Steffi's star still shines

China Daily | Updated: 2017-11-07 07:45

WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai global ambassador Steffi Graf marvels at the game's growth in China.

With two children to take care of and a charitable foundation to run, life after retirement for the 22-time Grand Slam champion and beloved Hall of Famer remains as busy ever, but the German great wasted no time accepting an invitation from China last year.

Graf returned to Zhuhai last week to continue promoting the tournament for a second year, gracing a series of activities with her elegant presence and ardent interest in the sport's rise in China.

"During my playing career I never had a chance to come to China, though I'd always wanted to. So when they asked me last year I happily accepted," Graf told China Daily before Sunday's singles final that saw compatriot Julia Goerges beat American CoCo Vandeweghe in straight sets to win her fourth WTA title.

Graf, regarded as one of the greatest female players of all time, said she's been observing the tennis boom in China - particularly the increase in the number of tournaments here.

"I try to follow as much as possible to see those tournaments come up now in this area, with more and more to come. I think it's essential for the popularity of the sport in China to keep that trend growing," said Graf, who retired in 1999 after winning 107 WTA singles titles.

Steffi's star still shines

She also owned the world No 1 ranking for a record 377 weeks - the longest in both men's and women's tour history - and in 1988 became the only player to achieve the golden slam by capturing all four majors and Olympic gold (Seoul) in the same year.

Graf's dominating career prime, which overlapped with the sport's early inroads in China in the 1990s, still strikes a chord with fans almost two decades after her retirement.

Fans flocked to a junior clinic Graf hosted in Zhuhai, brandishing posters and chanting her name. She also played a Saturday exhibition match on the roof of Zhuhai Tower, the southern coastal city's 330-meter landmark.

"Talking to the organizers and hearing how this tournament is perceived and how it creates the chance for local talent to see some of the top players live is really important to me," said the 48-year-old, who now resides in Las Vegas with her husband and former world No 1 Andre Agassi.

"It's really crucial for young players here to get inspired to follow their footsteps."


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