In Tennis, winning all the four Grand Slams is a tremendous feat. When one wins the Olympic gold, it gives the player a certain aura of dominance. However, what if one player won all the four Grand Slams and the Olympic gold in the same year? In the history of Tennis, only one individual had achieved this monumental feat. The year was 1988. The old guard in women’s Tennis was slowly crumbling. Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert were been upstaged by some youngsters who were making massive strides.
The likes of Gabriela Sabatini, Tracy Austin and Pam Shriver were making good ground. But, one individual was head and shoulders above the rest. Her name was Steffi Graf. Right from her playing days in 1982, Graf had made heads turn with her superb style of play. The German had a single-minded focus of winning. She did not mingle with anyone and made few friends. This would help her in the following years.
The youngster lost to Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert in major knockout matches at all the major Grand Slams. But, things started to change in 1987. Graf finally overcame Navratilova in three tough sets to win her maiden French Open title. It was a remarkable show of fitness from the youngster, who had battled back from a tough semi-final against Sabatini. Graf lost for the first time in Wimbledon to Navratilova but towards the end of 1987, she was the new No.1.
Having held on to the ranking for a then-record of 186 weeks, Graf had laid the platform for her dominance in 1988.
If dominance got a new meaning in sport, then Steffi Graf lived up to it in 1988. She won the Australian Open without dropping a set. The German defeated Chris Evert, an 18-time Grand Slam champion in straight sets. During the 1988 French Open, she established a whole new benchmark for dominance. Graf reached the French Open final and she thrashed Natasha Zvereva 6-0,6-0. It was the first double bagel in women’s Tennis finals since 1911. Zvereva won only 13 points and the match lasted only 34 minutes. It was the ultimate dominance from Graf.
Things only got better for the German in Wimbledon. Navratilova had established a winning streak of six consecutive Wimbledon titles and she was gunning for a seventh. Navratilova was leading 7-5, 2-0 and it looked Graf would be beaten by the veteran. But, Graf bounced back in sensational fashion. Graf won 12 out of the next 13 games to win 5-7,6-2,6-1 to clinch Wimbledon in Grand style.
It seemed something special was on the cards. In the US Open, it did happen. She reached the final of the 1988 US Open where she squared up against Sabatini. In another epic three-set match, Graf registered a 6-3,3-6,6-1 to win the Grand Slam. Before Graf, only Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970 had achieved the Grand Slam.
But, Graf’s Grand Slam was monumental in many ways. She became the first player to achieve the Grand Slam in three different surfaces (hard, grass and clay). In the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Graf reached the gold medal match and she was facing Sabatini again. This time, Graf won in straight sets to achieve an unprecedented feat in sports. Graf’s gold medal in Seoul, combined with her four Grand Slams led to 1988 being the year of the ‘Golden Slam’ for Steffi Graf.
As if her dominance was not enough, Graf won the doubles title at Wimbledon and secured the bronze in the women’s doubles in Seoul. She lost only three times in the whole year, having lost only two the previous year. At the end of the year, the municipality of Bruhl, her hometown, gave her the title of honorary citizen.
Graf would go on to win 22 Grand Slam titles. This included seven Wimbledon, six French Open, four Australian and five US Open titles.
Serena Williams is the only player apart from Graf to have achieved the golden slam, but she never achieved the Grand Slam. In the men, no one has even come close to what Graf has achieved. Rafael Nadal has won the golden slam along with Graf’s husband, Andre Agassi. The American was the first to achieve it, having won gold in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Agassi won the 1999 French Open to complete the Grand Slam.
Federer has won the Olympic doubles gold but never the singles gold. The rest of the players have not won the Grand Slam. Novak Djokovic is the only player that can come close to winning the Golden Grand Slam. If he wins Wimbledon, then he is level on 20 Grand Slams. If he wins the gold in Tokyo and completes the US Open title, he will have matched Graf.
But, the feat by Graf in 1988 is simply sensational. It will take a supreme effort from either men or women to repeat it. This achievement is what makes Graf one of the greatest in the business, maybe even above Navratilova or Evert. Perhaps, a notch below Serena.