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WTA Tour suffers most if Graf retires

Steffi Graf is hurting pretty bad. She has to be because the German pro never has been one to quit anything.

Graf told a German magazine that she is, for the first time in her storied career, seriously considering retirement. Nagging injuries that have slowed her return from knee surgery apparently are wearing on her patience.

What a shame.

"I'm going up and down constantly for two years," Graf told Focus. "Every time I struggle to reach my old form, another injury throws me back into the role of patient. I can't let my life be governed by therapies and treatments."

If the WTA Tour is smart, it would have two of its best people on their way to Germany to consult with Graf and offer every resource available to the tour. Graf is that important. In a sport being overtaken by teen stars (Martina Hingis, Venus Williams, Anna Kournikova, Mirjana Lucic) who have some maturing to do, Graf is one of the few marquee names who always has exhibited character and grace.

Nothing against Kournikova or Williams, but who would you want your daughter to emulate? Chances are, the choice would be Graf, who has shown extraordinary heart and resilience in overcoming an assortment of injuries and personal problems to amass one of the greatest collections of tennis achievements.

The WTA Tour would sorely miss Graf, even though there seems to be soaring interest and competitiveness in the women's game.

The tour needs Graf back, not because of the additional titles she could win, but because of what she represents.

"I'm hoping that this comeback will be injury-free," said tour spokesman Jim Fuhse, who is particularly close to Graf. "I'd like to see her go out under her own terms."

TRIVIA QUESTION: Pete Sampras' victory in Atlanta on Sunday was the 54th title of his career, the most among active players. Who are second and third?

HERE COMES AGASSI: Although his results haven't been jaw-dropping, Andre Agassi might be an unexpected contender at the French Open this month. After reaching the BMW Open final in Munich, where he lost to Thomas Enqvist, Agassi said: "I'm not too far from my best."

MAC IS BACK?: Patrick McEnroe, thought to be retired and settling into a full-time career as a broadcaster, is working the America's Red Clay Tennis Championship in Coral Springs this week _ as a player.

McEnroe, 31, got a wild card into the event, his first since last fall, when a shoulder injury forced him off the tour and into the booth. He is ranked _ don't laugh _ No. 1,001.

It's not really a comeback. McEnroe said his full-time playing days definitely are over, but he would like to get in a few events.

"I feel good, certainly enough to win some matches," he said. "I want to go out at least somewhat on my terms."

McEnroe also is playing doubles at Coral Springs with Tampa's Jared Palmer, who is trying to come back from an injury.

DID YOU KNOW?: The ATP Tour's German Open this week is being played in a stadium that has a retractable roof.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: This one comes from Alex O'Brien, talking about the greatness of Sampras:

"He's like the Chicago Bulls. He's got an aura about him."

TRIVIA ANSWER: Boris Becker has 49 titles, Thomas Muster 44.

_ Information from other sources was used in this report.

ATP Tour

EVENT: German Open.

WHERE: Hamburg, Germany.

WHEN: Through Sunday.

SURFACE: Outdoor clay.

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Andrei Medvedev.

TOP NAMES: Marcelo Rios, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Michael Chang, Boris Becker.

NOTES: Rios makes his return after being sidelined nearly five weeks with a left elbow injury. . . . The field features seven former Grand Slam champions. . . . A tour event is going on simultaneously at Coral Springs.

RANKINGS: 1. Pete Sampras 3,775 points; 2. Petr Korda 3,499; 3. Rios 3,200; 4. Patrick Rafter 3,190; 5. Greg Rusedski 3,094; 6. Kafelnikov 3,027; 7. Jonas Bjorkman 2,683; 8. Gustavo Kuerten 2,291; 9. Alex Corretja 2,202; 10. Karol Kucera 2,141.

WTA Tour

EVENT: Italian Open.

WHERE: Rome.

WHEN: Through Sunday.

SURFACE: Outdoor red clay.

DEFENDING CHAMPION: Mary Pierce.

TOP NAMES: Martina Hingis, Monica Seles, Venus Williams, Pierce.

NOTES: Pierce needs to do well to regain the No. 5 ranking. . . . Conchita Martinez won this event four straight times before last year. . . . Seles is being coached by Gavin Hopper.

RANKINGS: 1. Hingis 5,805.0000; 2. Lindsay Davenport 3,963.0000; 3. Jana Novotna 3,939.0000; 4. Amanda Coetzer 2,944.0000; 5. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 2,711.0000; 6. Pierce 2,708.0000; 7. Seles 2,644.0000; 8. Martinez 2,487.5000; 9. Venus Williams 2,333.0000; 10. Irina Spirlea 2,217.0000.

_ DARRELL FRY

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