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INTERNATIONAL TENNIS HALL OF FAME MEDIA CONFERENCE
April 28, 2004
THE MODERATOR: What does it mean to you to be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
STEFFI GRAF: Well, first of all, thank you so much. I'm getting rewarded, I'm getting an award from the biggest, biggest possible way, and that's from the Hall of Fame. It's like a dream come true to be recognized for what you've done in your career by the Hall of Fame. It's incredible. So thanks again, and I appreciate it a lot.
Q. I'm sure you know that that weekend is the 50th anniversary celebration of the Hall of Fame, and the day before the induction ceremony itself, something like 54 living Hall of Famers will parade around the stadium court in Newport. I'm just curious to know how you feel mixing in with that kind of company, even though you'll have to wait another 24 hours to join them.
STEFFI GRAF: Well, it's going to be -- I mean, it's going to be such a privilege to be part of it. You know, tennis has been so extremely good to me, and it's been something that I've had such a strong passion for and obviously, I've watched and got to meet a lot of incredible, incredible tennis players of the past. And to be part of this and to meet some that I may not have met before, it's going to be very special to walk out there on the court.
Q. Did you have a tennis hero, a heroine when you were young and growing up in the game?
STEFFI GRAF: You know what, the people, I can't say that I've had heroes, but who I really admired for their talent and the way they played was Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.
Q. The last major you won was the French Open of 1999, and you said at the time that it was probably the most unexpected. You seem the most gratified by that win. Do you still feel that way now? And then the second part of the question would be, looking back on your career, do you feel like you may have peaked in that period of, say, '95, '96, rather than your Grand Slam season of '88?
STEFFI GRAF: Well, to answer your first question, I have to say there have been a few unexpected wins. I recall that I struggled a lot with my knee and with my back and I got to Wimbledon a day and a half before the tournament started and didn't even know if I should play or not and I ended up winning. But in terms of where I was in '99 and where I was coming back from with the knee surgeries, and just for many months, not playing as well as I could have for quite a period and didn't really believe in myself as much. To able to beat the players that I did at that time, yeah, I still think that that was -- that probably was the most unexpected. The second part, yeah, I believe that in '95 and '96, even though I was starting to struggle with my back and it has not been -- it wasn't so easy to work as hard as maybe I have done in my younger years, maybe not being physically in as great of shape as when I was younger. But I think as a player, I was much more complete, and I think that that's a big thanks to Hans Guenther (ph) who elevated my game and statistics and strategies to another level, and to make me a smarter player on the court, for sure, I feel like that I was a better player then.
Q. Did you feel, though, that when you won the Grand Slam that you were so young at 19, that you were not even fully aware of what you were accomplishing then?
STEFFI GRAF: Well, I mean, to an extent, I was aware, because I was, you know, I had to answer a lot of questions throughout the later part of the Grand Slam tournament, starting with, you know, as I won the first two, you know, the questions started to arise around Wimbledon and winning Wimbledon, just there was a lot of hype around it, if I can do it or not. So I was really aware in that sense that I felt -- I did feel the pressure. I was trying to downplay it as much as I could. Probably my youth helped me of not making it a bigger deal. But by the US Open, actually, I was looking back at it a little bit a few months ago after I succeeded and won at the US Open. I mean, I completely broke down in terms of mentally, I was just so exhausted. I was aware and the pressure was on, but if I can say anything, I wish it would have been later, so I could have enjoyed it more. I would have just, you know, maybe just round -- in way, I feel like as young as I was, that it helped me, but in another sense, it didn't help me to maybe enjoy it as much.
Q. Looking at your career, Martina at the beginning, then Sabatini the late 80s and then Monica in the early 90s, does one rivalry really stand out for you? And was tennis harder for you to enjoy when so many players just tried to keep the ball away from your forehand?
STEFFI GRAF: Oh, God. (Laughs). The great thing is that I got -- because of the longevity of my career, I got to almost go through a few generations of players, and starting with Martina. I think Martina was a player that had such a different style than most of them that it made it most interesting to play against. Being a left-hander, coming in, you know, and me being someone that played from the baseline, you could always expect an exciting match. I feel like she put me on the edge probably the most, and then following up, like I said, with Gabriela, we had some incredible battles. The same I do have to say about Arantxa. We have played so many great matches, finals, Wimbledon final that I think back, and Paris. And then you can move to Monica, and then later on to Martina at the end and Lindsay. I feel great about it, that I got to play against such a different mix of players, that it obviously made it bring more out of me.
