Las Vegas had been interesting, I decided upon leaving. But with not seeing Ray and not being able to enjoy the city as much as I would have liked (I was still working from the salary of a grad student who had hardly had any income all summer, and lots of expenses with moving), the non-professional side of the trip had been disappointing. Plus, I was looking forward to going home to Minnesota for all of 36 hours so as to see friends and family and pack my things to make the drive back up to Edmonton. Maybe I could come to Las Vegas another time, I was thinking at the airport. Maybe when there’s less chaos in my own life, I’ll be able to properly appreciate all the craziness of the Strip. Less chaos and more income.
The announcer called for boarding of my flight. So soon? I thought. I’d better go to the bathroom now.
If it weren’t for my small bladder and the ridiculous amounts of liquids I drink, I would have never run into Steffi Graf. I passed by Starbucks to get to the restrooms, and in doing so I saw a customer with an unmistakable nose. A little alarm went off in my head. Wait a second — Steffi Graf lives in Vegas now! I had read Andre Agassi’s excellent autobiography, Open, where he talks extensively about his relationship with Steffi. What a cute couple. I looked at this woman more. It was Steffi Graf! I was starstruck.
“Excuse me, are you… Steffi Graf?” I said quietly, not wanting to attract attention. She looked around to see if anyone had heard. “Yes,” she said.
Steffi Graf is the best women’s tennis player ever. When I was little, my mom and I would eat strawberries and cream and watch her kick the ass of whoever was unfortunate enough to be in her way. She won 22 Grand Slam singles titles. By comparison, Roger Federer has only won 16, and in tennis, women’s careers are usually shorter than men’s because they peak earlier physically — when they are still lacking valuable experience — and also because they often cut short their careers to focus on raising a family, which is difficult on the tour. Steffi was fierce, graceful, and talented. And, unlike many of the women’s tennis players today, winning was her top priority, not looking good. And here she was, eying the Starbucks options like a mere mortal. She was in excellent condition — some former players have kinda let themselves go, but I won’t name names. And she was beautiful.
In Open, Agassi talks about how the two of them started dating. Steffi was first dating some racecar-driver dude, but Andre, after very few interactions with Steffi, was smitten. He would call and send her flowers and be consistently rejected. But, he cleverly noticed, Steffi wouldn’t tell him, “Stop calling me, I don’t want to see you”, but rather something like, “My boyfriend is here. I can’t talk to you.” Steffi and racecar dude had been dating for six years, and Andre still had the guts to try to woo her. He asked her about this once on the phone, saying something like, “I heard you and your boyfriend have been dating for six years”, to which Steffi replies, “That’s right”. Andre then says, “Six years is a long time.” Steffi doesn’t respond. Andre can tell though, through her silence, that his comment strikes a chord. The two of them start dating shortly thereafter, and according to the book, it sounds like an excellent relationship. I always liked this love story because I think too many people settle into relationships that are comfortable for them, but not great. Once this happens, they are scared to back out. That was not the case with Steffi, and Andre’s prodding helped.
“Wow, that’s so cool! I’m a big fan, and I play tennis and I read Andre’s autobiography and I really liked hearing about how you two started dating, it was so cute,” I gushed. “I read all about the school too that you’ve started too, and I think you two are doing such great work.”
“Oh, thanks,” Steffi replied, smiling. In hindsight, I’m sure she just wanted her coffee, but I was worse than a teenage Justin Bieber fan and didn’t notice. I also realized then that Andre says Steffi is actually quite shy, and this realization added a very meta aspect to the conversation and prevented any possibility of my normally deft conversation skills surfacing.
“Would you mind taking a picture with me or something? Or an autograph? Whatever you prefer.” Now I don’t usually do this when meeting famous people but she is Steffi Graf, so I got a little, er, giddy.
“Sure, that’s fine,” Steffi said. I looked at the other Starbucks clients, but Steffi, wisely not wanting to attract attention, asked the person she was with, an older man, to take a picture with my phone. Andre was nowhere in sight, but who could this man be? His dad? Her dad? Neither were portrayed in a very favorable light in Open — I thought it best not to ask.
After he took the picture, I was reasonable enough not to see how it looked or ask for another shot (I will say though that although Steffi is of course taller than me, this difference is magnified by the fact that she was wearing heels, and I flats). I thanked her and thought the best way of no longer being an obnoxious fan was to leave. But oh, I wish I would have told her how much I would watch her when I was little, or asked her opinion on the women’s game today, or asked her how it felt to win the Golden Slam in 1988. But instead, I went with the more recent stuff, the stuff I remembered more.
Lousy Linguist says if Steffi were playing today, she would be, at 42, in the top 10. It’s very possible, what with the lack of mental game the women nowadays bring to the table (other than Serena Williams, who has been plagued with injuries for the last five years, and Kim Clijsters, who had a baby two or so years ago). Steffi is amazing and I wish we could have talked more. But I will just have to realize that to her I am but one fan among thousands who tells her the same things.