Boris Becker at the 1989 US Open

Two months after their wins at Wimbledon, Steffi Graf and Boris Becker, who know each other since childhood captured the US Open crown.

From The Bud Collins History of tennis:

Becker and Graf had been raised in nearby towns in the southeastern corner of West Germany and had known each other since they were children.

“I used to be the worst in the boys and she was the best in the girls,” Becker recalled with good humor. “So, when I was maybe nine and she was eight, I would have to hit with her.”

Each had to grown up to be a Wimbledon champion but not in the same year. In 1989, on the All England Club, they became the Teutonic Twosome. Even the weather cooperated, in a fashion. Rain pushed back the women’s final one day so that Graf and Becker might receive their awards at Centre Court on the same afternoon.

Graf and Becker each left Flushing Meadow with another major title. They had to work harder than at Wimbledon, and they had to share the spotlight with a departing champion.
Graf was severely tested twice, by Sabatini in the semifinals, 3-6 6-4 6-2, and, once again by Navratilova in the ultimate match. Navratilova appeared to have the final won on at least a couple of occasions. She was only two games from victory in the second set – confidently, prematurely waving two fingers at friends in the stands – before double-faulting away a service game. Then she had a break point for a 5-4 lead and squandered that. Seeing the opening, Graf mobilized her gifts and won, 3-6 7-5 6-1.

“I was so close,” said Navratilova, her face streaked with tears. “I was as close as you get.”

Becker almost didn’t make it out of the second round, where he faced two match points against vagabond Derrick Rostagno in a fourth-set tiebreaker. On the second, his running forehand ticked the net and hopped over the Californian’s waiting racket. Becker took that bit of luck and won the next two points for the set, and the arduous match that had looked lost long before, 1-6 6-7 6-3 7-6 6-3.

Connors‘ 16th trip to the quarters was unrewarded as Agassi made a surprising charge to score his own first victory in a five-set trial 6-1 4-6 0-6 6-3 6-4. Jimmy, with the crowd straining behind him, gave them hope as Andre served for it at 5-2. Flashing the old moxie, the champ seized nine of 10 points to 5-4 0-15 – but had nothing more to give. McEnroe, seeded fourth, didn’t get that far, banished from the second round by a qualifier, number 110 Paul Haarhuis 6-4 4-6 6-3 7-5. “Where are you from?” a reporter asked the anonymous Dutchman. “Mars”, was the smiling reply, and Mac may have believed it.
Defending champ Wilander, fifth-seeded, undoubtedly wondered about the provenance of his kid conqueror, 5-7 6-3 1-6 6-1 6-4, also in the second round. The 18-year-old’s name was Pete Sampras, who in 12 months would illuminate the Meadow, and continue to do so, passing Mac and Wilander, Connors and others in the matter of majors – eventually holding the record himself at 14.

Lendl took care of Agassi in one semi, 7-6 6-1 3-6 6-1, and Becker cruised past Aaron Krickstein in the other, 6-4 6-3 6-4. In the final, Becker needed three hours and 51 minutes to defeat Lendl, 7-6 1-6 6-3 7-6.
Ivan was appearing in his eighth consecutive final, a Tilden-tying achievement. But after Becker got a full head of serving-and-volleying steam, neither Ivan nor the ghost of Big Bill could stop him. “He just has more power in his game than I do.” Lendl said. For Becker, the victory proved he was more than splendor in the grass, that he was able to be a world-class field somewhere other than Wimbledon. He had filled in the gaps in his game since the summer of ’85, firmed his groundstrokes along with his tenacity. Now he was a worthy challenger for the honor of top-ranked men’s player on the planet.

“If I’m not number one,” he said, “then I’m quite close to it.”

Read more:
The tennis birthplace of the Deutschland duo

1990 US Open champion Gabriela Sabatini

From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

Almost no one had picked Sabatini to be a factor in this Open. Nothing she had done prior to the tournament indicated that she could turn her year around her year around in New York.

Elise Burgin, who had played her at Wimbledon, was one person who still thought Sabatini could be a champion.

