Graf Wins Golden Grand Slam

Steffi Graf became the third woman to win the grand slam of tennis, winning the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens, as well as the Wimbledon tournament in England. During 1988, she also won the gold medal in women’s tennis in the Summer Olympics, making her the winner of the “golden grand slam.”

Summary of Event

Steffi Graf began playing tennis at the age of four, when her father, Peter, began coaching her. When she was nine, Graf and seven-year-old Boris Becker, who would become a tennis champion, played against each other at a local tennis club near Brühl, close to Mannheim, where Graf was born. In 1982, at the age of thirteen, Graf became the youngest woman ever to receive a ranking (214th) from the Women’s International Tennis Association (WTA). That year, she played in her first professional tournament and was defeated by Tracy Austin, two-time winner of the U.S. Open, who was not impressed by Graf. Sports;tennis
Grand slam of tennis
Golden grand slam (tennis)
[kw]Graf Wins Golden Grand Slam (1988)
[kw]Golden Grand Slam, Graf Wins (1988)
[kw]Grand Slam, Graf Wins Golden (1988)
Grand slam of tennis
Golden grand slam (tennis)
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Graf, Steffi
Graf, Peter
Navratilova, Martina
Sabatini, Gabriela
Evert, Chris

Steffi Graf returns to Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon on July 2, 1988. Graf won the championship as well as the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens and the Olympic gold medal that year.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Peter, who devoted himself to his daughter’s career, remained her coach and protected her from the press. He limited the number of tournaments she entered so that she would not suffer the fate of other young tennis prodigies such as Austin and Andrea Jaeger, who burned out. Peter later hired Czech tennis pro Pavel Slozil to coach Steffi. Slozil tried to get her to serve and volley, since she had been reluctant to come to the net. Slozil later coached Jennifer Capriati and Anna Kournikova.

In 1984, at the age of fifteen, Graf was ranked twenty-second and won the Olympic tennis demonstration tournament. She made the top ten in 1985, when she was in three tournament finals. In 1986, she hit her stride professionally, winning the Family Circle Cup at Hilton Head, South Carolina, the German Open, and the U.S. Clay Court Championship, making the semifinals of the U.S. Open, and ending the year ranked number three in the world. As a result of her success, the WTA named her its Most Improved Player. In 1987, Graf defeated future archrival Martina Navratilova, who had been ranked number one since 1982, in three sets at the French Open, but lost to her at the U.S. Open and at Wimbledon. Despite those two losses, Graf was ranked number one in women’s tennis as of August 17, 1987, and solidified that standing by defeating Gabriela Sabatini in the finals of the Virginia Slims Championship. Graf retained the ranking until March 10, 1991.

Graf’s success in 1987, as significant as it was, paled in comparison to her achievement in 1988, when she won the “golden grand slam” of women’s tennis. She was the third woman and the fifth player ever to win the four major tennis tournaments—the Australian, French, and U.S. Opens, and Wimbledon—in one year. Some commentators considered 1988 the best season in tennis history. At the Australian Open, played in the new National Tennis Center in Melbourne, she faced Chris Evert, two-time winner of the Australian Open, in the finals. (Evert had beaten Navratilova in the semifinals.) In the rain-delayed match, Graf won the first set 6-1 and led in the second 4-0 before Evert made a comeback, forcing the set into a tie-breaker, which Graf won 7-3.

At the French Open, Graf defeated Sabatini in the semifinals 6-3, 7-6. In the finals, Graf rolled over her opponent, Natasha Zvereva, Zvereva, Natasha a young Russian, 6-0, 6-0, in under thirty-two minutes. At that time, Graf was the youngest woman ever to have won the French Open. At Wimbledon, she knew she would be facing her old nemesis, Navratilova, a left-hander who usually served to Graf’s backhand. In order to prepare for the match, Graf practiced her return against the serves of Markus Schur, a left-handed German player. After defeating Evert in the semifinals, Graf again faced Navratilova. Graf lost the first set 7-5 but came back to win, 6-2, 6-1. West German chancellor Helmut Kohl sent her a note of congratulations, and even Navratilova, who had disputed Graf’s number one ranking, acknowledged Graf as the better player, declaring that her defeat was like “the end of a chapter.”

Despite an injury to her right hand, Graf won the U.S. Open. Her two toughest opponents, former greats nearing the end of their singles careers, Evert and Navratilova, should have stood in Graf’s way, but Navratilova was defeated by Zina Garrison in the quarterfinals, and Evert had to withdraw from her semifinal match because of a stomach virus. Sabatini was Graf’s opponent in the finals, and Graf prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Retired professional tennis player Don Budge, Budge, Don who had himself won tennis’s first singles grand slam in 1938, congratulated her, as he had promised he would after she won at Wimbledon. Graf was awarded with a bracelet set with four diamonds representing the four major tournaments.

Graf achieved the golden grand slam (and the term was coined) in 1988 when she competed in Seoul, Korea, at the Summer Olympic Games and defeated Sabatini in the final, winning 6-3, 6-3. Graf won the gold medal.


Only four other tennis players won grand slams in the twentieth century: Maureen Connolly (1953), Margaret Court (1970), Don Budge (1938), and Rod Laver (1962 and 1969). Because tennis was not an Olympic sport when these four played, Graf’s golden grand slam stood alone. Moreover, because of the wealth of excellent professional tennis players, the exhausting tennis tournament schedule, which takes its toll in injuries, and the fact that the Olympics take place only every four years, Graf’s achievement is unlikely ever to be matched. In recognition of her feat, the British Broadcasting Corporation named her the Overseas Sports Personality of the Year in 1988. Tennis

During the 1990’s, Graf continued to dominate women’s tennis, but she was plagued by injuries, a fraudulent paternity suit involving her father, the stabbing of Monica Seles by a Graf fan, and tax evasion problems that were caused by Graf’s father, who served time in jail. When she retired from professional tennis in 1999, she was ranked third in the world, held the record for the most consecutive appearances in grand-slam tournaments (thirteen), had the second-highest percentage of wins (.887, just behind Evert’s .900), and was the only player to have won every grand-slam event at least four times each. She was named the Greatest Tennis Player of the Twentieth Century by the Associated Press in December of 1999, the same year she was awarded the Olympic Order. Tennis
Grand slam of tennis
Golden grand slam (tennis)

Further Reading

  • Benjamin, Daniel. “For Steffi Graf, an Open Slam Dunk.” Time 132 (September 19, 1988): 88. Laudatory article on the comparative ease with which Graf rolled through the competition at the U.S. Open.
  • Fitzpatrick, C. “The Grand Finale.” Sports Illustrated 69 (September 19, 1988): 18-25. Account of Graf’s U.S. Open win, with comments from players and many color photos of the action.
  • Hilgers, Laura. Steffi Graf. New York: Little, Brown, 1990. An informative biography of Graf, Hilger’s book contains not only an analysis of Graf’s strengths but also a comparison between her and her closest competitors. Includes color action photos and highlights of her career.
  • Knapp, Ron. Sports Great Steffi Graf. Springfield, N.J.: Enslow, 1995. Short book with a brief biography and coverage of the 1980’s, when Graf began to dominate women’s tennis. Action photos of Graf.

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