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Graf Wins Seventh Wimbledon Title

July 6, 1996

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Every hacker could smile in sympathy at Steffi Graf’s embarrassing whiff on an overhead Saturday in the Wimbledon final.

Only a few retired greats could relate to her winning her seventh championship on Centre Court, her 20th Grand Slam title and her 100th tournament.

Graf is at once the most vulnerable and unbeatable woman of her era, a champion on all kinds of courts, through injury and illness, rain and sun, and a tax investigation of her and her imprisoned father that has gone on for a year.

Somehow she puts all her problems aside when she picks up her racket, and she did it again to defend her Wimbledon title with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in a much less dramatic rematch of last year’s finalists.

``Knowing the situation I was in two weeks ago, physically, it just seems amazing to me to really come through like that,″ said Graf, who thought she might not be able to play Wimbledon after injuring her left kneecap a week before the tournament. ``I don’t know how I do it. I just keep on doing it. I don’t care how.″

Graf, who turned 27 a few weeks ago and has no intention of retiring soon, is closing in on the records of the finest players in history.

Only two women won more Wimbledons _ Martina Navratilova with nine, and Helen Wills Moody with eight. Only Margaret Court Smith, who won 24 Grand Slams between 1960 and 1975, captured more majors. Only Navratilova, with 167 overall titles, and Chris Evert with 157, won more tournaments in a career.

``It feels pretty awesome right now,″ Graf said. ``It didn’t hit me, until I got to the locker room, about the 100th title. But winning the seven Wimbledons, it is something I never imagined I could do or was capable of doing. It’s just incredible to me how the last few years have been going, how I’ve always been able to rise to the occasion.″

Graf said this was the most unexpected of her Wimbledon victories. She was still limping two days before her first match and lacked grass-court practice.

``This is simply unbelievable,″ she said. ``It’s just been like a dream. I didn’t expect it being possible. I felt physically I wouldn’t get through it all the way.″

This was the seventh Grand Slam final between Graf and Sanchez Vicario. The last four were tight, three-setters, including last year’s Wimbledon classic and last month’s French Open championship match Graf also won.

But this final lacked the emotion and excitement of those previous encounters. Despite a cold and sinus problems, the top-seeded Graf overwhelmed the fourth-seeded Spaniard in the first set and held off a second-set charge to win in 1 hour, 28 minutes to take home another silver trophy and a $547,150 check. Her $18.8 in career earnings is approaching Navratilova’s record of $20.3 million.

``Her forehand was never so good as today, so close to the lines, and she served very well,″ Sanchez Vicario said. ``I did have a little chance, and I took it, but it was too late.″

Sanchez Vicario didn’t raise her game until she was trailing 4-0 in the second set. Although she rallied to make it 5-5, Graf won the next two games to close out the match. After Sanchez Vicario hit a forehand return into the net on match point, the two players exchanged kisses at the net.

After accepting the runnerup trophy, Sanchez Vicario held it out as if to give it to Graf. The German laughed and refused to take it. Then, Graf received the champion’s plate from the Duchess of Kent and hugged it to her chest.

Later, the two players exchanged trophies for a few seconds. Sanchez Vicario ran off with it, laughing, and held it up to the crowd as though she were the champion.

The match started 58 minutes late due to yet another rain delay in this wettest Wimbledon in five years.

When play started in bright sunshine, Graf took charge quickly. She broke in the fourth game. During the changeover at 4-1, Graf called for the trainer and received pills for her allergy condition. She coughed frequently during the match and spent much of the time during the changeovers blowing her nose.

Graf, whose ace closed out the first set in 34 minutes, raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set and looked on course to finish the match within an hour.

But Sanchez Vicario held for 4-1 and broke in the next game, which included the humiliating miss by Graf on a simple overhead near the net. Like many a hacker, she ran around the ball to swipe at it again, and flipped it over with a forehand. But Sanchez Vicario pounced on that and slapped it for an easy winner.

``I don’t think it happened to me before,″ Graf said. ``It was a little embarrassing out there. There was no bug, no nothing around me, nothing I can blame. I thought I had it. I don’t know what happened.″

Graf served for the match at 5-4, but failed to convert. She double faulted twice and was broken on the third break-point when she made a forehand error. But Graf broke back for 6-5 and served out the match at 15 in the next game to move into the rarefied territory of players like Navratilova, Evert, Court and Moody.

``To see myself in a place of history, I think it’s a little too early for me to do,″ Graf said. ``It’s just remarkable being the 20th Grand Slam.″

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