Class of 2004
World No. 1 (1987)
Grand Slam Results
23-time major champion, 12-time finalist
Overall Record: 1073-187
Singles Record: 900-115
Doubles Record: 173-72
WTA World Tour Championships
Winner 1987, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1996
Winner of the Women’s Singles Exhibition Tennis Tournament at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games
Gold Medal in Women’s Singles at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games
Bronze Medal in Women’s Doubles at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games
Silver Medal in Women’s Singles at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games
Member of the German Federation Cup Team 1986-1987, 1989, 1991-1993, 1996
Member of the German Championship Federation Cup Team 1987, 1992
Overall Record 28-4
Singles Record 20-2
Doubles Record 8-2
With 22 major singles titles and the only player to win the “Golden Grand Slam,” capturing all four majors and an Olympic Gold Medal in the same year, Steffi Graf laid claim to being anointed one of the greatest women’s players in history.
The versatile Graf, who accumulated championships regardless of playing surface, also placed a stranglehold on the world No. 1 ranking for 377 cumulative weeks, the longest reign of any male or female player in history. For a women’s record 186 consecutive weeks – from August 17, 1987 to March 10, 1991 – Graf was atop the world of tennis. Starting with the 1987 French and lasting until the 1990 French, Graf advanced to 13 consecutive major singles finals, winning nine of them. On tennis’s biggest stages at Wimbledon, the Australian, French and US Opens, Graf was a finalist 31 times, compiling a 282-34 record; a 90 percent clip.
With her devastating inside-outside forehand, perhaps the best and biggest single shot the women’s game has ever witnessed, Graf carved out a dominant stretch of excellence: She holds the record for the longest consecutive stretch ranked in the world Top 2 – 10 years, 3 months, 1 week – stretching from March 2, 1987 to June 8, 1997.
Graf compiled a 902-115 (.887) career singles match record, just percentage points away from all-time leader Margaret Court (.914) and Chris Evert (.901). Her 107 career titles rank right below Martina Navratilova (167) and Evert (157). Graf was the International Tennis Federation World Champion a record seven times (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996) and honored as the WTA Player of the Year eight times (1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996). Following her fourth of five championships at the US Open in 1995, Graf became the only player male or female player in history to win each of the four major singles titles at least four times. Four times in her career she won three of the four majors contested in a given year (1989, 1993, 1995, and 1996).
Graf captured the Australian Open four times (1988, 1989, 1990, 1994); the French six times (1987, 1988, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1999), Wimbledon seven times (1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996) and the US Open five times (1988, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1996). She lost ten or less matches at each major (47-6 Australian; 87-10 French; 75-8 Wimbledon; 73-10 US Open).
After winning her sixth French and advancing to the Wimbledon Ladies Championship final in 1999, the German nicknamed the “Fraulein Forehand” (by Bud Collins, for her devastating trademark shot) retired from tennis. Only four other players in history had achieved a calendar year Grand Slam (Maureen Connolly, Court, Don Budge, and Rod Laver twice). She had earned $21,895,277 in career prize money. In head-to-head competition against players also ranked No. 1 the world during her 17-year career, Graf posted an 87-41 record. Against No. 2 ranked players she was a remarkable 42-5; 100-23 versus No. 3; 94-6 against No. 4 and 28-6 versus No. 5. Cumulatively, she was 440-91 against 57 players ranked the world top 10, never losing a match to 21 of them, and only once to 12 others.
In her 32 trips to a major singles final, Graf faced Spain’s Arantxa Sánchez-Vicario in major singles finals seven times, going 5-2. Monica Seles was an opponent in six major finals and the duo spilt at 3-3. Graf and Navratilova faced each other six times and Graf had the advantage, 4-2.
“Steffi Graf is the best all-around player,” said Evert, whose name is also mentioned as one of the all-time greats. “Martina won more on fast courts and I won more on slow courts, but Steffi came along and won more titles on both surfaces.”
Like many European players who achieved stardom on the professional tour, Graf was taught how to hit a tennis ball at an extremely young age. Her father Peter began teaching his daughter at age 3.
Focused and driven to become a champion, Graf hit the junior tournament circuit with abandon, becoming a European Champion 12s and 18s in 1982. She turned professional in 1982, at age 13, and her carefully developed maturation was keenly managed by her father Peter and her coach Pavel Složil, limiting the number of tournaments she entered and astutely grooming her all-court game. There was no discernable difference between Graf’s playing styles or court demeanor, whether she played on hard, grass or clay courts. “She played like a robot, like a machine, no emotions … strong with a stone face,” said fellow German Claudia Kohde-Kilsch, who won eight WTA tour singles titles during her career, but was 2-12 versus Graf.
Graf had the athletic skills necessary to become a champion. She had what her competitors said was the best footwork in the game. She was immensely fit due to a structured and rigorous training schedule that made her strong, fast and quick, her legs being a weapon themselves. She attacked the ball on the rise, lifting herself off the ground – and nearly out of her shoes – to pound her forehand drive. Her timing was impeccable, honed with hours of serious practice time. Graf’s mental toughness and desire to win gave her an edge few could match. She said that the game’s top players helped her raise her level, but the true competitor was herself.
