Steffi Graf (Germany) :
Stefanie Maria "Steffi" Graf born 14 June 1969, in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany is a former World No. 1 German tennis player.
In total, Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, second among male and female players only to Margaret Court's 24. Her 22 singles titles mark the record for most Grand Slam wins by a tennis player (male or female) since introduction of the Open Era in 1968. In 1988, she became the first and only tennis player (male or female) to achieve the Calendar Year Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year.
Graf was ranked World No. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) for a record 377 total weeks—the longest period for which any player, male or female, has held the number-one ranking since the WTA and the Association of Tennis Professionals began issuing rankings. She also holds the open era record for finishing as the year-end World No. 1 the most times, having done so on eight occasions. She won 107 singles titles, which ranks her third on the WTA's all-time list after Martina Navratilova (167 titles) and Chris Evert (157 titles).
A notable feature of Graf's game was her versatility across all playing surfaces, having won each of the four Grand Slams at least four times, the only player to do so, and she is best known for her great footwork and for her powerful forehand drive. Graf won six French Open singles titles (second to Evert) and seven Wimbledon singles titles (third behind Navratilova and Helen Wills Moody). She is the only singles player (male or female) to have achieved a Calendar Year Grand Slam while playing on four different types of tennis courts (Rebound Ace, grass, clay and DecoTurf), as the Calendar Year Grand Slams won by other players before her occurred when the Australian and US Opens were still played on grass. Graf reached thirteen consecutive Grand Slam singles finals, from the 1987 French Open through to the 1990 French Open, winning nine of them. She played in 36 Grand Slam singles tournaments from the 1987 French Open, her first Grand Slam win, through the 1999 French Open, her last Grand Slam win, winning 22 titles. She reached a total of 31 Grand Slam singles finals, third overall behind Evert (34 finals) and Navratilova (32 finals).
Graf is regarded by some to be the greatest female tennis player of all time. Billie Jean King said in 1999, "Steffi is definitely the greatest women's tennis player of all time," Navratilova herself has included Graf on her list of great players. In December 1999, Graf was named the greatest female tennis player of the 20th century by a panel of experts assembled by the Associated Press. Tennis writer Steve Flink, in his book The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century, named her as the best female player of the 20th century. In March 2012, Tennis Channel picked Graf as the greatest female tennis player ever in their list of 100 greatest tennis players of all time.
Graf retired in 1999 while she was ranked World No. 3. She married former World No. 1 men's tennis player Andre Agassi in October 2001. The couple have two children – Jaden Gil and Jaz Elle. Graf was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004.
Early careerSteffi Graf was introduced to tennis by her father Peter Graf, a car and insurance salesman and aspiring tennis coach, who taught his three-year-old daughter how to swing a wooden racket in the family's living room. She began practising on a court at the age of four and played in her first tournament at five. She soon began winning junior tournaments with regularity, and in 1982 she won the European Championships 12s and 18s.
Graf played in her first professional tournament in October 1982 at Stuttgart, Germany. She lost her first round match 6–4, 6–0 to Tracy Austin, a two-time US Open champion and former World No. 1 player. (Twelve years later, Graf defeated Austin 6–0, 6–0 during a second round match at the Evert Cup in Indian Wells, California, which was their second and last match against each other.)
At the start of her first full professional year in 1983, the 13-year-old Graf was ranked World No. 124. She won no titles during the next three years, but her ranking climbed steadily to World No. 98 in 1983, No. 22 in 1984, and No. 6 in 1985. In 1984, she first gained international attention when she almost upset the tenth seed, Jo Durie of the United Kingdom, in a fourth round Centre Court match at Wimbledon. In August as a 15-year-old (and youngest entrant) representing West Germany, she won the tennis demonstration event at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. No medals were awarded as this was not an official Olympic event.
Graf's schedule was closely controlled by her father, who limited her play so that she would not burn out. In 1985, for instance, she played only 10 events leading up to the US Open, whereas another up-and-coming star, Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina, who was a year younger than Graf, played 21. Peter also kept a tight rein on Graf's personal life. Social invitations on the tour were often declined as Graf's focus was kept on practising and match play. Working with her father and then-coach Pavel Složil, Graf typically practised for up to four hours a day, often heading straight from airports to practice courts. This narrow focus meant that Graf, already shy and retiring by nature, made few friends on the tour in her early years, but it led to a steady improvement in her play.
In 1985 and early 1986, Graf emerged as the top challenger to the dominance of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. During that period, she lost six times to Evert and three times to Navratilova, all in straight sets. She did not win a tournament but consistently reached tournament finals and semifinals, with the highlight being her semifinal loss to Navratilova at the US Open.
