Steffi Graf Sets Record For Top Ranking
Steffi Graf is No. 1 all alone _ sort of.
The German right-hander on Monday was ranked No. 1 for the 332nd week in her career, breaking the record of 331 weeks she shared with Martina Navratilova. Ivan Lendl holds the men’s tennis record of 270 weeks at No. 1.
``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 by telephone from Berlin, where she’s playing in the German Open. ``But to hear the number, it is pretty amazing.
``And 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.″
Because of a special Corel WTA Tour rule, Graf is not alone on top of the weekly rankings. She shares that spot with Monica 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, ending Navratilova’s 10-year dominance of women’s tennis. She stayed No. 1 for a record 186 consecutive weeks, until March 11, 1991, when Seles took over.
Over the next 26 months, Graf and Seles swapped the top two rankings a total of six times.
From June 7, 1993, through Feb. 6, 1995, Graf was on top alone before Sanchez Vicario took over. The two then traded the No. 1 ranking a record six times in 1995, the last on June 12, 1995, when Graf once again moved to the top.
Since then she has held the No. 1 ranking for 49 consecutive weeks, being co-ranked No. 1 with Seles since Aug. 15, 1995.
That her record came while she was playing in Berlin seems appropriate.
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 Monica Seles in the 1990 final.
This year’s Berlin tournament also is a chance for Graf to get her game back in order before the year’s second Grand Slam event, the French Open, later this month. She was upset last week at the Italian Open by 15-year-old Martina Hingis of Switzerland, and lost to Japan’s Kimiko Date in a Fed Cup match on April 28.
``Actually, I am not feeling too bad about the two matches that I lost,″ Graf said. ``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.″
Graf 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.″
Which leaves her other problem. Her father Peter Graf and tax adviser Joachim Eckardt have been charged in her native 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, so I am getting there.″
Graf, now 26, has won 18 Grand Slam 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
singles titles at least four times.
She has won 97 career singles titles, third behind Navratilova (167) and Evert (157) among the women.