Q. As many of us will recall, in your early years, you showed relatively little emotion, there was a certain indrawn quality, and then in the last years, there was so much feeling, so much emotion, and even at times, some tears. Can you talk about that transition? You touched on it a little bit, but what was the difference between playing tournaments early on and later and the evolution of your emotions and feelings?
STEFFI GRAF: I think most of it is just life. You know, you have, obviously, as a younger person, there's less responsibilities, less weight on you, and it's just, it grows as you get older, responsibilities come up and independence, as well as, I think everybody was aware, which I was struggling at times physically. There were a lot of other things, struggles with that I had to cope with that not only had to do with tennis, but a lot of questions that I had to answer and trust that I had to give and believe. And as you just get older, I think you're more aware of things and you think harder. You learn a lot, and it just makes you a different person.
Q. We all had to deal with the cards we are dealt, so to speak, but if you could go back and just look at perhaps one or perhaps two things that you would have changed in your career, what would it have been?
STEFFI GRAF: I tried to pace myself, and I don't think -- I have to say that, you know, I've never tried to play too much. But what I did do is I practiced extremely hard, and I think looking back, I wish that I would have just taken it a little easier. I think, you know, what can I say? I have no regrets and I wouldn't change a thing. But I just wish that I would have had an easier time of getting away a little bit from the tennis and, you know, I always wanted to play. I wish I wouldn't have had that desire as much, because I think that would have kept me probably a little healthier. But I worked always hard and that took a toll at times physically, but other than that, I have to say, what kind of regrets can I have? I was very fortunate with my career, so I wouldn't change a thing. Look where I am right now, you know, through my career, I got to meet my husband. So I don't want to change one thing.
Q. Is it harder to watch tennis or play tennis in the big matches? That's the big question.
STEFFI GRAF: Oh, you're talking about watching whom?
Q. Watching Mr. Agassi.
STEFFI GRAF: You know what, you're just helpless when you watch. That's the tough part. You know, I'm a very active person and I want to be able to control things, and I can't. So in a sense, it's harder watching. And obviously, you feel love for yourself; it's for him and that makes it even harder.
Q. Given the extremely competitive state of women's tennis today, can you see any of the current players approaching your 22 Grand Slam singles titles?
STEFFI GRAF: There's certain so much talent out there. You know, it's going to be a question, and you can see it probably with Serena and Venus Williams. They have got incredible talent. They are physically so strong. You know, it's a matter of, also, the desire and there's a lot of options for young girls, you know, if it's attractive enough to stay around tennis as long. But I think that the talent is out there. It's a question of desire, as well as physically how they are able to keep up.
Q. You talked about the toll playing and practice took on you, so many of the elite players have suffered injuries and even illnesses, are they playing more than they did in your day, or what's happening out there?
STEFFI GRAF: I don't think so. But, you know, obviously I can't talk for -- I don't see, you know, how they work out or how they are keeping up or how much they take care of their body. I was traveling for many years, for many years I was travelling with a physiotherapist that kept my body any line, and I've worked with doctors and I've had a great medical support. I can't speak for others how they handle it or how different they do things. You know, it's a matter of having great people around you that help with you that.
Q. Looking back on your career, could you pick out one victory as the most satisfying in your career, and on the opposite side, possibly the biggest disappointments tournament-wise in your career?
STEFFI GRAF: Well, the great thing is that there's a couple -- there's probably quite a few that stand out as very -- as being the most satisfying, and I still have to say, the first Wimbledon was really, really big for me, just because that tournament, from when I grew up watching it, it just meant most to me. So my first Wimbledon, and honestly, every single one was so special, as well as topping off the '99 French Open. Those were the biggest tournaments for me to the biggest ones. One of the toughest losses, I think I've had two really tough ones. The one that will sound really weird, one was in Tokyo against Gabriela Sabatini in the finals. But it came after a string of, you know, a couple matches that I led a set on a break and I started losing those matches. That was a match that I lost 7-6 in the third, and that was '90, '91, and that stuck with me quite a bit. I think that's the one and only time that I ever disappeared after a match and didn't do a press conference. That was a very -- for whatever reason, it was a time in my life, I had a couple great years and I was tired and exhausted, and was struggling with tennis a little bit. The other loss that I had was against Monica Seles in Paris, I lost 10-8 in the third set.
Q. How did winning the Grand Slam and the Olympics in '88 compare to all of those, or was that too much of a shock at the time?
