TENNIS / JERRY CROWE : For Graf, This Season Is a Relief

Steffi Graf's dominance in women's tennis is partly attributable, of course, to the absence of Monica Seles, who has not played since she was stabbed by a deranged fan during a match at Hamburg, Germany, last April 30.

But Graf, unbeaten in 28 matches and winner of $774,065 already this year, suggests that other factors should be considered:

--Until last week, when she suffered a sprained knee ligament in practice and pulled out of this week's Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head Island, S.C., she was injury-free.

--Her new racket is superior to her old one, of a different make.

Graf, 24, said she endured several weeks of hard workouts at the end of last year, hoping she could avoid the injuries that nagged her throughout the year. This year, she is as physically fit as she's ever been.

"One day running, one day weights," she said of her regimen. "Every second day, I did the other thing for six weeks, taking only two days off. It was a very hard time because it took from morning to evening. It was very difficult, but it was all worth it.

"Last year, there wasn't a tournament where I didn't have anything (bothering me). I had a lot of foot problems. I got the (foot) operation finally in October. I've had a lot of shoulder injuries. In August, I started to get back pain, which I've never had before.

"Every tournament, at the end I had to play with (painkilling) injections. Every morning, I went to the doctor for injections. And I didn't want to do that. I got so many injections last year, and I went to so many doctors, I had enough of it. Even with all the success I had, I was questioning if I was doing the right thing."

Graf said she put off switching rackets as long as possible because of a sense of loyalty. "I'd been with the company since I started playing a lot, but all the other rackets have been so much better that it was just a matter of time before I did it," she said. "It took me very long--I never really wanted to do it--but this racket gives me much more power and it helps me at the net."

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Struggling artist: A certain former No. 1 player, having collected art since he was 20, has opened the John McEnroe Gallery in the SoHo district of New York City.

McEnroe told Esquire magazine that he has traded tennis lessons for drawing lessons from artist Eric Fischl.

"Right now he's a better tennis player than I am a drawer," said McEnroe, who credits Fischl with helping to guide his taste. "But I hope to change that."

Mac's favorite subject matter?

"Naked women."

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Now you see it . . . : Dennis Ralston has won his battle to have his name restored to the U.S. Tennis Assn. record book as captain of the 1972 U.S. Davis Cup team, but he is still threatening to sue the USTA for removing it.

This mess started about a year ago, when USTA President Bumpy Frazer, acting on information received from past presidents Robert Colwell and Stan Malless, authorized 20-year-old records to be altered by ordering that Colwell and Malless be listed as captains of the '72 U.S. Davis Cup team in the 1993 USTA Yearbook.

Ralston, who in each preceding year was listed as captain from 1972-75, was given a footnote as "coach" of the '72 team.

Outraged by this bit of revisionist history, Ralston retained a lawyer, Bob Ranck, and solicited affidavits from the players on the '72 team, among them Stan Smith and Tom Gorman, who vouched for his role as captain.

Frazer said he had no reason to doubt Colwell, who for three years had campaigned to have his name added to the record book. Frazer said Colwell had told him that, as USTA president in 1972, he'd made a handshake agreement with Ralston that Colwell, or another official appointed by Colwell, would serve as captain for matches played outside the United States.

The U.S. team won the Davis Cup in '72, playing all of its matches, including the final at Bucharest, on foreign soil.

No evidence of Colwell's claim could be found, however, and Ralston's name was ordered restored to the USTA Yearbook.

Ralston, though, is irked that he did not receive an apology.

"They don't say a damn word about, 'I'm sorry, we made a mistake,' " Ranck said. "Boy, they're an arrogant bunch."

"I'm sorry that I caused Bumpy Frazer the embarrassment," Colwell said. "But I have nothing to apologize for because nothing I've said or done wasn't completely true and honest and aboveboard."

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Last roundup: Only two months into her final year of singles competition, Martina Navratilova, 37, was asked to defend her decision to leave the WTA Tour after winning a tournament in Paris last month for her 167th title.

"I had my mental state questioned by some people," she said. "They said, 'Are you crazy? Rumor has it that you've really lost it in the head.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' I was told that I was crazy for quitting because I am at the top and playing really well. But this doesn't change my mind.

"I mean, enough of a good thing already. I don't feel like it is going to be this big part of my life that is cut away because those memories will always be there. And I am walking away on my own, not because I am forced to by body or mind or anything else.

"I am walking away because I am ready for the rest of it."

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Dear Diary: After upsetting two-time defending champion Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the quarterfinals of the Lipton Championships, Brenda Schultz said she had predicted the victory in her diary.

"I wrote down last night 10 times, 'I am going to beat her. I am better. I am better.' And I did it," said Schultz, who is ranked 24th. "I am going to keep writing everything down."

She lost her next match.

Tennis Notes

A senior tour made up entirely of former No. 1 players--John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander--will make an April 23 stop at Anaheim Arena. . . . Steffi Graf is not scheduled to play again until next month's Citizen Cup at Hamburg, Germany, the tournament during which Monica Seles was stabbed last April 30.

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