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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Insecure Graf Falls to 15-Year-Old

ROME -- Steffi Graf had returned to Rome after a nine-year absence in triumphant fashion, dressed to impress in the Eternal City with the style of her designer clothes and the quality of her tennis.


On Friday, she left in jeans and a T-shirt, unrecognizable as the world's No. 1 player and seemingly at odds with herself and her game.


"I've felt insecure on court all week," said Graf, after her three-set upset loss to 15-year-old Martina Hingis in the quarterfinals of the Italian Open. "I had no confidence in any of my strokes, I had no rhythm, I guess you could say I've lost a little confidence here."


Graf had failed to return to Rome since 1987 because Italian newspapers called her "La Brutta" ("Ugly").


Nine years later, fans at the Foro Italico were using the same word to describe her tennis.


The 26-year-old German, playing her first tournament of the season on clay, has struggled all week to adapt her game to the slow surface.


The flow of unforced forehand errors largely to blame for her loss to Hingis confirmed the German will have to improve her game vastly if she hopes to successfully defend her title at Roland Garros in three weeks.


"I must work on my physique. I've got to get myself in better shape," she admitted, adding she had gone into the Italian Open with just five hours practice on clay behind her.


But Graf came closer to the truth when she spoke of her need to relax; the strain of coping with her father Peter's arrest in Germany on tax fraud charges may be starting to take their toll on the world No. 1's confidence. In the third and decisive set, when Graf's greater experience should have told, it was the German rather than the teenager Hingis who played like a novice.


"I need to relax a little. Before Paris, I'm going to take a few days rest. I definitely won't be playing in Berlin," she said.


Her defeat was all the more painful because it came against a player who looks set on emulating Graf's own teenage feats.


Graf was only 13 when she was first ranked on the women's tour and, like Hingis, once specialized in knocking older stars off their pedestal.


"I'll guess I'll have to get used to seeing myself as an old player," said Graf, "but don't think I was afraid of her because she was young."


(For other results, see Scorecard.)