STEFFI GRAF: Like I said earlier, in '88, by the point that I was -- I tell you, I was so exhausted that I really had nothing left. Obviously, I was happy when I won, and I remember match point and beating Gabriela and at the end of my physical ability during that match, at the end of that match, starting to cramp, and then end up winning the match, it was -- it was incredible. But after that I just went through a stage where I knew I had the next day, I had to get ready to leave for, it was so much for me as a young age, that unfortunately, I was just exhausted to really soak it in and know what I've done. I just didn't have fun, and sometimes, with tennis the tough part is that you win such a big tournament and you're off to the next one, and that's probably what I was trying to say earlier. I wish I would have taken a little more time to take a step back and then take probably a few more breaks, even though, you know, we were really trying hard to do that. The Olympics, yeah, unfortunately, it was too much for me at the time. I think we were absolutely not worrying about winning at all. I just went there to enjoy myself, to see other competitions and see other athletes, and I did that, and on top of all that, I win it. It was crazy. It was absolutely crazy. But if anything, I would say that winning the gold medal meant more at that point to me and I enjoyed it so much more than crazy enough winning the Slam because I was a lot more relaxed.
Q. Wonder if there's anything from your playing career that's helped you out in terms of being a mother, wonder if any of the challenges are the same?
STEFFI GRAF: You know what, life makes you who you are, and my career in my tennis and my travels, the people that I've met, the cultures, I think that makes all that -- it makes me who I am. Hopefully that helps in taking care of my children and being all that I can be for them. I think it's who I am that makes me pass on what I have. I can't say that tennis taught me different things. I mean, I won't single one out, but it doesn't make me who I am. I'm sure, or I hope, that helps me to be all I can be for my children.
Q. What do you think separated you from your peers during your career mentally and physically, that you were able to accomplish so much? And I also wondered, how is tennis in Germany changed since you were a little girl?
STEFFI GRAF: Well, I think that my passion and desire for the sport, it has given me such a drive that in a way, is you know, I was able -- I enjoyed working out, I enjoyed all of those parts, and I think that made me who I am; that made me the player that I was. And I won constantly, was trying to get better. I was constantly working on that, as well as probably as much as I was trying to get better and perfect my game; I didn't take it as serious to win. I don't know how to explain that, but, you know, I was more driven by the way I was playing, rather than with the result of the tournaments. So I think that gave me maybe an edge in terms of not -- not feeling the pressure that I had to win rather than my own pressure of competing well.
Q. How has tennis changed in Germany since you were little, do you think?
STEFFI GRAF: It's gone through a lot of changes. Tennis grew incredibly because we were blessed to have a few great players at a time with Boris Becker, with Anke Huber and myself. So it was such a -- there was so many players that had different characters and made it real interesting and in our home country to turn on the TV or come out to the matches and started getting involved and get interested in what we were doing. It certainly was a big boom. Unfortunately, that has not stayed with it, but it does seem that you need the characters, you need the players, but it's such a big sport in Germany that it will always be something that people will get drawn to and especially kids, as well.
Q. Is there a WTA player today whom you would really like to have gotten to play in your career, and do you see yourself in any of today's players?
STEFFI GRAF: There are not many players that I haven't played. But, you know, watching today, I got to play the Williams' sisters, and Kim Clijsters is the only one I didn't actually play was Hardin, and I got to meet her a few weeks ago. I have to say I'm impressed with what she has achieved the last few years, and I love her game. She's the only one that I haven't played kind of, so maybe I'll pick her.
Q. With everything that the Williams' have accomplished, we are not seeing very much of them right now, whether it's a physical burnout or a mental burnout; what are your thoughts on them? And who does intrigue you, I know you mentioned Justine; I want to hear your thoughts a little bit more about her game and what you like about her?
STEFFI GRAF: First of all, she has a one-handed backhand and that's not around much anymore. She's somebody that really, she works physically hard, she's very committed to the sport. She tried different aspects to make herself better. She maybe doesn't have the physical stature; she's not as tall as other players, but she'll make it up with speed, with working out a little more, and you can see it. I find little similarity in that sense in how I approach the game, and I guess that that's where I look at her and say, well, it's great to have the desire, and then obviously, there's a passion in how she plays and the dedication.
Q. What about the Williams'?
STEFFI GRAF: Well, yeah, I think are incredible if you look at them, the talent that they have, the chances of winning more than they have even done so far. Now lately with Serena's injuries and obviously, I'm not well enough informed about what they do outside of tennis, it seems they enjoy that part a lot and it's what everybody picks and chooses for themselves. But in terms of Serena's power and talent and physicality, I would like to see her achieve more than she has done so far.
