German tennis player, Steffi Graf, won 22 Grand Slam singles titles during her heyday between 1982 and 1999. The Women’s Tennis Association ranked her at number one for a record 377 weeks — the longest time that any player, male or female, has ever held the position.
She is also the only tennis player to have won a Golden Slam, which means winning the Australian Open, British Open, French Open, US Open and an Olympic Gold Medal, all in the same year – a feat she achieved in 1988, when she was only 19.
She won 107 singles titles and was the only player to win each Grand Slam tournament at least four times. Regarded by many people to be the greatest female tennis player in history, legendary American player, Billie-Jean King, awarded Graf the accolade, while writer Steve Flink named her as the best female player of the 20th century.
The Tennis Channel also chose Graf as the greatest female player in history in 2012, when they published their list of the 100 greatest players. She has been credited with making tennis the popular sport it is today in Germany, along with her fellow player Boris Becker, who has done the same for the men’s game.
When did she first play?
Graf’s father, Peter, coached his daughter from the age of three, first teaching her how to swing a racket. She played her first competitive tournament at five years old and soon began winning junior championships.
The 1982 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix was her first professional tournament, where she lost to American Tracy Austin. At the age of 13, Graf began her first full professional year, ranked 124th in the world.
Her father always controlled her early career so that she wouldn’t burn out. By 1984, she was ranked world number 22. She won her first WTA tournament, the Family Circle Cup in Carolina, on 13th April 1986, beating American Chris Evert for the first time.
On 17th August, Graf became world number one for the first time, overtaking Martina Navratilova, after beating Evert in straight sets at the Virginia Slims in Los Angeles.
Her Golden Slam breakthrough year was 1988, when she first won the Australian Open, beating Evert. She then beat Natasha Zvereva in straight sets at the French Open. She beat Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon final and then triumphed over Gabriela Sabatini at the US Open.
Graf defeated Sabatini again at the Olympic Games in Seoul to win the gold medal, completing the unique achievement of the Golden Slam – something no other player, male or female, has achieved.
She went on to win the 1988 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year title and her German hometown, Brühl, gave her the title of honorary citizen to mark her unique Golden Slam achievement.
During her long career, Graf won seven Wimbledon singles titles, six French Open titles, five US Open titles and four Australian Open titles. Her overall record in 56 Grand Slam events was an 89% success rate, with career prize-money totalling $21.8 million.
Between 1987 and 1996, she was voted the Women’s Tennis Association’s Player Of The Year eight times and the International Tennis Federation World Champion seven times during the same period.
After having started dating after the French Open in 1999, Graf married American tennis player Andre Agassi on 22nd October 2001. They have two children – a son, Jaden, born in 2001, and a daughter, Jaz, born in 2003.
The Steffi Graf Youth Tennis Centre was opened in Leipzig in 1991 and Graf also founded a non-profit foundation, Children for Tomorrow, in 1998 to support children traumatised by war and other crises.
She was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004, followed by the German Sports Hall of Fame in 2008.
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