On 13 April 1986, Graf won her first WTA tournament and beat Evert for the first time in the final of the Family Circle Cup in Hilton Head, South Carolina. (She never lost to Evert again, beating her a further seven times over the next three and a half years.) Graf then won her next three tournaments at Amelia Island, Charleston, and Berlin, culminating in a 6–2, 6–3 defeat of Navratilova in the final of the latter.
Breakthrough year: 1987Graf's Grand Slam breakthrough came in 1987. She started the year strongly, with six tournament victories heading into the French Open, the highlight being at the tournament in Miami, where she defeated Martina Navratilova in a semifinal and Chris Evert in the final and conceded only 20 games in the seven rounds of the tournament. In the French Open final, Graf defeated Navratilova, who was the World No. 1, 6–4, 4–6, 8–6 after beating Gabriela Sabatini in a three-set semifinal.
Graf then lost to Navratilova 7–5, 6–3 in the Wimbledon final, her first loss of the year. However, in the Federation Cup final in Vancouver, Canada, three weeks later, she defeated Evert easily 6–2, 6–1. The US Open ended anti-climactically as Navratilova defeated Graf in the final 7–6, 6–1.
Unprecedented Calendar Year Golden Slam: 1988Graf started 1988 by winning the Australian Open, defeating Chris Evert in the final 6–1, 7–6. Graf did not lose a set during the tournament and lost a total of only 29 games.
Graf lost twice to Gabriela Sabatini during the spring, once on hardcourts in Boca Raton, Florida, and once on clay at Amelia Island, Florida. Graf, however, won the tournament in San Antonio, Texas and retained her title in Miami, where she once again defeated Evert in the final. Graf then won the tournament in Berlin, losing only twelve games in five matches.
At the French Open, Graf successfully defended her title by defeating Natasha Zvereva 6–0, 6–0 in a 32-minute final. That was the first double bagel in a Grand Slam final since 1911. Zvereva, who had eliminated Martina Navratilova in the fourth round, won only thirteen points in the match.
Next came Wimbledon, where Navratilova had won six straight titles. Graf was trailing Navratilova in the final 7–5, 2–0 before winning the match 5–7, 6–2, 6–1. She then won tournaments in Hamburg and Mahwah (where she lost only eight games all tournament).
At the US Open, Graf defeated Sabatini in a three-set final to win the Calendar Year Grand Slam, a feat previously performed by only two other women, Maureen Connolly Brinker in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970.
Graf then defeated Sabatini 6–3, 6–3 in the gold medal match at the Olympic Games in Seoul and achieved what the media had dubbed the "Golden Slam".
Graf also won her only Grand Slam doubles title that year—at Wimbledon partnering Sabatini—and picked up a women's doubles Olympic bronze medal.
At the year-ending Virginia Slims Championships, Graf – hampered by illness – was upset by Pam Shriver, only her third loss of the year. She was named the 1988 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year.
New challengers and personal challenges
1989Speculation was rife at the beginning of 1989 about the possibility of Graf winning another Grand Slam. Some noted observers, such as Margaret Court, suggested that Graf could achieve the feat a couple more times. And the year began as expected, with Graf extending her Grand Slam winning streak to five events at the Australian Open, defeating Helena Suková in the final. Her 6–3, 6–0 defeat of Gabriela Sabatini in a semifinal was described by veteran observer Ted Tinling as "probably the best tennis I've seen".
Graf followed this with easy victories in her next four tournaments at Washington, D.C., San Antonio, Texas, Boca Raton, Florida, and Hilton Head, South Carolina. The Washington, D.C. tournament was notable because Graf won the first twenty points of the final against Zina Garrison. In the Boca Raton final, Graf lost the only set she conceded to Chris Evert in their final seven matches.
In the subsequent Amelia Island final on clay, Graf lost her first match of the year to Sabatini but returned to European clay with easy victories at Hamburg and Berlin.
Graf's Grand Slam winning streak ended at the French Open, where 17-year-old Spaniard Arantxa Sánchez Vicario beat Graf in three sets. Graf served for the match at 5–3 in the third set but lost the game at love and won only three more points in the match. She had struggled to beat Monica Seles in their semifinal 6–3, 3–6, 6–3.
Graf, however, recovered to defeat Martina Navratilova 6–2, 6–7, 6–1 in the Wimbledon final after defeating Seles 6–0, 6–1 in a fourth round match, Sánchez Vicario in a quarterfinal, and Chris Evert in a semifinal.
