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Graf just keeps going and going

Published Oct. 6, 2005

The Deutschland Express made its final stop in this beach town Sunday, then pulled out for its next scheduled destination, Key Biscayne, about 60 miles south.

Arantxa Sanchez Vicario was the last of five passengers to get off at this junction, carrying the baggage of a 6-3, 7-5 loss. The speeding train that is Steffi Graf logged a third straight Virginia Slims of Florida title and a 26th consecutive match win in front of 7,733 onlookers.

During the streak, the top-seeded Graf has won five consecutive titles and 45 straight sets. She hasn't played a tiebreaker since a tournament in Germany in late September.

Her post-match interviews have been reduced to Graf critiquing Graf.

"If I had to criticize anything it would be my concentration," Graf said of the final that lasted 1 hour, 25 minutes. "Sometimes I'm losing it during the match."

Graf even admitted that she wants former top-ranked pro Monica Seles to return soon from the stabbing that has sidelined her since last April. "I think that's what everybody needs," she said.

Despite being turned away by Graf in the Slims final for the second straight year at the Delray Beach Tennis Center, Sanchez Vicario didn't hang her head after this one. She came as close as anyone to bumping off Graf, and even had two set points at 5-4 in the second set. Later, Sanchez Vicario teammed with Jana Novotna to win the Slims doubles crown 6-2, 6-0 over Helena Sukova and Manon Bollegraf.

"I can be very proud of myself today," said the second-seeded Spaniard, who took home $44,000.

Proud because she squandered those two set points _ one on a piercing Graf approach shot and the other on a service winner _ through no fault of her own.

"She served really well," Sanchez Vicario said. "I kept making good points, but it wasn't enough. Maybe I was a little unlucky."

For sure, she wasn't afraid. Her 22 winners were just one less than Graf's.

"If you want to beat her, you have to go for your shots," Sanchez Vicario said.

Her heightened aggression, though, came at a price: 21 of her 32 unforced errors were committed in the second set.

Graf didn't make it any easier, either. She cracked 103 mph serves and ran off 11 consecutive points on her service games in the second set. On match point, she ripped a passing shot that brought Sanchez Vicario to her knees.

"I think she realized I wasn't making that many mistakes with her playing safe and she had to do something else, to take more risks," Graf said.

Only after it was over and the $80,000 winner's check was tightly in her hands did Graf reveal that she had second thoughts about adding this stop.

Graf was asked at the last minute to play a tournament the week before, putting her in the middle of a 28-day stretch that allows just four days off.

"I wanted to play here because this is home," said Graf, who has a residence in nearby Boca Raton.

While it didn't seem to matter this past week, Graf said her crowded schedule could do what no opponent has been capable of doing in 26 matches since the Virginia Slims of Philadelphia in early November, her last loss. "If you keep playing tournament after tournament, it gets more difficult" to maintain the winning streak, she said.

Everybody gets another shot at Graf and the streak beginning Friday at the Lipton Championships. As the defending champion, Sanchez Vicario is eager for another shot at Graf, who has beaten her twice this year and 23 times in their 28 career meetings.

Marvel if you like at Graf's numbers, but Sanchez Vicario isn't intimidated.

"I don't think dominant is the word; confident is what she is right now," Sanchez Vicario said. "And you can break that."

Sampras pulls out win

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. _ Pete Sampras rallied to beat 14th-ranked Petr Korda 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 and win the $1.72-million Champions Cup.

Sampras, ranked No.

1 in the world, regrouped after dropping the first and third sets to win in 3 hours, 9 minutes.

In the doubles championship, second-seeded Grant Connell and Patrick Galbraith defeated top-seeded Byron Black and Jonathan Stark 7-5, 6-3.