HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. -- Defending champion Steffi Graf recovered from a sluggish second set Sunday to defeat Manuela Maleeva 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to win the $300,000 Family Circle tennis tournament.
Graf, who picked up her third title of the year, earned $60,000 for the victory at the Harbor Town Racquet Club. Maleeva, of Bulgaria, took home $27,000.
'I didn't feel a lot more pressure out there because I was defending champion,' said the 17-year-old Graf, who is ranked second in the world.
Maleeva, who stunned Chris Evert Lloyd in a semifinal match Saturday to reach the final, expects her good showing to improve her confidence.
'You are always happy when you play a good tournament and win matches,' said Maleeva. 'That's why you play tennis.'
Graf jumped on Maleeva early, running up a 5-1 lead. Maleeva won a game to make it 5-2, but Graf served out the set the next game.
Maleeva decided to change her strategy in the second set, and rolled up a 4-1 advantage as Graf appeared to lose her concentration.
'I realized that I shouldn't just play her backhand,' Maleeva said. 'I should have mixed it up from the start.
'Her forehand is not dangerous if she is running -- its dangerous if she's standing still. I should have realized this earlier in the match.'
Graf rallied to tie the set 4-4, but Maleeva won at 5-4 on an ace and took the set when Graf netted a backhand in the next game.
Graf relied on her powerful forehand in the third set. Up 3-1, Graf broke Maleeva's serve to move ahead 4-1. But Maleeva broke back and then held her serve to move within 4-3. Graf then held her serve and broke Maleeva in the final game when Maleeva hit a forehand into the net on match point.
'Steffi played well,' Maleeva said, 'but I've seen her play better. Maybe she was a little nervous.'