“It’s really all up to her now,” Burgin said. “There’s no doubt about the talent. The only question is, with all the money she’s made, does she really want it that badly?”

Sabatini always insisted she did. Her match against Mary Joe Fernandez was the best of the tournament. Sabatini was now committed totally to Carlos Kirmayr‘s and Dick Dell’s plan that she attack all the time. Once she got to the net she had a huge wingspan and was tough to pass. Fernandez, a baseliner all the way, stood back and blasted. Sabatini kept coming in – until she won a dramatic and gutsy three-set victory.

But it hardly seemed to matter. Graf was playing like the Graf of old and Sabatini’s 3-20 lifetime record against her was hardly encouraging. Especially since all three victories had been on clay. So it was no surprise when the first set of the women’s final was a 6-2 romp. Except for one thing: it was 6-2 Sabatini.

Graf was spraying passing shots all over, mishitting forehands that would have endangered the planes if they’d still been flying overhead. Sabatini, feeling more and more confident at the net, was in at every opportunity.

“I knew she was going to play that was, that was no surprise,” Graf said. “The way I played was a shock, though. I felt good, ready to go. Then I went out and was terrible.”

Terrible for Graf is still not bad. Also, she had lost the opening set to Sabatini in the past. In fact, Sabatini had won the first set when they played in the Open semifinals in 1989.

However, it was a different Sabatini, one who wouldn’t allow Graf to get a rhythm from the baseline. She kept pounding away and served for the match at 5-4 in the second. Here, for the first time, she got nervous. Graf, sensing vulnerability, broke and quickly held to lead 6-5. She had two points in the next game. The first one she botched with another errant forehand.
On the second one, she hit a good crosscourt backhand, only to watch helplessly as Sabatini cut it off with a superb touch volley, the kind of shot she would not have even thought to play a few months earlier.

They went to the tiebreak. Sabatini could sense now that this wasn’t Graf’s day. She kept coming, Graf kept missing. On match point, Graf clipped the top of the net with her return. Sabatini closed in on it and hit a forehand right down the line. Graf stared, as if hoping a mark might appear that would indicate the ball had gone wild.
None did. It was a clean winner. Sabatini was jumping up and down and Graf, who had won eight of nine Grand Slams coming out of Australia, had lost three in a row.

Dick Dell‘s whimsical prediction of three weeks earlier had come true: something crazy had happened at the Open. Sabatini had combined a little bit of luck, a lot of heart, and her new style, one in which she used her size and strength to best effect, to win a championship that almost no one thought she could win.

“She’s playing the right way now,” Navratilova said after watching the match. “She’s so big, you can’t pass her. I didn’t think she could win, because her second serve is so weak. But no one seemed to take advantage of it.”

Why Graf had played so poorly was a mystery. As she came off court, her father made a point of giving her a warm hug. Prior to the match, he had gotten into a scuffle with a photographer. Had his daughter known? Had that upset her?

Steffi Graf GrandSlam

Interview by Philippe Maria for l’Equipe, June 6, translation by Tennis Buzz.

Former world number one Steffi Graf, while on a visit to Paris, talks about her difficult year in 1988, when she completed the Grand Slam. An unmatched performance that Serena Williams could achieve this year.

Q: You are in Paris this weekend, did you spend some time at Roland Garros, do you still follow tennis news?

I follow results through various media, but with much hindsight. These last four days, for example, I was in Hamburg for my foundation and I haven’t followed what was going on in Paris.

Q: So we won’t see you playing the Legends tournament anytime soon.

No, I’m very busy elsewhere, and it would not be possible physically. I would have to prepare myself, and I don’t have the time nor the desire to do it.

Q: Back to 1988, how much do you remember about that year?

I especially remember the extreme fatigue I experienced in New York. I felt an expectation around me that was not mine, that became oppressive and simply kept me from focusing on my tournament. It was terrible.

Q: This Grand Slam or rather Golden Grand Slam, since you also won gold at the Seoul Olympics, was not a personal goal?

