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TENNIS / WOMEN AT LA COSTA : Graf Ends Slump Talk, Routs Sanchez Vicario

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Slump? What slump?

Even though Steffi Graf had reached the final of the $400,000 Toshiba Tennis Classic, her subpar play had been the talk of the tournament. She hadn’t been at the top of her game since winning the German Open in her homeland three months ago.

But that was before Graf took the court Sunday at La Costa Resort & Spa for the championship match against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario of Spain. This was a showdown between the world’s top-ranked women’s players, and Graf turned it into a 6-2, 6-1 runaway for her 86th tour victory.

Graf needed only 1 hour 7 minutes to win the tournament for the fourth time, and the second time in a row. She also beat Sanchez Vicario in last year’s final, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1.

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During the awards ceremony, Sanchez Vicario told the sellout crowd of 5,800, “It was not a nice thing for me. I tried everything, but she was very hot today and showed why she’s No. 1 in the world.”

Graf holds a 24-6 edge over Sanchez Vicario, including 3-1 in 1994.

“Every time she plays me, she’s so great,” Sanchez Vicario said. “She’s got something against me. I don’t know what it is.”

Said Graf: “I’m not mad at her. I just played some of my best tennis today.”

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Graf was asked later if she could play any better.

“I don’t know,” she said. “The best I ever played against Arantxa was in the Australian Open this year (Jan. 30). This one was probably the next best.”

Asked about her so-called slump, Graf laughed and said, “I can’t talk about slump today.”

Slump or not, Graf had expressed concern during the week about her inability to put away seemingly overmatched opponents. She had no such problem Sunday.

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“I knew what I had to do, and I didn’t feel like she had anything to hurt me,” she said. “I’m very happy now about the week I had here. Even the trouble I had earlier in the week, I fought my way out of it, and closing out this way helped me a lot to get ready for the U.S. Open (beginning Aug. 29).”

Graf was asked if her decisive victory was indicative of a vast difference between No. 1 and No. 2.

“No,” she said. “Arantxa wasn’t up to the level she can play.”

That being the case, Graf said she had a feeling after four games that she would be in command.

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“I broke her (service) in the second game,” Graf said. “Even though she broke me back, I broke her again in the fourth game. Then I knew what I had to do, and I knew I could do it.

“I wanted to be more aggressive, go for my shots and go in behind them. It helps me very much to win this tournament, especially since everybody was talking about my two losses in a row--wow!”

Graf was beaten by Mary Pierce in the semifinals of the French Open and by Lori McNeil in the first round at Wimbledon before coming here.

All that changed Sunday.

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“Steffi didn’t miss a ball,” Sanchez Vicario said. “Normally she’s not so consistent, but today her volleys, overheads, everything she hit was perfect.”

Later, Sanchez Vicario derived a measure of consolation by teaming with Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic to beat Ginger Helgeson of Alpine, Calif., and Rachel McQuillan of Australia in the doubles final, 6-3, 6-3.

The doubles match was Sanchez Vicario’s 29th in 25 days, and she said, “I’m not touching a racket or a tennis ball for two days. I deserve a vacation.”


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