Graf warmed up for the US Open with easy tournament victories in San Diego and Mahwah. In her semifinal match at the US Open, Graf defeated Sabatini 3–6, 6–4, 6–2. In the final, Navratilova led 6–3, 4–2 before Graf rallied to win 3–6, 7–5, 6–1 for her third Grand Slam singles title of the year.
1990Graf defeated Mary Joe Fernandez in the final of the Australian Open, which was her eighth Grand Slam singles title in the last nine she contested. Her winning streak (unbeaten since the 1989 French Open loss to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario) continued with victories in Tokyo, Amelia Island, and Hamburg. In Berlin, she extended her unbeaten streak to 66 matches (second in WTA history to Martina Navratilova's 74) before losing the final to Monica Seles, 6–4, 6–3.
While the Berlin tournament was being played, the largest-circulation German tabloid, Bild, ran a story about an alleged scandal involving Graf's father. The difficulty of answering questions about the matter came to a head at a Wimbledon press conference, where Graf broke down in tears. Wimbledon authorities then threatened to immediately shut down any subsequent press conferences where questions about the issue were asked. Whether this scandal affected Graf's form is open to debate. In an interview with Stern magazine in July 1990, Graf stated, "I could not fight as usual."
Graf again lost to Monica Seles in the final of the French Open 7–6, 6–4. Seles was behind 2–6 in the first set tiebreaker, but then came back to win six points in a row and take the set. At Wimbledon, Graf lost in the semifinals to Zina Garrison, who with this victory broke Graf's string of 13 consecutive Grand Slam finals. After victories in Montreal and San Diego, Graf reached the US Open final, where she lost in straight sets to Sabatini. Graf won four indoor tournaments after the US Open, but lost again to Sabatini in a Virginia Slims Championships semifinal. Even though Graf won only one Grand Slam singles title in 1990, she finished the year as the top ranked player.
1992A bout of German measles forced Graf to miss the first major event of 1992, the Australian Open. Her year continued indifferently with losses in three of her first four tournaments, although she did win unconvincingly at Boca Raton, Florida. Graf lost twice to Gabriela Sabatini in the early spring at the Lipton International and the Bausch & Lomb Championships; however, the Bausch & Lomb loss would be Graf's final loss to Sabatini, winning the next, and last, 8 matches = Victories at Hamburg and Berlin (beating Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in the finals of both) prepared her for the French Open, where she defeated Sánchez Vicario in the semifinals after losing the first set 6–0. She then renewed her rivalry with Monica Seles in the final, which Seles won 10–8 in the third set. Seles won the match on her 5th match point; Graf came within 2 points of winning the match a few games earlier. At Wimbledon, after struggling through early-round three-setters against lowly ranked Mariaan de Swardt and Patty Fendick, she easily defeated Natasha Zvereva in a quarterfinal, Sabatini in a semifinal, and Seles in the final 6–2, 6–1, with Seles playing in almost complete silence because of widespread media and player criticism of her grunting. Graf then won all five of her Fed Cup matches, helping Germany defeat Spain in the final by defeating Sánchez Vicario 6–4, 6–2. At the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Graf lost to Jennifer Capriati in the final and claimed the silver medal. At the US Open, Graf was upset in a quarterfinal by Sánchez Vicario 7–6(5), 6–3. Four consecutive indoor tournament victories in the autumn improved her year, but for the third consecutive year, she failed to win the Virginia Slims Championships, where she lost in the first round to Lori McNeil.
1993Monica Seles beat Graf in three sets in the final of the Australian Open 4–6, 6–3, 6–2. The burgeoning rivalry between them was then cut short. During a quarterfinal match between Seles and Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg, Seles was stabbed between the shoulder blades by a mentally ill German fan of Graf, Günter Parche. He claimed that he committed the attack to help Graf reclaim the World No. 1 ranking, which she did on 7 June 1993. More than two years elapsed before Seles competed again.
In the absence of Seles, Graf won three of four Grand Slam events. It took some time, however, for Graf to separate herself from her challengers, with four losses in her first six tournaments of the year: two to Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and one each to Seles and the 36 year-old Martina Navratilova. She struggled at the tournament in Berlin where she lost a 6–0 set to the unheralded Sabine Hack before defeating Mary Joe Fernandez and Gabriela Sabatini in three-set matches to claim her seventh title there in eight years. Nor was she at her best at the French Open but still managed to win her first title there since 1988 with a three-set victory over Fernandez in the final. The win elevated Graf to the World No. 1 ranking for the first time in 22 months. Her fifth Wimbledon title was aided by a celebrated meltdown in the final from Jana Novotná, who had a point on serve to go up 5–1 in the deciding set before losing the next five games. Graf had an injured right foot during that tournament (and for the next few months), finally resulting in surgery on 4 October.
