MAHWAH, N.J. -- Showing flashes of the brilliance that propelled her to 21 Grand Slam singles titles, Steffi Graf captured her sixth A&P Tennis Classic championship Sunday by defeating Amanda Coetzer, 6-3, 6-3.
Graf has won the annual exhibition tournament six of the seven times she's participated, losing only to Kathy Rinaldi in the 1985 final. In the 21-year history of the event, no other player has won it more than twice.
Winning the the A&P Classic, though it is only an exhibition event, was a significant step in Graf's comeback from surgery on her right knee in June of 1997.
"I think I made the best out of these three days," she said. "I couldn't expect to come here and win all three matches, especially today. I haven't really felt so great in the heat because I haven't really been in the heat for quite some time, but it's a great way to start."
Although Coetzer is only 4-10 lifetime against Graf on the WTA Tour, three of those four wins came in 1997, including a victory at the Australian Open when Graf was still ranked No. 1 and another at the French Open. Graf is currently ranked 57th in the world while Coetzer is ranked eighth.
Neither player was at their best in Sunday's error-filled final. Still, despite oppressive heat and humidity which elevated the on-court temperature to 94 degrees, Graf continued to show signs of improvement.
Her backhand slice was her most effective weapon. She used it repeatedly to work Coetzer's backhand, causing her to commit several unforced errors.
Her biggest improvement was in her serve. After double faulting six times in her three-set semifinal win over Fang Li Saturday, Graf didn't have any double faults against Coetzer and registered three aces. Coetzer, on the other hand, double faulted six times and held serve only once in the second set and three times on the day.
Although she is still battling a sinus infection, Graf, 29, won almost every long rally and showed good agility in running down several solid Coetzer forehands, reminding more than a few of the Graf of old.
"At certain points I saw a lot of it," Coetzer said. "Both of us made a lot of errors and we both have to clean that up going into the next few tournaments. But I was impressed with the way she moved. I think she moved very well and she's starting to serve better and better."
In preparation for the U.S. Open, which begins Aug. 31, Graf plans to play tournaments at Stanford Univerity, San Diego and Montreal. She's skipping the Germany's Federation Cup match against Russia next week in Moscow to make sure she's ready for the Open because she felt she didn't get in enough tournaments before she played Wimbledon earlier this month.
If she continues to progess as she has, Graf feels there's no reason she shouldn't be factor in Flushing.
"No question about it," she said. "That's why I decided to come here really early. I'll be here all the way through the U.S. Open. Next week would have been the Federation Cup and I decided to stay here and continue to play tournaments because I felt that if I want to really be a threat at the open I really need to start playing tournaments and get accustomed to playing matches."
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