Guenther Parche and a security guard at some mall in Tampa, Fla.

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Parche is the German who leaped out of the stands in Hamburg and stabbed Monica Seles in the back nearly a year ago. Seles has yet to return to the tour.

The unnamed security guard is the one who decided to make a federal case out of some alleged shoplifted costume jewelry Jennifer Capriati had in her possession. That became such an embarrassing incident for Capriati that she left the tour and won’t return until sometime this summer, after her high school graduation.

So, with Martina Navratilova playing her last full season of singles competition and hanging on at No. 4, and Gabriela Sabatini neither playing much nor well at the moment, you have players in the top 10 such as Kimiko Date of Japan and Anke Huber of Germany.

That leaves Graf as pretty much the 500-pound gorilla, and even the most sadistic ticket-buying fan will not put out much money, nor waste time watching a telecast of a sporting event that reminds them of the Alamo. For that, they have Buffalo in the Super Bowl every year.

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Even Graf is aware of the problem that her excellence presents. When asked here Sunday about her reaction to the crowd’s obvious favoritism toward Coetzer, she said: “I understand fully. If I bought a ticket for the match, I’d cheer for it to go longer, too.”

But it seldom does, these days. The 24-year old German has not lost a set this year. Her winnings for 1994, two months into the year, passed $500,000 with the $80,000 she won in the Evert Cup. Since Parche stabbed Seles last April 30 and Graf lost in the final of that event, she has gone on to win 65 of 67 matches, including the last four Grand Slam events, the French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open and this year’s Australian Open.

In fact, with the way things are going for Graf these days, perhaps the most remarkable performance of the Evert Cup this year was turned in by Ginger Helgeson, the former Pepperdine player. She kept Graf out on the court for 79 minutes, an amazing feat.

Such is the current state of women’s tennis.

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