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Graf Captures 7th Wimbledon Title

By Stephen Wilson
AP Sports Writer
Saturday, July 6, 1996 12:57 pm EDT

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Steffi Graf swept Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in straight sets Saturday to win her seventh Wimbledon title and 20th Grand Slam championship.

Despite a cold and sinus problems, the top-seeded Graf overwhelmed Sanchez Vicario in the first set and held off a second-set charge to win 6-3, 7-5 victory in 1 hour, 28 minutes on Centre Court.

The victory gave Graf her 100th career singles title and moved her to within two of Martina Navratilova's record of nine Wimbledon singles titles. It also puts her alone in second place on the all-time list of Grand Slam singles winners, four behind Margaret Court Smith.

``It feels pretty awesome right now,'' Graf said. ``It didn't hit me until I got to the lockerroom. It's something I never imagined I could do or was capable of doing. It's just incredible to me how the last few years have been going, how I've always been able to rise to the occasion.''

Graf said this was the most unexpected of her Wimbledon victories. She suffered a knee injury a week before the tournament, lacked grass-court practice and worried that she might not be able to play at all.

``Knowing the situation I was in two weeks ago, physically, It seems amazing to me to always come through,'' Graf said. ``I don't know how I do it. I just keep on doing it. I don't care how.

``This is simply unbelievable. It's just been like a dream. I didn't expect it being possible. I felt physically I wouldn't get through it all the way.''

This was the seventh Grand Slam final between the two players. The last four were tight, three-setters, including last year's Wimbledon classic and last month's French Open championship match.

But this match lacked the emotion and excitement of those previous encounters. Graf dominated with her big serve and forehand, while Sanchez Vicario didn't raise her game until she was trailing 4-0 in the second set.

``She played great today,'' Sanchez Vicario said. ``Her forehand was never so good as today, so close to the lines, and she served very well ... It looked like it was going to be over. I did have a little chance and I took it, but it was too late.''

Although the Spaniard rallied to make it 5-5, Graf won the next two games to close out the match. After Sanchez Vicario hit a forehand return into the net on match point, the two players exchanged kisses at the net.

After accepting the runner-up trophy, Sanchez Vicario held it out as if to give it to Graf. The German laughed and refused to take it. Then Graf received the champion's plate from the Duchess of Kent and hugged it to her chest.

Later, the two players exchanged trophies for a few seconds. Sanchez Vicario ran off with it, laughing, and held it up to the crowd as though she were the champion.

The match started 58 minutes late because of yet another rain delay in this wettest Wimbledon in five years.

When play started in bright sunshine, Graf took charge quickly. She broke in the fourth game and took the first set in 34 minutes. Despite a double fault, Graf served out the set in the ninth game, finishing with an ace.

During the changeover at 4-1, Graf called for the trainer and received pills for her allergy condition. She coughed frequently during the match and spent much of the time during the changeovers blowing her nose.

Graf raced out to a 4-0 lead in the second set and looked on course to finish the match within an hour.

But Sanchez Vicario held for 4-1 and broke in the next game, which included an embarrassing miss by Graf. She whiffed completely on a simple overhead. She still had time to turn around and flip the ball back over with a forehand but Sanchez Vicario hit an easy winner into the open court.

Graf served for the match at 5-4 but failed to convert. She double faulted twice and was broken on the third break point when she made a forehand error.

But Graf broke back for 6-5 and served out the match at 15 in the next game.

Copyright 1996 The Associated Press

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