Her professional career began modestly in October 1982 with a 6-4, 6-0 loss at Stuttgart, Germany against 20-year-old Tracy Austin, who had won the US Open in 1979 and 1981. The following year Graf played her first full professional season. The first of her 107 tournament victories came on April 13, 1986 when the 16-year-old Graf defeated Evert at the Family Circle Cup in Hilton Head, South Carolina, 6-4, 7-5. A superstar was unleashed and over the next four years Graf won 46 WTA Tournaments, her finest season coming in 1989 when she captured 14 tiles.
Graf’s ascent to greatness was produced at a slow burn, then turned red hot. She captured her first major championship at the French Open in 1987, defeating Navratilova 6-4, 4-6, 8-6. In 1988 and 1989, Graf was the most dominant player in the world, winning seven of the eight majors contested (she lost in the 1989 French Open final) and by the end of the 1990 season won eight of 12 major titles in a three-year stretch, was a finalist in three majors and a semifinalist at Wimbledon. Her cumulative record placed her in rarified space: She was 78-4 in major tournament play those three years. In winning the 1988 Grand Slam and Olympic Gold medal, Graf dispatched Chris Evert at the Australian (6-1, 7-6), Natasha Zvereva at the French (6-0, 6-0), Navratilova at Wimbledon (5-7, 6-2, 6-1), Gabriela Sabatini at the US Open (6-3, 3-6, 6-1), and Sabatini at the 1988 Games in Seoul (6-3, 6-3). Graf made a bid to capture back-to-back Olympic Gold Medals at the 1992 Barcelona Games, but was defeated by upstart Jennifer Capriati.
“She was just dominating,” Mary Joe Fernandez explains. “She was winning her matches so fast. People went out against Steffi knowing they were going to lose, it was a just a matter of how long you were able to keep her out there.”
If not for the upset defeat to 17-year-old Sánchez -Vicario at the 1989 French Open, a match that she led 5-3 in the third, Graf would have claimed back-to-back calendar Grand Slams. At the Australian she toppled Helena Sukova (6-4, 6-4), took Wimbledon for a second straight time over Navratilova (6-2, 6-7, 6-1) and defended her US Open crown over Navratilova (3-6, 7-5, 6-1).
While Graf had to deal with assorted injuries from 1991-1996, particularly early in the tour season which forced her to miss three Australian Opens, she was still winning major titles at a regular rate. Three straight Wimbledons were won from 1991-93. The 1993 season saw her flirt with another potential Grand Slam as she took all but the Australian (4-6, 6-3, 6-2 loss to Monica Seles). She won three of four majors in both 1995 and 1996 (injuries forcing her to withdraw from the Australian). It wasn’t until the 1997 season that Graf’s knees and back began to flare up enough to affect her play. She missed winning a major for the first time in 10 years and saw another rising young player, Martina Hingis, take her spot as the world No. 1 ranked player. Graf battled through those injuries, closing out her career in 1999 with a French Open title at age 30, appropriately over Hingis who became her heir apparent, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Her final major tournament appearance came in the 1999 Wimbledon final where she fell to Lindsay Davenport, 6-4, 7-5.
Graf’s retirement in 1999 coincidentally came when other celebrity athletes also closed out their careers, including Michael Jordan, John Elway, Wayne Gretzky, and Barry Sanders. “I have done everything I wanted to do in tennis,” Graf said. “Right now, I’m perfectly fit. This is no way about injuries.” In the year of her retirement, Graf was named the Greatest Female Tennis Player of the 20th Century by a panel of tennis experts assembled by the Associated Press. At the annual ESPN ESPY Awards, she earned the Female Sports Award of the Last Decade.
Her monstrous career included playing seven years on the German Fed Cup team where she compiled a 20-2 singles record and led the team to champions in 1987 over the United States and 1992 over Spain. Four times in her illustrious career Graf won the season-ending Tour Championships (1987, 1989, 1993, 1995). Although doubles was clearly not Graf’s specialty, she dabbled in the competition enough to win the 1988 Wimbledon Ladies Doubles Championship alongside Gabriela Sabatini (the duo were finalists at the 1986, 1987, and 1989 French). She also won 11 WTA titles and compiled a 173-72 record doubles record.
Even before her career concluded, Graf had her eye of the future. In 1991 she founded The Steffi Graf Youth Tennis Center in Leipzig, Germany. She is also the Founder and 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.
In 2001 she married fellow Andre Agassi, making them one of only two married couples enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
While the debate will remain as to whom was the best female player in history, in March 2012, the Tennis Channel chose Graf as the greatest in its list of 100 greatest players of all time.
Australian Open: W 1988, 1989, 1990, 1994
French Open: W 1987, 1988, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1999
Wimbledon: W 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996
US Open: W 1988, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1996
Australian Open: SF 1988, 1989
French Open: F 1986, 1987, 1989
Wimbledon: W 1988
US Open: SF 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989