Q. You said you met Justine a few weeks ago, where was that, what was the occasion and what did you say to her?
STEFFI GRAF: We saw each other in Orlando. We were both there for a big convention for Adidas, and we were kind of waiting for our parts, basically, in that event. So we were just sitting around and so I just came up and said hello. We got to talk a little bit and I was asking how she's enjoying the game, and I thanked her because she did mention before that she was looking up -- she was looking up to me as a player when she grew up. She mentioned that she was in the same airplane in Australia but she didn't have -- she didn't feel like she wanted to intrude. I'm like, please, you can always come up and talk to me. I hope that I'm always approachable. So we had a nice conversation, and I was just telling her that, you know, I've been watching her and been really impressed in what she has achieved.
Q. Are you surprised at Martina, that she's still capable of playing with the women today, especially in doubles, doing very well, and even tried her hand at singles?
STEFFI GRAF: Yeah, I'm actually not surprised. You look at her, and she's still physically -- I mean, she is physically in great, great shape. She goes out there, she certainly loves the sport. There's very few that you can see and she's still eager, and she loves it and she's eager and she works hard at it. And there will be -- always I think it pays off. It's hard to believe at her age, what she's doing but she's one of the greatest players ever. So, you know, I'm surprised and not surprised.
Q. Can you tell us a little about your daily routine? What are your children's names and ages? And do you do anything with sports and your feeling about them entering the sport; and if you ever get on a tennis court, are you hitting a ball --
STEFFI GRAF: That's a whole lot of questions at once here. Let me start with -- I mean, the daily routine is waking up, probably, what was it today, quarter to 6:00. The day starts really early with very little sleep. Jaz is six months old. She is an absolute sweetheart. She's really the quiet one of the two. She smiles a lot. Apart from waking up early, she's a great sleeper during the night, but it's a big thing especially with our traveling. Jaden, he is an absolute sport nut. From the beginning on, you can go until the big evidently toy store and he can come out with a ball. Doesn't matter what size, what shape, as long as the ball, basketball, football, baseball, tennis ball, he kind of plays here and there, not very often. But other than that, he loves to throw the ball, play basketball, golf. Whatever ball sport it is, he loves it. So, he's extremely active. He'll probably catch up with something in the sport, I doubt it, who knows, maybe tennis, but he will go here and there. He will go on the court when we are but that's not so often.
Q. How about your physical shape?
STEFFI GRAF: With two kids, I'm travel trying to balance to have a little time here and there, which is very seldom. Actually I didn't play for almost a year. Just in the last few weeks picked up the racquet here and there a little more -- tried to schedule around the kids. I'm trying to be with my kids as much as I can, and be there for them so there isn't that much time, unfortunately.
Q. Do you think you would ever give it a go, some matches?
STEFFI GRAF: No.
Q. That's an absolute no?
STEFFI GRAF: No, no. I'm not coming back. That's not going to happen. There might be the occasional exhibition or so, but I'm, no, I'm not. No plans of that. No. That would take a lot of time away from my children and I would not do that.
Q. When you pulled out in '99 before the US Open, did you ever think about it afterwards that you had a shot to go after the all-time record, since records are the things everybody still looks at and Margaret will still be No. 1, possibly forever because women don't play that long, but what did you think about that?
STEFFI GRAF: Oh, I thought I picked the perfect time for myself to retire. I've had no regrets, and I've never felt that I could have done more or should have done more, and I'm very happy at the place I was. I just felt after Wimbledon, I truly felt, this is it. I took a few weeks to really be sure about it, but I was at peace with my career and I've never looked back and thought or felt that I needed to do more. I felt like I've achieved more than I ever could dream of, more than I ever -- I mean, I never had goals and I've never really looked at records. I think you've known me a little bit throughout my career, and it has never meant much to me. So I have no regrets.
Q. To use the old cliche, the chances of you and Andre playing mixed doubles, are we looking at slim and none here?
STEFFI GRAF: Yeah, extremely slim. Extremely, extremely slim.
Q. How much are you getting out and playing these days? And you said you're you'd taken a year off, what was it like when you finally came back after taking that year off?
STEFFI GRAF: It feels great to be on the court. I love it. I still love it. I enjoy it, and, you know, I've missed it through the periods. And I'm sure I'll play a lot more in the coming years, but with the two kids close together, it just has happened to be. It wasn't planned or anything. It's just the way it's been going with the travel and the kids. So I'm sure I'll get out a lot more. And I missed it, you know, I missed it a lot. I love to be out there and hit around and have fun. So, you know, first of all, I mean, right now, I've got to get in a little more shape, I haven't gained or anything, but I just need to strengthen my muscles a little bit more, but I hope to play a little bit here and there a little bit.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much for your time, and again congratulations.
STEFFI GRAF: Thank you so much.
THE MODERATOR: Looking forward to having you and Andre in Newport in July and best to you and your family and want to thank everyone else involved in this teleconference.
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