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SOLID FAVORITES // WOMEN

At this point, Steffi Graf has little left to affirm her standing as one of the greatest players of all-time. She has won just about everything of importance that there is to win, including an Olympic gold medal.

But you know how it is with Olympic athletes, you can never have too many gold medals lying around, so Graf is back this year for her fourth Summer Games and once again is the favorite to leave with the gold.

Graf, who was the youngest women's tennis competitor in the 1984 Summer Games when tennis was a demonstration sport, looks to avenge her loss in the 1992 Games where she had to settle for the silver medal after losing to Jennifer Capriati.

If the German star wins the gold medal this time, it would be her second. She won the 1988 gold the same year she won tennis' Grand Slam (winning the Australian, French and U.S. Opens, and Wimbledon in the same season), giving her what people affectionately call the Golden Slam.

As usual, Graf has dominated the early portion of the tennis season. Although she skipped the Australian Open in January because of foot surgery, she won three of the four tournaments she subsequently entered, including the Lipton Championships in March and the French Open in early June.

Best of the rest: Graf's chief competition will come from Monica Seles - that is, if she's healthy. The Yugoslav pro and Sarasota resident is signed up to play for the first time for the U.S. team, but the nagging left shoulder injury that hampered her during an earlier-than-expected exit from the French Open in June makes her a question mark.

After Graf and Seles, the challengers drop off somewhat. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (Spain), Iva Majoli (Croatia), Chanda Rubin (Lafayette, La.), and Conchita Martinez (Spain), all have a shot at the gold. Jana Novotna (Czech Republic) and Brenda Schultz-McCarthy (the Netherlands) are threats mainly because the matches are played on hard courts, where their big serves can be particularly effective.

Still, only Majoli, 18, and Novotna have beaten either Seles or Graf this year. Majoli clipped Seles in the quarterfinals of the Pan Pacific in early February in Seles' last match before developing shoulder problems. And Novotna upset Seles in the French Open quarterfinals.

Florida gold: Florida has a good chance of laying at least a partial claim to an Olympic gold medal in tennis. Graf has several residences worldwide, including a home in Boca Raton. Majoli trains at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Bradenton. And Seles once trained there, but now trains and lives in Sarasota.

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