In 1988, she became the first and then, the only, player to win a Calendar Year Golden Slam. She has won a total of 22 Grand Slam titles, a feat that is surpassed only by Margaret Court who has 24 titles to her name. Yes, she is the one woman who Billie Jean King described as the “greatest women’s tennis player of all time”. She is the inimitable Steffi Graf.
She was born Stefanie Maria Graf, on 14th June, 1969, in West Germany. She was introduced to the game by her father, Peter Graf, who was a car salesman and a tennis enthusiast. He also wanted to be a tennis coach, and handed her three year old daughter a wooden racket. Steffi Graf began practicing on a court at the tender age of four, when most other children are just starting school. Her fist tournament was at the age of five and was soon making a name for herself by regularly winning junior level tournaments. She went on to win the European Junior Championships when she was just 13, in 1982. The same year, she played her very first professional match against Tracy Austin, a player against whom she would play again 12 years later, for the second and final time. Steffi Graf lost that match 6-4. 6-0, but she exacted revenge 12 years later by defeating her 6-0, 6-0 12 years later.
At the start of her professional career, she was ranked no. 124. while she didn’t win any titles during the next three years, her ranking steadily climbed and by 1985, she had cracked the top 10 and was no. 6 in the rankings. As a teenager at 15, she won the exhibition match at the 1984 Olympics. She came to prominence when she almost caused an upset by nearly defeating the tenth seed at a center court match in Wimbeldon.
Her father and coach, Peter Graf strictly followed a schedule so that his daughter wouldn’t be playing too many games and burn out. In 1986, she was being hailed as a challenger to the dominance of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert. Although she lost to them many times, she continuosly made the quarterfinals and semifinals of various tournaments. She made a tremendous breakthrough in 1987 when she won the French Open. She had looked to be in very good form and had defeated Martina Navratilova in the semifinals at a tournament in Miami. This set her up against Chris Evert in the final match which she also won. This was followed by a scintillating performance at the French Open where she proceeded to the finals by defeating Gabriel Sabatini in a three set match. This set her up for a clash in the final against the reigning champion, Martina Navratilova. Graf won the match 6-4, 4-6, 8-6. The next year started when Graf won the Australian Open against Chris Evert, followed by her spirited defense of her French Open title. This was followed by a win over Navratilova in the finals of the Wimbeldon in a massive comeback match. The final obstacle was the US Open which she won by defeating Sabatini. The completion of the four titles got her a Calendar Grand Slam. The same year, she also won the Olympic Gold medal, thus making it what the media dubbed as a Golden Slam.