Steffi Graf

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Stefanie Maria "Steffi" Graf (born June 14, 1969 in Mannheim, Germany) is a former World No. 1 woman tennis player from Germany. She is widely considered one of the greatest tennis players in history. Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles. In 1988, she became the first player to achieve the "Golden Slam" – capturing all four Grand Slam titles and the Olympic Gold Medal in the same year. She was ranked the Women's Tennis Association's No. 1 player for a record 377 weeks and is the only player, male or female, to have won all four Grand Slam tournaments (Wimbledon, the US Open, the French Open and the Australian Open) at least four times apiece.

Graf is married to the former World No. 1 men's tennis player Andre Agassi.



Early career

Steffi 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 Filderstadt, Germany; she lost 6-4, 6-0 to Tracy Austin (a two-time US Open champion and former World No. 1 player). After the match, Austin dismissed Graf's abilities, saying there were "hundreds" of kids like her in the United States.

At the start of her first full professional season in 1983, the 13-year-old Graf was ranked No. 124. She won no titles in the next three years, but her game improved consistently and her ranking steadily climbed: to No. 98 in 1983, No. 22 in 1984, and No. 6 in 1985. In 1984, she represented West Germany in the tennis demonstration event at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles and won the gold medal. Her schedule was closely controlled by her father, who limited her play so that she would not burn out as many young tennis stars had. 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 Graf also kept a tight reign on Steffi's personal life. Social invitations on the tour were often declined as Steffi's focus was kept very much on on-court play. Working with her father and then-coach Pavel Slozil, Graf typically practiced 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.

Graf finally won her first tour title in April 1986 at Hilton Head, South Carolina, defeating Chris Evert in the final. She followed this up with seven further tournament victories in 1986, and finished the year ranked No. 3.

The main weapon in Graf's game was her powerful forehand, which earned her the nickname "Fraulein Forehand"'. Over time, Graf also developed the best slice backhand in the game, as well as a consistent volley. She built her powerful and accurate serve up to 105 mph. She was also extremely fast and athletic, chasing down balls that seemed unplayable. Though she chose tennis as her career, she was also a top 400-metre runner in her youth and could potentially have been a world-class athlete in that event.

Breakthrough year

Graf's Grand Slam breakthrough came in 1987. She started the year strongly, with six tournament victories heading into the French Open. In the final, she defeated the World No. 1 Martina Navratilova in an epic battle, 6-4, 4-6, 8-6. Graf lost to Navratilova in the finals at Wimbledon and the US Open later that year. But she won three more tournaments after the French Open and did enough to claim the World No. 1 ranking from Navratilova in August 1987, finishing with a 75-2 match record. She also helped West Germany win the Fed Cup that year.

"Golden Slam"

1988 is widely considered to be the pinnacle of Graf's career. She started out the year by winning the Australian Open, beating Evert in straight sets in the final. Then at the French Open, she successfully defended her title by routing Natalia Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in a 32-minute championship match. Next came Wimbledon, where Navratilova had won six straight titles. After a tight start to the final, Graf took control in the second set and beat Navratilova 5-7, 6-2, 6-1, taking 12 of the last 13 games. She then beat Sabatini in three sets in the US Open final to duplicate the feat of winning all four Grand Slam singles titles in one year, previously achieved by only two women – Maureen Connolly (in 1953) and Margaret Court (in 1970). But with tennis becoming a full medal sport at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, there was one more feat which Graf could add. And she duly defeated Sabatini 6-3, 6-3 in the Olympic final to win the gold medal and achieve 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. She was named the 1988 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year.

New challengers

Graf extended her Grand Slam winning streak to five events at the Australian Open in 1989, where she comfortably beat Helena Sukova in the final. The winning streak was ended at the 1989 French Open, where a 17-year-old Spanish contender, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario, beat her in three sets to become the French Open's youngest-ever winner. However the winning touch was quickly rediscovered as Graf beat Navratilova in three-set finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open.

Few doubted that Graf would continue to dominate the women's game for years to come when she beat Mary Joe Fernández in the final of the 1990 Australian Open. But a new threat to her dominance broke through at the 1990 French Open, where 16-year-old Monica Seles beat Graf in straight sets to further lower the youngest-ever winner record. At Wimbledon, Graf was unexpectedly beaten in the semifinals by Zina Garrison. She then reached the US Open final, but lost in straight sets to Sabatini. Personal problems contributed to her difficulties. In the middle of the year, her father Peter was the subject of a paternity suit brought by a former Playboy model. The difficulty of answering questions about the matter came to a head at a press conference early in the tournament at Wimbledon, where Steffi broke down in tears. Wimbledon authorities then threatened to immediately shut down any subsequent press conferences where questions about the issue were asked. (Tests eventually proved Peter was not the baby's father.) Though Graf remained the world No. 1 player at the end of 1990, her aura of invincibility had been broken.

