Former world women's tennis No 1 Steffi Graf donned bright yellow overalls and perched nervously on the side of AmericaOne as she sailed into the Hauraki Gulf
Former world women’s tennis No 1 Steffi Graf donned bright yellow overalls and perched nervously on the side of AmericaOne as she sailed into the Hauraki Gulf, the Americans’ guest for today’s sixth race in the Louis Vuitton Cup yachting finals.
Graf smiled and looked a little nervous as she was shown around the boat by crewman Terry Hutchinson, who explained where she could sit and how to hold on. The 24-metre racing yachts are allowed a guest during the matches, but the space is usually reserved for a sponsor. Once racing starts against Prada of Italy, Graf will not be allowed to speak to any of the crew and can expect a rough and tumble ride, particularly during the beats into the wind. There is very little for a 17th person to cling to. Graf is in New Zealand for two exhibition matches. She toured the AmericaOne compound yesterday and was offered a ride on the boat.
The rising Australian tennis player she is competing against in New Zealand, Jelena Dokic, was also at AmericaOne today. AmericaOne spokeswoman Gina von Esmarch told NZPA Graf had jumped at the offer of a ride, despite predictions of winds of up to 20 knots on the race course. Graf has very little sailing experience, and most of that has been in small boats.
AmericaOne skipper Paul Cayard shook Graf’s hand and welcomed her aboard as the boat left the dock. “Hold on tight Steffi,” was shouted to her by AmericaOne supporters, who wondered whether Graf’s boyfriend, world men’s No 1 tennis player Andre Agassi might be on Prada. He is in Zimbabwe preparing for a Davis Cup tie.
Though European, Graf would not have been able to take a ride with the Italians who are superstitious and believe a woman on a racing boat is bad luck. Von Esmarch said yesterday having Graf interested in the racing had been good for AmericaOne’s crew. “It’s a great morale-booster for the guys, to have another competitor, another athlete, that can relate to their work and efforts. I think it takes a lot to `wow’ these guys. They all know of her amazing accomplishments.” Last night Graf lost her opening tennis match against Dokic in three sets. The pair play again in Christchurch tomorrow.