In the pantheon of tennis legends, it is impossible to not mention the name of Steffi Graf. The German tennis star’s numbers well and truly speak for themselves. 22 Grand Slam wins in the Open Era, 107 titles in single’s competition and a style of play that revolutionised the sport. Moreover, she is the only player – male or female – to have won every Grand Slam at least four times. She was ranked world number 1 for a record 377 weeks – that is roughly seven years. And all this despite the fact that she retired from the sport at the age of 30.
But there is another unique record that she holds – being the first player, male or female, to complete the ‘Golden Slam’ in one calendar year.
The Golden Slam entails winning all four Grand Slams as well as the Olympic single’s gold. Given the four-year cycle of the Games, it is a notoriously tough feat to pull off.
Little surprise then, that until 2021, Graf was the only tennis player to have accomplished this feat. It is worth noting that two players have done the Golden Slam over the course of their careers.
They would be Rafael Nadal and Graf’s future husband Andre Agassi. But till date, Graf remains the only able-bodied tennis player to have done the feat over a single year.
We will come to the Paralympians who pulled off this feat in 2021 in a bit. But for now, with 33 years having passed since the Graf notched it up, we revisit the first calendar ‘Golden Slam’.
1987 had been Graf’s breakout year in the world of tennis. She won her maiden Grand Slam title, beating then-world number 1 Martina Navratilova in the French Open final.
However, it was to be in 1988 when she really came into her own as a Grand Slam contender. She was in imperious form throughout the season-opening Australian Open.
She won her maiden Slam Down Under with a dominant 6-1, 7-6 win in the final against Chris Evert. Amazingly, Graf did not drop a single set through the course of the tournament.
She also lost only 29 games in the Grand Slam, turning the heads of many with a run that bulldozed the opposition. And what’s more, she was in no mood to slow down thereafter.
Titles would follow in San Antonio, Texas as well as a retention of her Miami title. She would also win a title at Berlin in front of an adoring home crowd.
All of these wins set her up nicely for a retention of her crown at Roland Garros. She faced Natasha Zvereva in the final, and the tennis player from Belarus was taken to task.
The final lasted a mere 34 minutes, the shortest Grand Slam final in history. What’s even more amazing is that 2 minutes of that time was spent taking shelter from rain. That means the players played only 32 minutes.
The scoreline itself was embarrassing for Zvereva, as she suffered a double bagel loss in the final. Yes, Graf beat her 6-0, 6-0 in the first double bagel Grand Slam final since 1911.
But the German superstar was not done yet.
Steffi Graf had momentum on her side that year, but Wimbledon was the domain of Navratilova. She had won the women’s singles title at the All England Club for the last six years.
Therefore, it is safe to say she was the favourite going into the tournament. Indeed, the final came down to a showdown between Navratilova and Graf.
And Graf was in a tough spot in the second set. She lost the first set 7-5 and was trailing 2-0 in the second set. But she pulled off a comeback that few believed would be possible at the time.
From 0-2 down, she took the set 6-2 before taking the third set 6-1. Navratilova had finally been dethroned at Wimbledon, and Graf had won all three Grand Slams she played in.
The talk then inevitably turned to Graf doing the calendar Grand Slam. In the women’s game, only two players had done that till 1988 – Maureen Connolly Brinker in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970.
Graf was obviously under pressure going into the US Open final against Gabriela Sabatini but won the first set 6-3. However, the Argentine hit back and won the second set 6-3.
Yet that seemed to awaken the beast in Graf, who stormed to victory with a 6-1 win in the third set. The Grand Slam was complete.
Yet there was still the matter of the Golden Slam. Till that point, not even a single player had won all four Grand Slams and an Olympic gold in the same year. Many doubted if it could ever be done.
Steffi Graf would go on to prove that it was indeed possible.
A rematch of the US Open final pitted her against Sabatini. This time around, however, she won the final 6-3, 6-3 – a more straightforward win than in the US Open. And this history was made.
What’s even more amazing is that Graf was only 19 years old when she accomplished this. It is a feat most seasoned veterans still on top of their game haven’t been able to accomplish. Just ask Novak Djokovic.
Yet Graf was the only player to have done it for 23 years – until 2021, when wheelchair tennis players Diede de Groot and Dylan Alcott achieved it in 2021.
Still, Graf will always be the first. And her monumental achievements showcase just why many still consider her the G.O.A.T in women’s tennis.