No! It was absolutely not a goal of mine to complete the Grand Slam. As with other things in life, I am someone who advances step by step. In fact, this notion of Grand Slam fell on me during the Wimbledon tournament. The media no longer stopped talking about that. And it reached its highest point in Flushing Meadows. It was absolutely terrible. Everyone was telling me about that, but I didn’t understand this expectation. You have to remember that I was only nineteen. I was literally exhausted!

Q: Even if you had not had a very difficult tournament to the final…

Yes, but in the final, Gabriela Sabatini gave me trouble and the end of the match was complicated. Mentally and physically, I was at breaking point. I remember that at the end of the match cramps began to arrive.

Q: The Grand Slam was not your personal quest. Nevertheless, what did you feel immediately after your success?

Relief. Immediately, I was not aware of the scope of this feat. After my victory? I could not enjoy. Of course, we did celebrate, but I was especially exhausted, and that lasted several days. I can’t say I was proud of what I had accomplished. I was relieved it was over.

Q: And you had to play the Olympics in Korea.

Yes, but I took a break after the US Open. I continued to work out but I hung up my racket. And finally, I loved these Olympic Games, I had a lot of fun. The atmosphere, the fact of finding myself in a team with all German athletes, it did me a world of good, even if the end of the tournament was tougher. It was refreshing.

Q: You end your year with a defeat in the semifinals at the Masters. This final false note was not too hard to digest?

Absolutely not. The season was over, and it was the most important. Today, players can take breaks in their season. We, we played all year. We stopped late November and we set off again for a new season at the end of December. It was really hard to bear.

Q: Twenty-seven years later, what is your opinion on this year like no other?

I find it incredible that I could cope with all that, with the pressure to complete the Golden Slam! It is the fulfillment of my career. Although I have never played for records or for the number one ranking, I think I can be satisfied with me.

Will Serena Williams complete the calendar Grand Slam this year?

  • Yes (80%, 33 Votes)
  • No (20%, 8 Votes)

Total Voters: 41

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From Hard courts: real life on the professional tennis tours, by John Feinstein:

With Capriati gone, the women’s field at Lipton lacked some sparkle. Evert was retired, Graf was still injured, and Navratilova wasn’t dragging her thirty-three-year-old knees onto a hard court until it was time to prepare for the US Open.

That left Gabriela Sabatini and Monica Seles as the only two name players in the field. Except that Sabatini didn’t last much longer that Capriati. She was swept out of the quartefinals by Conchita Martinez, an eighteen-year-old Spaniard who was still virtual unknown even though she had finished 1989 ranked seventh in the world.
Sabatini and Martinez had a number of things in common. Both were, as Navratilova put it, “huge”. Sabatini who had first attracted attention as a petite, dark-haired fourteen-year-old, had gown like the man-eating plant in Little Shop of Horrors. She still had stunning face, but she also had shoulders that would have made most football linebackers envious. She was five feet ten and weighed at least 145 (although the player guide listed her at 130).
Her walk, which reminded some people of that of Jim Brown, the great running back, was best described by Ted Tinling as “a provocative lurch. Seeing her approach,” he added, “one might be well advised to feel a fair amount of apprehension.” Martinez was almost as big as Sabatini but with none of her beauty. Both were belters, backcourters who used their power to slug opponents into submission. Two months shy of twenty, Sabatini was already viewed by some as a has-been. Or never-was. She had never really lived up to the potential she had flashed in 1985, when she reached the French Open semifinals at age fifteen. Her latin beauty and a superb marketing job by ProServ had made her quite rich, but she had never won a Grand Slam title. Graf, her contemporary, had won nine -and had beaten her eighteen times in twenty-one matches. The word among the players was that Sabatini had the game to be a great player, but not the mind.

Sabatini was not very verbal. If she won a match she would invariably say,

“I am feeling good mentally and physically. I was fighting to win. I was concentrated.”

If she lost, just as invariably the speech would go like this:

“Physically I am okay, but mentally I am not. I was fighting, but I was not concentrated.”

Her concentrated line came up so often that the question on the tour, when Sabatini played, became “Is Gaby orange juice [concentrated today]?”
Almost evey player on tour speaks some English, but some are better than others. Becker is virtually fluent in English and Graf is almost as good. Every Swede since Bjorn Borg has spoken good English. Sabatini had never been comfortable speaking English. But, according to Spanish-speaking players and journalists, she wasn’t much more comfortable in Spanish.

