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Rendezvous with Steffi Graf

It was indeed a proud moment for the Aditya Birla World Academy to have the world-renowned Ms. Steffi Graf interact with us on the 9th of December, 2014. It was Ms. Graf’s first visit to our country and we were more than privileged to have her in our midst. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, that the students, teachers and parents could celebrate. Having such a renowned figure amongst us, and being able to interact with her made this experience truly unforgettable!

In a career, that began at the tender age of thirteen and spanned over 17 glorious years, Ms. Graf not only played her way not just across tennis courts, but also into the heart of every spectator. This ‘Queen of the Court’ was perceived as an uber combination of power and elegance. The year 1988, was the crowning glory of her career, where she bagged all four titles at the Grand Slam as well as the Golden Grand Slam at the Olympics in Seoul that year. She has a total of a hundred and seven titles to her credit. She also managed to retain the position of world number one for a consecutive one-hundred and eighty-seven weeks, which is a record unmatched, till date. Being in the presence of someone who is bursting with such talent and determination, was a privilege unmatched.

The moment we caught the first glimpse of this enigmatic lady, we were all blown away to say the least. We were all amazed by how someone, who our parents grew up watching, still looked so stunning! Accompanying Steffi Graf, was the Indian tennis ace, Mr. Vijay Amritraj.

In the interaction that followed we learnt not just about her spectacular career but about the immense social contributions that she and her equally renowned husband, Andre Agassi have made, and are still making. The discussion spanned about an hour, where the two tennis legends not only told their story, but also answered questions from the students.

There were definitely some highlights in the interaction. Steffi spoke about her childhood and how her parents were also ardent lovers of the sport. She recalled fondly how her father had started teaching her tennis in their living room and it was when she had broken almost all the furniture they had, that her mother told her that it was high time she went out and played on a larger scale. She was exposed to the world of professional tennis at a rather young age, but said that it was the youth that helped her focus only on the game and not the fame and success that surrounded it.

In response to a question by one of the parents, she spoke about her children Jaden and Jaz, and how nurturing children and allowing them to explore their interests is an extremely vital element of good parenting. She also spoke about how, although both she and her husband were professionals in the game of tennis, they never pushed their children to take up the sport Her son is passionate about baseball and her daughter is an avid dancer. This showed us an all-new side to her.

Her humanitarian side also shone, as she spoke about ‘Children of Tomorrow’ the foundation she set up in 1999 for the psychological development of traumatized children in war stricken regions. Her husband has also set up foundations across the world to promote and impart education.

Through the interaction Steffi truly inspired us all by stating her firm belief in playing not games but sports: using strategies to confuse an opponent was never something she practiced. She was one who believed, and still firmly believes, that to succeed in any arena, what one needs is passion, hard work, desire, support and in her own words, “Wanting to push yourself further than you think you can go.” She also said that it was incredibly upsetting losing a match, especially in a sport like tennis, because one is all alone out there, no team for support, nothing to fall back on. But it is these losses that motivate you to achieve ultimate success.

Mr. Amritraj shared some of his pearls of wisdom about the game, his experiences commentating on Steffi’s game, as well as some of the toughest yet most exciting matches of his life.

It was also beautiful to see how the two players, both stalwarts in their field shared such a cordial and warm equation, quite often even cracking jokes with one another. It goes a long way in showing how the players of a sport, from any corner of the world, are one big large community, ready to celebrate each other’s successes as well as support each other in their losses.

The entire audience - teachers, parents and students alike were enthralled by the grace and poise she exuded. Her talent, wit and humility absolutely floored us all! This afternoon was one to remember, an afternoon that will be etched into posterity.