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Graf Comes Back To Win at Swimbledon

July 5, 1996

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) _ Given a reprieve she desperately needed, defending champion Steffi Graf made the most of rare sunshine Friday to reach her eighth final before a deluge turned Wimbledon back into Swimbledon.

Graf, who will play Arantxa Sanchez Vicario again for the title, took only 26 minutes to close out a 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Japan’s Kimiko Date _ 14 1/2 hours after Date swept the last six games of the second set Thursday night.

The women’s final will be played Saturday, if weather permits.

So far this week, weather hasn’t permitted much. Rain drenched the courts four days, and bleak forecasts for the weekend raised the likelihood that the tournament _ the wettest Wimbledon since 1991 _ will be extended past Sunday for the 14th time.

The men’s semifinal between No. 13 Todd Martin and MaliVai Washington was interrupted twice by rain Friday, the second and last time for 4 1/2 hours after the two Americans split the first four sets. Martin won the first set 7-5, Washington the next 4-6, Martin the third 7-6 (8-6), and Washington the fourth 6-3.

The other men’s semifinal, Richard Krajicek vs. Jason Stoltenberg, never started. It was rescheduled to Saturday and moved from Centre Court to Court 1 at 11 a.m., the same time as the planned resumption of the Martin-Washington match on Centre Court.

Even if the men’s and women’s singles titles are decided by Sunday, other events _ men’s and women’s doubles, mixed doubles, juniors and seniors _ are almost certain to spill over into next week.

``The way it’s looking at the moment, unless miracles happen in the next few days I think we’re looking at playing next week,″ referee Alan Mills said. ``Hopefully, not for the championship events, but for the other events, it could very well be.″

Graf, seeking her seventh Wimbledon championship and 100th career title, gratefully accepted the referee’s decision to stop her match at 8:57 p.m. Thursday evening despite a brighter sky than has been seen most afternoons.

``It was pretty dark the last two, three games,″ Graf insisted. ``I obviously just wanted to finish the set. I don’t think she could have played much better tennis. She played some great shots, very deep and very long and flat. It was very difficult to do something.

``I wonder how much longer she could have kept up with it. The balls were really heavy. All these things were favoring her a little bit.″

The 12th-seeded Date, the first Japanese woman to reach Wimbledon’s semifinals, felt she could have won the match if they hadn’t stopped at a set apiece.

``I have very good eyesight, and it didn’t bother me at all,″ Date said. ``To be honest, I wanted to continue to play until the match finished because I just started getting used to her playing style and also my movement was getting better. If play continued after the second set, I think I could keep up that level.″

Date never quite regained that rhythm when they resumed, and Graf came out as overpowering as usual _ starting with an ace on her first serve.

The decisive break against Date came in the sixth game. Graf reached break-point when she angled a backhand sliced return just over the net and out of Date’s reach. Date then dropped the game, falling behind 4-2, when she netted a backhand.

Graf served a pair of aces while taking a 5-2 lead, and on the changeover she spryly strode to the baseline looking to put away the match. Date double-faulted right away and faced two match points at 15-40 when a backhand return by Graf clipped the netcord and popped over. Graf hit a forehand long to lose one match point, then Date saved the next when she got a lucky netcord.

Graf didn’t waste another opportunity, serving out the match when Date’s final forehand sailed wide.

Graf and Sanchez Vicario have waged some epic duels in their previous six Grand Slam finals, with Graf winning four of them.

Two of the best were also the most recent _ at Wimbledon last year, when Graf won 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, and at the French Open last month, when Graf again triumphed, 6-3, 6-7 (7-4), 10-8, in the longest women’s final in the tournament’s history.

Sanchez Vicario, who reached the final here Thursday by beating Meredith McGrath in straight sets, last beat Graf for the 1994 U.S. Open title. She also won the 1989 French Open at Graf’s expense in three close sets. In their 35 matches over the past nine years, Graf has won 27. Their last five matches, and 16 overall, have gone to three sets.

``Even if people say it’s the same match again,″ Graf said, ``I think there has been some spectacular tennis and definitely no boring finals.″

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