A mixture of injury problems, personal difficulties and loss of form made 1991 a tough year for Graf. Seles established herself as the new dominant player on the women's tour, winning the Australian Open, French Open and US Open, and ending Graf's reign as World No. 1 in March. Seles did not play at Wimbledon, where Graf won her only Grand Slam final of the year following a difficult three-set battle with Sabatini.

1992 was another year when Graf had to play second fiddle to Seles on the tour. Seles again won the Australian, French and US Opens. Seles and Graf met in the French Open final, which Seles won in a very close battle, taking the third set 10-8. They then met again in the Wimbledon final, where Graf comprehensively proved that she was still the tour's strongest grass court player, winning 6-2, 6-1. At the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Graf lost to Jennifer Capriati in the final and claimed the silver medal. However she did win her second Fed Cup with Germany.

All indications were that Seles continued to have the upper hand at the start of the 1993, when she beat Graf in three sets in the final of the Australian Open. However, a stunning turn of events changed everything on April 30. During a quarterfinal match between Seles and Magdalena Maleeva at Hamburg, Seles was stabbed between the shoulderblades by a member of the crowd during a change-\over. As Seles was rushed to hospital, her attacker was taken into custody. It turned out that the assailant was Günter Parche, a 38-year-old mentally unstable fan of Graf from eastern Germany, who claimed that he committed the attack in order to help Graf reclaim the No. 1 ranking, which Seles had held for the past two years. Graf visited Seles in hospital the following day, but said little in public about the attack. She reached the final in Hamburg that year. (Parche went on trial twice for his attack on Seles but was never imprisoned.)

Second period of dominance

The psychological effects of the attack kept Seles away from the tour for the next 28 months. With Seles off the scene, Graf won the remaining three Grand Slam titles in 1993 and regained the top ranking. It is impossible to determine if Graf would not have fully and completely experienced her second period of resurgence if Parche had not attacked Seles.

The beginning of 1994 saw Graf beat Sánchez Vicario in the final of the Australian Open and, for the second time in her career, become the holder of all four Grand Slam titles simultaneously. However, she lost to Mary Pierce in the semifinals at the French Open, and then was shockingly eliminated in the first round at Wimbledon by the American Lori McNeil. She reached the final of the US Open, where she lost to Sánchez Vicario in three sets. (During the match Graf felt the first effects of a bone spur in her back, a condition that plagued her for the remainder of her career.)

Injury kept Graf out of the Australian Open in 1995. She came back strongly to beat Sánchez Vicario in the finals of both the French Open and Wimbledon. The US Open was Seles' first Grand Slam after returning from her long period away from the tour. Seles and Graf met in the final, and Graf won a dramatic battle 7-6, 0-6, 6-3.

In personal terms, 1995 was a very difficult year for Steffi as she was accused by the German authorities of tax evasion in the early years of her career. In her defence, all she could say was that her father Peter had been her financial manager, and all financial matters relating to her earnings at the time had been under his control. As a result, Peter Graf was sentenced to 45 months in jail. He was eventually released after serving 25 months. Prosecutors dropped their case against Steffi in 1997, when she agreed to pay a fine of 1.3 million Deutsche Marks to the government and an unspecified charity.

In 1996 Steffi again missed the Australian Open due to injury, and then successfully defended the three Grand Slam titles she won the year before. In a classic French Open final, Graf again overcame Sánchez Vicario, taking the third-set 10-8. She then had straight-sets wins against Sánchez Vicario in the Wimbledon final and Seles in the US Open final.

While known for her businesslike approach to the game, at times Graf displayed a sense of humor. During a tight 1996 semifinal match at Wimbledon against Kimiko Date, Graf was getting ready to serve when a spectator yelled out "Steffi, will you marry me?". The spectators at Centre Court burst into laughter. Steffi caught the ball she was bouncing, turned toward the fan, and yelled "How much money do you have?". Graf lost the set but won the match 6-2, 2-6, 6-3.

Final years on the tour

The last few years of Graf's career were beset by injuries – particularly to her knees and back. But this did not prevent her from enjoying some final Grand Slam success as her career came to a close.

Injury problems caused Graf to miss much of the season in 1997. 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.

After missing almost half the season in 1998, she finished that year ranked No. 9, her lowest ranking since 1984.

