Steffi Graf Sets Record For Top Ranking
May. 14, 1996
Even Steffi Graf is impressed.
``I realized that I have been No. 1 for an extremely long time, but I never really was the kind of person who counted the weeks or the years,'' Graf said after setting a record for holding the No. 1 ranking the most weeks in her career. ``But to hear the number, it is pretty amazing.''
Graf has been atop the rankings _ either alone or co-ranked with Monica Seles _ for 332 weeks, snapping the mark of 331 Graf shared with Martina Navratilova. By contrast, the men's tennis record is held by Ivan Lendl, who was top-ranked for 270 weeks.
``Knowing that no one has ever achieved something like that is extremely special to me, because I know how difficult it is to stay there for such a long time,'' Graf said.
Graf set the record when the new weekly rankings were announced Monday. After suffering losses in two of her last four matches, Graf added this week's German Open to her clay court schedule.
She lost last week to 15-year-old Martina Hingis of Switzerland after struggling through two earlier matches at the Italian Open. On April 28, she lost to Kimiko Date as Japan upset Germany in a Fed Cup tie.
``Actually, I am not feeling too bad about the two matches that I lost,'' Graf said by telephone from Berlin on Monday. ``I just didn't play as I am used to playing, so I haven't been upset about the losses that I have had.
``I was really surprised about the two wins that I have had _ starting the year late and winning two tournaments. It is the middle of May and I have only played three tournaments.''
It was in Berlin where Graf burst onto the tennis scene in 1985 as a gangly 15-year-old, pushing Chris Evert before losing in the final. She returned the next year to capture the first of her eight German Open titles, defeating Navratilova in straight sets.
Since then, she has lost only once on the clay courts in Berlin, to Seles in the 1990 final.
Because of a special Corel WTA Tour rule, Graf shares the No. 1 spot in the weekly rankings with Seles, who trails far behind in fourth place in the number of weeks _ 152 _ she has been ranked No. 1 in the world.
Seles was No. 1 when she was stabbed by a spectator during a match in Hamburg, Germany, in April 1993. When she returned to the court last August, the WTA Tour gave her special ranking, naming her co-No. 1 for one year or six tournaments, whichever came first.
Her next tournament will be her sixth, when another special ranking consideration will be in effect until she has either played in 14 tournaments or 18 months have passed since her return.
Only six women have captured the top spot since computer rankings began in November 1975: Graf, Seles, Navratilova, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Chris Evert and Tracy Austin.
Evert held the No. 1 spot a total of 262 weeks, Austin 22 weeks and Sanchez Vicario, currently ranked No. 2, 12 weeks.
Behind Lendl on the men's tour, Jimmy Connors was ranked No. 1 for 268 weeks, John McEnroe 170 and Pete Sampras, the current No. 1, for 121 weeks.
Graf first became No. 1 at the age of 18 on Aug. 17, 1987. It was the last time Navratilova was No. 1 after dominating women's tennis for 10 years.
The German right-hander also was ranked No. 1 from Aug. 5-11, 1991; Aug. 19-Sept. 8, 1991; June 7, 1993-Feb. 5, 1995; Feb. 20-26, 1995; April 10-May 14, 1995, and June 12, 1995, to the present.
Since then Graf has held the No. 1 ranking for 49 consecutive weeks, being co-ranked No. 1 with Seles since Aug. 15, 1995. Graf also holds the record for most consecutive weeks at No. 1 _ 186.
To stay on top, Graf has had to battle more than her on-court opponents. She has been plagued with injuries the past few years and underwent an operation on her foot in December.
``The foot is perfect,'' she said Monday. ``My back is not too bad, either. Physically, I think I can't be much better.''
Then there's her other problem. Her father Peter Graf and tax adviser Joachim Eckardt have been charged in Germany with tax evasion, although prosecutors say the player has not been incriminated in the case.
Still, the mental pressure has admittedly affected her concentration, if not her game.
``Mentally I think I am doing sort of OK,'' she said. ``I am preparing for the French (Open), so I am getting there.''
Graf, now 26, has won 18 Grand Slam tournament singles titles, including a feat tabbed the Golden Grand Slam in 1988, when she captured the titles at the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, Wimbledon and the Olympic gold medal. She is the only player to win each of the four Grand Slam tournament singles titles at least four times.
She has won 97 career singles titles, third behind Navratilova (167) and Evert (157) among the women.