Steffi Graf’s monumental achievements on the tennis courts are difficult to sum up in words. The German legend made tennis look easy when she played. Till now, only two players have won more Grand Slam singles titles than Graf’s 22 – Serena Williams (23) and Margaret Court (24). The aggressive-minded tennis player also held on to the World No. 1 ranking for a record 377 weeks. She also developed an attacking style of play, which exists predominantly in today’s game.
No doubt, Steffi will be fondly remembered for her Grand Slam victories, but it was the “Golden Slam” that separates her from the rest of the pack. She is the only tennis player to win all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year. An achievement that was never done before and is yet to be matched in the tennis world. It was the moment when Graf became bigger than the sport!
Regarded as one of the best players of her generation, Graf was a mere 13-year-old at the start of her first full professional year in 1983. Her Grand Slam breakthrough came in 1987, winning the French Open by beating then World No.1 Martina Navratilova. This set the platform for her golden year that followed next.
There has been nothing like the year 1988 in the history of tennis. The spectacular year began with Steffi winning the Australian Open in some style. She defeated Chris Evert 6-1, 7-6 in the final and clinched the trophy without losing a set during the tournament.
Roland Garros was next! The way Graf defended her French Open title was beyond belief. She thrashed Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in a 34-minute final to register one of the shortest-ever Grand Slam finals. It sent shock waves throughout the globe, making her name echoing across the world.
Next up was Wimbledon! In the final, she was facing the undisputed champion Navratilova, who had won six straight titles in the grass court. But, Graf came from a set down to lift the trophy. She also won her only Grand Slam doubles title at Wimbledon while teaming up with Gabriela Sabatini.
Graf later defeated Sabatini to bag the US Open title to win all the four singles Grand Slams that year. Maureen Connolly Brinker in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970 were the only other women to achieve this feat.
The big one came at the Olympic Games in Seoul where Graf beat Sabatini to bag the Gold medal. The media dubbed it as the “Golden Slam”. It was the moment that transformed her from greatness to legendary status. What Steffi achieved that year is beyond imagination. She will forever be the golden girl of tennis.