1996Graf again missed the Australian Open because of injury and then successfully defended the three Grand Slam titles she won the year before. In a close French Open final, Graf again overcame Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, taking the third-set 10–8. Graf then had straight-sets wins against Sánchez Vicario in the Wimbledon final and Monica Seles in the US Open final. Graf also won her fifth and final Chase Championships title with a five set win over Martina Hingis. She was unable to participate in the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta because of an injured left knee.
Final years on the tour: 1997–99The last few years of Graf's career were beset by injuries, particularly to her knees and back. She lost the World No. 1 ranking to Martina Hingis and failed to win a Grand Slam title for the first time in ten years. In 1997 Graf lost in the 4th round of Australian open in straight sets 2–6, 5–7 to Amanda Coetzer. After several months injury lay off, Graf returned to play in the German Open in Berlin in front of a home crowd and had the worst defeat of her career in the quarter final, when Amanda Coetzer beat her in just 56 minutes 6–0, 6–1. In the French Open Graf was again beaten by Amanda Coetzer in straight sets 6–1, 6–4. Graf then skipped Wimbledon due to injury.
After missing almost half of the tour in 1998, Graf defeated World No. 2 Hingis and World No. 1 Lindsay Davenport en route to the Philadelphia title. At the first round of the season-ending Chase Championships, Graf defeated World No. 3 Jana Novotná.
At the beginning of 1999 Graf played the warm up event to the Australian Open in Sydney; she defeated Serena Williams in the 2nd round and Venus Williams in the quarter-finals before losing to Lindsay Davenport in the semi-final. Graf then went on to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open before losing to Monica Seles 7–5, 6–1. Graf stated after the match she was extremely nervous heading into match primarily because of how strongly Seles had started in their prior match at the 1998 Corel WTA Championships. In Indian Wells,1999 Graf lost to Serena Williams 3–6,6–3,5–7. Serena hit 8 times more winners than Graf in this match.
At the 1999 French Open, Graf reached her first Grand Slam final in three years and fought back from a set and two breaks down in the second set to defeat the top ranked Hingis in three sets for a memorable victory. Graf also became the first player in the open era to defeat the first, second, and third ranked players in the same Grand Slam tournament by defeating second ranked Davenport in the quarter-finals and third ranked Monica Seles in the semifinals. Graf said after the final that it would be her last French Open, fueling speculation about her retirement.
Graf then reached her ninth Wimbledon singles final, losing to Davenport 6–4, 7–5. In mixed doubles at Wimbledon, Graf partnered with John McEnroe, but she withdrew at the semi-final stage to protect her knee in advance of the singles final.
In August 1999, after retiring from a match in San Diego, Graf announced her retirement from the women's tour. She was ranked World No. 3 at that time.
2005Graf competed in one tie of World Team Tennis on the Houston Wranglers team. Graf was beaten in two out of three matches. Each match was one set. Graf lost her singles match to Elena Likhovtseva 5–4. She teamed with Ansley Cargill in women's doubles against Anna Kournikova and Likhovtseva but lost 5–2. She was successful in the mixed doubles match, however. Graf completely ruled out a return to professional tennis. "It was a lot of fun. It was not as I expected it to be."
2009Graf played a singles exhibition match against Kim Clijsters and a mixed doubles exhibition alongside husband Andre Agassi against Tim Henman and Clijsters as part of a test event and celebration for the newly installed roof over Wimbledon's Centre Court. She lost a lengthy one-set singles match to Clijsters and also the mixed doubles.
2010Graf participated in the World Team Tennis Smash Hits exhibition in Washington, D.C., to support The Elton John Aids Foundation. She and her husband, Andre Agassi, were on Team Elton John who competed against Team Billie Jean King. Graf played in the celebrity doubles, women's doubles, and mixed doubles before straining her left calf muscle and being replaced by Anna Kournikova.
Summary of careerGraf won seven singles titles at Wimbledon, six singles titles at the French Open, five singles titles at the US Open, and four singles titles at the Australian Open. Her overall record in 56 Grand Slam events was 282–34 (89 percent) (87–10 at the French Open, 75–8 at Wimbledon, 73–10 at the US Open, and 47–6 at the Australian Open). Her career prize-money earnings totalled US$21,895,277 (a record until Lindsay Davenport surpassed this amount in January 2008). Her singles win-loss record was 900–115 (88.7 percent). She was ranked World No. 1 for 186 consecutive weeks (from August 1987 to March 1991, still the record in the women's game) and a record total 377 weeks overall. Graf also won 11 doubles titles.
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