But Graf still had a few more dramatic moments up her sleeve in 1999. At the French Open, she reached her first Grand Slam final for three years and fought back from a set and a break down in the second set to defeat the tennis world's new young star, Martina Hingis, in three sets, in what she called her most satisfying Grand Slam victory. She then reached her ninth Wimbledon final, where she lost to Lindsay Davenport.

With a series of injuries refusing to go away, Graf announced her retirement from the tour in August 1999. She was ranked the World No. 3 at the time of her retirement.

During her career, Graf won 107 singles titles and 11 doubles titles. Her 22 Grand Slam singles titles are second only to Margaret Court, who won 24. Her career prize-money earnings totalled US$21,895,277. Her singles win-loss record was 900-115. She was ranked the No. 1 for a massive 377 weeks (non-consecutive), including a record 186 consecutive weeks (from August 1987-March 1991) – longer than any other man or woman player.

After retirement from the tour

After a two-year courtship, Graf married Andre Agassi on October 22, 2001 at his home in Las Vegas, with only their mothers as witnesses. Their son Jaden Gil was born on October 26, six weeks prematurely. Their daughter Jaz Elle was born on October 3, 2003.

Graf is the Founder and an active chairperson of 'Children for Tomorrow', a non-profit foundation with the goal of implementing and developing projects to support children who have been traumatized by war or other crises. She is also a WWF Ambassador. She appeared in "Otto, der Außerfriesische", loves animals and is keen on fashion and has created her own designs.

Graf was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004.

In 2005, TENNIS Magazine named her as third in its list of 40 Greatest Players in the TENNIS era.

Grand Slam singles finals

Wins (22)

Year Championship Opponent in Final Score in Final
1987 French Open Martina Navratilova 6-4, 4-6, 8-6
1988 Australian Open Chris Evert 6-1, 7-6
French Open Natalia Zvereva 6-0, 6-0
Wimbledon Martina Navratilova 5-7, 6-2, 6-1
US Open Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 3-6, 6-1
1989 Australian Open Helena Suková 6-4, 6-4
Wimbledon Martina Navratilova 6-2, 6-7, 6-1
US Open Martina Navratilova 3-6, 7-5, 6-1
1990 Australian Open Mary Joe Fernández 6-3, 6-4
1991 Wimbledon Gabriela Sabatini 6-4, 3-6, 8-6
1992 Wimbledon Monica Seles 6-2, 6-1
1993 French Open Mary Joe Fernández 4-6, 6-2, 6-4
Wimbledon Jana Novotná 7-6, 1-6, 6-4
US Open Helena Suková 6-3, 6-3
1994 Australian Open Arantxa Sánchez Vicario 6-0, 6-2
1995 French Open Arantxa Sánchez Vicario 7-5, 4-6, 6-0
Wimbledon Arantxa Sánchez Vicario 4-6, 6-1, 7-5
US Open Monica Seles 7-6, 0-6, 6-3
1996 French Open Arantxa Sánchez Vicario 6-3, 6-7, 10-8
Wimbledon Arantxa Sánchez Vicario 6-3, 7-5
US Open Monica Seles 7-5, 6-4
1999 French Open Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2

Runners-up (9)

Year     Championship            Opponent in Final          Score in Final
1987     Wimbledon               Martina Navratilova        7-5, 6-3
1987     US Open                 Martina Navratilova        7-6, 6-1
1989     French Open             Arantxa Sánchez Vicario    7-6, 3-6, 7-5 
1990     French Open             Monica Seles               7-6, 6-4 
1990     US Open                 Gabriela Sabatini          6-2, 7-6 
1992     French Open             Monica Seles               6-2, 3-6, 10-8  
1993     Australian Open         Monica Seles               4-6, 6-3, 6-2 
1994     US Open                 Arantxa Sánchez Vicario    1-6, 7-6, 6-4
1999     Wimbledon               Lindsay Davenport          6-4, 7-5

External links

Women's Tennis Association | World No. 1's in Women's tennis
Tracy Austin | Jennifer Capriati | Kim Clijsters | Lindsay Davenport | Chris Evert | Steffi Graf | Justine Henin-Hardenne | Martina Hingis | Amélie Mauresmo | Martina Navratilova | Arantxa Sánchez Vicario | Monica Seles | Maria Sharapova | Serena Williams | Venus Williams
All-time leader Steffi Graf spent 377 weeks on top of the rankings.

Tennis at the Summer Olympics | Olympic Champions in Women's tennis
Charlotte Cooper | Dorothea Chambers | Marguerite Broquedis | Suzanne Lenglen | Helen Wills | Steffi Graf | Jennifer Capriati | Lindsay Davenport | Venus Williams | Justine Henin-Hardenne

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