Originally created 08/30/98

Graf is Pilot Pen champion



NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Steffi Graf returned to the winner's circle Saturday, easily beating Wimbledon champ Jana Novotna 6-4, 6-1 for the Pilot Pen championship.

It was the first title in more than a year for Graf, who underwent knee surgery in June 1997. Holding the trophy, she said, felt "awesome."

"It's been a long way, but it's special to be here right now, to be at this point," Graf said. "It's worth doing what I done."

What she did Saturday was carve up Novotna's athletic serve and volley game in one hour, seven minutes.

The winner of 21 Grand Slam titles, Graf put on a dominating display of precision, power and quickness. She kept Novotna off the net, scoring winners from both sides of the racket. She said her backhand was probably her most improved shot.

"It makes life a little easier. I didn't really make a lot of mistakes and felt I was controlling the points," Graf said.

Novotna, the No. 2 seed, managed only nine points in the second set.

"She was really overpowering and played unbelievable tennis," said Novotna, who admitted being tired.

Novotna played in both the singles and doubles draw and competed until 10:30 p.m. Friday with partner Mariann Deswardt, of South Africa, in her doubles semifinal, which was suspended due to rain. She still had more tennis left Saturday afternoon.

Graf reached the final with straight set wins over unseeded Henrieta Nagyova, No. 7 seed Amanda Coetzer and defending champ and top seed Lindsay Davenport.

Novotna, who will improve from third to second in the world on Monday, advanced to the title game in straight sets over three unseeded players, Chanda Rubin, Amelie Mauresmo and Julie Halard-Decugis.

Graf's last title came in May 1997 on the clay courts of Strasbourg. A month later she had surgery on her left knee. The Pilot Pen was her ninth tournament of the year and the first time she reached the finals.

She still holds the longest winning streak at the U.S. Open.

Graf, who will break into the top 30 on Monday, hasn't lost at Flushing Meadows since the 1994 final against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Her 1996 win at the Open gave her 21 Grand Slam wins, second behind Margaret Court's record of 24.

The 29-year-old German nearly missed the Pilot Pen. After being bounced early in the Du Maurier last week, she planned to relax in Florida to rest up before Monday's Open. She was overruled when coach Heinz Gunthardt told her she needed more matches.

"I felt maybe I needed a few days off. Heinz didn't think so," she said. "And he was very right."