“Sometimes when I see her on TV, back home, I feel sorry for her,” said Alberto Mancini, also Argentine. “She really doesn’t have very much to say.”

Against Martinez, Sabatini wasn’t orange juice. She lost in straight sets. That left the tournament in Seles’ hands.

Of course, it wasn’t quite that simple. Seles came into the Lipton with a 1990 record of 2-3. The sophomore-slump whispers had already started.
What people didn’t know was that Seles had been distracted by her mother’s health. During the tournament in Boca, Esther Seles had undergone a hysterectomy. Monica had never had to deal with a serious illness in her family and, by her own admission, was a wreck.

“I mean, I knew she would be okay and all, but it was major surgery and she was in the hospital,” she said. “I really couldn’t keep my mind on tennis.”

Seles lost to Laura Gildemeister at Boca but was able to slip away relatively unnoticed because of Capriati. Now, with her mother out of the hospital and back at courtside, Seles was starting to blast the ball again. At the Lipton, she whipped Judith Wiesner in the final.

“I’m just happy to feel comfortable on the court again,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who I beat. I’ll have plenty of chances to play Steffi and Martina. I don’t even know if I’m ready to beat them yet.”

Surviving stardom

Jennifer Capriati

By Cindy Hahn, Tennis Magazine, October 1992:

Jennifer Capriati, her ankles still encrusted with the red clay of Il Foro Italico, faces a den of crass, middle-aged sportswriters. One, an Italian journalist, will write a story tomorrow whose headline screams that she looks like a pig. The 16-year-old, sweat-soaked and exhausted, hasn’t yet suffered that cruelty, and good thing, for her heart aches enough: She has just lost in a miserable, third-round match at the Italian Open – to a player ranked 25 spots below her. Her eyes swim with tears.

A cool shower – and time alone to soothe her anguish – might have made this post-match grilling less painful. But at her father’s command, Capriati was shuttled from the Campo Centrale directly into the interview room… Do not shower, do not pass go, do not change into you favorite Grateful Dead tie-dyed T-shirt. After all, Diadora is paying Capriati several million dollars to be seen in its tennis togs. Better for her to appear before the TV cameras as a disheveled Diadora girl than as a freshly scrubbed heavy metal-head – the identity Capriati currently prefers.

“Do you think you lost because you’re overweight?”

an Italian reporter asks.
Capriati cannot hear the interrogator and asks him to repeat the question. softening his query, the reporter responds: “Do you think you lost because you’re not in good physical condition?” But Capriati suddenly compehends his original question: He has announced before a roomful of international journalists that she is … fat. New tears glisten on her eyelids as her face flushes crimson.
Mercifully, another question is asked. Capriati concentrates hard, trying to block out the notion that she is fat. The moment of tears, of truth, passes.
When the press conference ends, Capriati retreats through a door into the locker room, where she collapses onto a bench and drops her head to her hands. More moments, more tears. There was no time for a shower, but there is time for tears.

This isolated scene, played out this past May, poignantly dramatizes the tragedy of pro tennis in any season: A parent placing mercenary interests before the emotional needs of his child; a girl forced to answer to uncaring adults; and a teenager’s private problems, such as weight gain, showcased as a media event. Threaded together, these plot lines form a disturbing, if familiar, story in professional tennis.

This report is not about a person but a process; it does not focus on a single star but rather on the constellation of problems in a system that embraces talented children, and then exhausts them. Capriati is just one of the handful of teenage pros whose gifts have launched them on a shuttle-ride to success: Michael Chang, French Open at 17 … Boris Becker, Wimbledon winner at 17 … Andre Agassi, Nike’s multi-millionnaire celebrity at 18 … Steffi Graf, at 19 only the fifth person to win the Grand Slam … Pete Sampras, handed a $2 million winner’s check at 19 … Gabriela Sabatini, a 15-year-old French Open semifinalist … and Monica Seles, the youngest world No.1 at 17.

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