steffi graf's doubles and net play

Discussion in 'Former Pro Player Talk' started by Jack Romeo, Jun 19, 2007.

  1. Jack Romeo

    Jack Romeo Professional

    Mar 11, 2004
    they've been showing highlight reels from wimbledon in the 80's and 90's as prelude to live wimbledon telecasts beginning next week. having known that steffi graf had won a wimbledon doubles title in 1988 with gabriela sabatini, i had always been curious to know how these two women had played together. they were both known to be chiefly baseliners in singles, so i thought maybe these two were the ones who prefigured the more baseline-power oriented game that we see today in women's doubles. boy was i wrong.

    they showed highlights of the 1988 final these two played against larisa savchenko (now neiland) and natalia (now natasha) zvereva. both graf and sabatini were serving and volleying and both covered the net as well as anyone not named martina navratilova. there were rapid-fire four-at-net exchanges that both steffi and gaby handled very well.

    even in singles, steffi employed a lot of net rushing to prevent other players from exploiting her relative weakness in hitting backhand passing shots. steffi didn't attack as much later in her career, maybe because she didn't have to as there were fewer and fewer players who tried to attack the net against her backhand. the ones that did remain after navratilova's retirement were novotna and tauziat and they were just a class below graf. all of steffi's other rivals were baseliners (sanchez-vicario, seles et al) and her slice backhand/flat forehand combo was the thing that worked against them.

    sabatini, for her part, was always known to have excellent hands for volleying, but in singles, she didn't employ a net-rushing style until 1990-91 when she won a us open title and twice came within a service hold of the 91 wimbledon title. later in her career, she was eventually undone by her mental fragility and weak second serve, a problem which she never found a solution to.

    but the thing that struck me the most about the graf-sabatini partnership was their individuality. they were hardly talking to each other. even if one or the other hit a great shot, they just looked at each other briefly. then one player would go back to the baseline to serve or receive, while the other would position herself up at net. there was one point they showed where graf had hit a winning overhead after a rapid-fire exchange of reflex volleys with all four at net. steffi pumped her fist subtly and walked over to sabatini. i thought they were going to high-five or something. they may have said something briefly to each other and if there was indeed a handshake or low-five, i didn't notice it. it was very strange to see a winning team behave this way. i know that these two players are sort of friends with each other as they continue to play a few exhibitions now and then. graf even gave a speech at the induction of sabatini to the tennis hall of fame.

    in any case, their doubles partnership didn't last long after this as both players concentrated more on singles, where they were groomed by observers to be each other's top rivals. but instead, seles and sanchez-vicario came along, and sabatini was eventually pushed to the fringes.
  2. Warriorroger

    Warriorroger Hall of Fame

    Aug 27, 2005

    Language and stages in both careers were barriers for a longtime companionships. But they are close friends, as you mentioned it was Steffi who presented Gabriela with the Hall of Fame induction.

    They were too much of an indivual team and played singles on their own side of the court.

    Last edited: Jun 20, 2007
  3. suwanee4712

    suwanee4712 Professional

    Apr 4, 2007
    I always loved the idea of Graf and Sabatini as a doubles team. That is, until I saw them play together. They could be very effective, but not nearly as effective as they might have been. They didn't really trust one another; and Steffi sometimes seemed quick to let her disappointment show when Gaby made a mistake. Though, I thought more times than not, Gaby was the better doubles player.

    Steffi made a nice pairing with Claudia Khode for Fed Cup purposes. I'm almost surprised that they did not team up in 1988 when Sukova dropped Claudia. But one of the odd things I have heard is that Peter Graf wanted Steffi to team up with Helena, because Helena was a fine doubles player and someone that Steffi liked personally. They did play a few times together and it went well. But I think Helena's father pushed her to play with Novotna. Perhaps a team with Helena would have worked very well because Steffi loved playing with her pal Stubbsy.

    Overall, I liked Steffi's net game. Like Evert, she came in behind penetrating groundstrokes that usually set up easy put aways. So it was usually very high percentage for her. I liked Steffi's forehand volley a lot better than her backhand volley. She was very good with the high ones which sometimes gave more skilled volleyers more of a problem. Not much touch in the way of half volleys, but what an overhead!

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