Perhaps the greatest game of them all

July 10, 1995

Tennis Correspondent

Next time you have to wait 20 minutes because your train is delayed,
or there is a problem with air traffic control, or the table you
reserved has been given to somebody else, console yourself. lt is
merely the time it takes to complete one game in a Wimbledon women's
singles final. A unique game, it must be added, between a tall,
athletic German and a short, lively Spaniard who looks as if she might
have popped out of a bouncy castle.

                Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario enraptured the Centre Court
on Saturday in what ranks among the greatest of matches. lt will be
remembered for "The Game", which Virginia Wade encapsulated as "a
match within a match", but there was much more to it.

                The standard of play was high from start to finish, the ball driven
or coaxed to the corners
of the court, barely clearing the net - except when Graf was executing
11 winning smashes - and the players a blur of action, straining for
the initiative. There were errors - how else would time have been
found for the men's final yesterday? - but they were made chiefly in
the quest for superiority, not because of a lack of nerve.

                Graf triumphed after two hours and two minutes, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, but
Sanchez Vicario finally had materialised as a major personality in the
grasscourt game, no longer the fringe figure at Wimbledon whose name
seemed to attract an inordinate amount of attention when she competed
in tournaments elswhere on the globe.

                The 23-year-old from Barcelona repeated several times that she was
proud of herself and considered herself unlucky not to have been
presented with the Venus Rosewater Dish. Instead she added to the fun
by pretending to steal the trophy from an opponent who had already won
it five times.

                Many voices tried to reassure the loser. The Prince of Asturias
"told me it was only some points that Steffl was lucky to have" and
the Duchess of Kent "said in the next few years I will lift the trophy

                Sanchez Vicario tended to whinge about line calls which went against
her, including one
in "The Game". But Spanish observers were inclined to recount another
of those 32 points - the fifth of her eight which which she might have
won the game - when a backhand stop-volley carried a touch too much
pace, enabling Graf to run the ball down and lash a backhand pass down
the line.

                The important thing was that Sanchez Vicario had convinced herself
that the Wimbledon prize is now within the scope of her game, which
previously had only prospered on slower surfaces. She has the
necessary variety of shots, and had the confidence to go for them.

                That is how she succeeded in winning an excellent opening set and
was able to recover after being broken to 1-2 in the final set
extending the duel, which was being fought in hot, almost airless
conditions. When Graf was about to serve, 4-5 down, a American
colleague expressed the hope that the match would not end there and
then, because it deserved a longer run. Little did we know.

                After the mental and physical exertions of the epic 11th game, it
may have seemed a formality for Graf when she served for the title at
40-0 in the concluding game, having drawn three errors from her
opponent. The truth is she was trembling so much that she could hardly
keep her racket still. "I had to say to myself, 'OK, OK, keep cool,
now you have got it',"

                The serve was deep, and strong enough to deny Sanchez Vicario
options on the return, and when Graf punched a confident backhand
volley, the Spaniard responded with a backhand which drifted beyond
the baseline.

                So ended the most wonderful women's match of my experience for
all-round entertainment. Some would argue that Margaret Court's 1970
win against Billie Jean King, 14-12, 11-9, was better. All a matter of
taste and opinion, of course.

    Laurie Pignon, a former colleague, has never enjoyed a final more,
and his mind casts back as far as Alice Marble, in 1939.

                Two cranes have presided over the All England Club's grounds during
the fortnight, evidence that the future of the Championships is under
way. It seemed appropriate to be reminded that the event is nothing
without great matches, and that the women are determined to continue
their contribution to the rich tapestry.

                Incidentally, Graf and Sanchez Vicario are not the first women to
find a place in the record books after disputing a point or two. Vicky
Nelson and Jean Hepner would not let one go for 29 minutes. The ball
crossed the net 643 times during a rally in a tie-break. Nelson won
the shoot-out, 13-11, in an hour and 47 minutes. It brought her
victory, 6-4, 7-6, after six hours and 31 minutes.

                But that was in a run-of-the-tour event in Richmond, Virginia, in
1984. This is the Big W.


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