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. 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. She 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 to have achieved a Calendar Year Grand Slam while playing on all three major types of tennis courts (grass courts, clay courts and hard courts), 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 considered by some to be the greatest female player. Billie Jean King said in 1999, "Steffi is definitely the greatest women's tennis player of all time." Martina Navratilova 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 and they have two children, Jaden Gil and Jaz Elle.
Steffi 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.
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. Illness caused her to miss Wimbledon, and an accident where she broke a toe several weeks later also curtailed her momentum. She returned to win a small tournament at Mahwah just before the US Open where, in one of the most anticipated matches of the year, she encountered Navratilova in a semifinal. The match was played over two days with Navratilova finally winning after saving three match points 6–1, 6–7, 7–6. Graf then won three consecutive indoor titles at Tokyo, Zürich, and Brighton, before once again contending with Navratilova at the season-ending Virginia Slims Championships in New York City. This time, Navratilova beat Graf 7–6, 6–3, 6–2.
Breakthrough year: 1987
Graf'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 : 1988
Steffi Graf hitting a backhand shot.
Graf 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
Speculation 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.
Victories at Zürich and Brighton preceded the Virginia Slims Championships, where Graf cemented her top-ranked status by beating Navratilova in the final 6–4, 7–5, 2–6, 6–2. Graf ended 1989 with an 86–2 match record and the loss of only twelve sets.
Graf 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.
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, in March, ending Graf's record 186 consecutive-weeks hold on the World No. 1 ranking. Graf briefly regained the top ranking after winning at Wimbledon but lost it again after her loss to Navratilova at the US Open.
Graf lost an Australian Open quarterfinal to Jana Novotná, the first time she did not reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam singles tournament since the 1986 French Open. She then lost to Gabriela Sabatini in her next three tournaments before winning the U.S. Hardcourt Championships in San Antonio, beating Monica Seles in the final. After losing a fifth straight time to Sabatini in Amelia Island, Florida, Graf once again defeated Seles in the Hamburg final. Following her tournament victory in Berlin, Graf suffered one of the worst defeats of her career in a French Open semifinal where she won only two games against Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and lost her first 6–0 set since 1984. Graf did, however, win her third Wimbledon title, defeating Sabatini in the final. Navratilova then defeated Graf 7–6, 6–7, 6–4 in a US Open semifinal, the first time she had beaten Graf in four years. Graf then won Leipzig, with her 500th career victory coming in a quarterfinal against Judith Wiesner. After winning two more indoor tournaments at Zürich and Brighton, she failed once again in the Virginia Slims Championships, losing her quarterfinal to Novotná. Soon after, she split with her long-time coach, Pavel Složil.
A 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. 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.
Second period of dominance
Monica 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 to re-establish herself as the dominant player in women's tennis. 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.
In the meantime, she lost surprisingly to Nicole Bradtke of Australia in a Fed Cup match on clay before winning the tournament in San Diego and the tournament in Toronto in preparation for the US Open. She won there, beating Helena Suková comfortably in the final after eliminating Sabatini in a three-set quarterfinal. She won the tournament in Leipzig yet again the day before her foot operation, losing only two games to Novotná in the final. Graf lost to Conchita Martínez in her return tournament a month later in Philadelphia. However, she finished her year with a highlight, winning her first Virginia Slims Championships since 1989 by beating Sánchez Vicario in the final despite needing painkillers for a back injury.
Seemingly free of injury for the first time in years, Graf began the year by winning the Australian Open, where she defeated Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in the final with the loss of only two games. She then won her next four tournaments easily. In the Miami final, she lost her first set of the year—to Natasha Zvereva—after winning 54 consecutive sets. In the Hamburg final, she lost for the first time in 1994 after 36 consecutive match victories, losing to Sánchez Vicario in three sets. She then won her eighth German Open, but there were signs that her form was worsening as she almost lost to Julie Halard in a quarterfinal.Back-to-back losses followed; Graf lost to Mary Pierce in a French Open semifinal, 6–2, 6–2, and followed that with a first-round straight-sets loss at Wimbledon to Lori McNeil, her first loss in a first round Grand Slam tournament in ten years. Graf still managed to win San Diego the following month but aggravated a long-time back injury in beating Sánchez Vicario in the final. She then began to wear a back brace and was unsure about playing the US Open but elected to play while receiving treatment and stretching for two hours before each match. She made it to the final and took the first set there against Sánchez Vicario—Sanchez Vicario's last victory over Graf. Her back injury, however, flared up and she lost the next two sets. She took the following nine weeks off, returning only for the Virginia Slims Championships where she lost to Pierce in a quarterfinal.
Injury kept Graf out of the Australian Open. She came back to beat Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in the finals of both the French Open and Wimbledon. The US Open was Monica Seles's first Grand Slam event since the 1993 attack. Seles and Graf met in the final, with Graf winning 7–6, 0–6, 6–3. Graf then capped the year by beating countrywoman Anke Huber in a five-set final at the season-ending (6–1, 2–6, 6–1, 4–6, 6–3) in 2 hours 46 minutes. WTA Tour Championships.
In personal terms, 1995 was a difficult year for Graf, as she was accused by German authorities of tax evasion in the early years of her career. In her defense, she stated that her father Peter was her financial manager, and all financial matters relating to her earnings at the time had been under his control. As a result, Peter was sentenced to 45 months in jail. He was eventually released after serving 25 months. Prosecutors dropped their case against Steffi Graf in 1997, when she agreed to pay a fine of 1.3 million Deutsche Marks to the government and an unspecified charity.
Graf 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: 1997–99
The 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. Graf said, "I have done everything I wanted to do in tennis. I feel I have nothing left to accomplish. The weeks following Wimbledon [in 1999] weren't easy for me. I was not having fun anymore. After Wimbledon, for the first time in my career, I didn't feel like going to a tournament. My motivation wasn't what it was in the past."
Graf 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."
Graf 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.
Graf 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 career
Graf 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.
The main weapons in Graf's game were her powerful inside-out forehand drive, which earned her the moniker "Fräulein Forehand," and her foot speed. She often positioned herself in her backhand corner, and although this left her forehand wide open and vulnerable to attack, her court speed meant that only the most accurate shots wide to her forehand caused any trouble.
Graf also had a powerful backhand drive but over the course of her career tended to use this less frequently, opting more often for her very effective backhand slice. In baseline rallies, she used the slice almost exclusively. Her accuracy with the slice, both cross-court and down the line, and her ability to skid the ball and keep it low, enabled her to use it as an offensive weapon to set the ball up for her forehand put-aways.
She built her powerful and accurate serve up to 180 km/h (110 mph), making it one of the fastest serves in women's tennis, and was a capable volleyer.
In the 1990s, she had a long term relationship with racing car driver Michael Bartels.
She married Andre Agassi on 22 October 2001, with only their mothers as witnesses. Four days later Graf gave birth, six weeks prematurely, to their son Jaden Gil. Their daughter, Jaz Elle, was born 3 October 2003.
In 1991, the Steffi Graf Youth Tennis Center in Leipzig was dedicated. She is the founder and chairperson of "Children for Tomorrow", a non-profit foundation for implementing and developing projects to support children who have been traumatized by war or other crises.