Overview of life
Stefanie Maria “Steffi” Graf (German pronunciation: [ˈʃtɛfiː ˈgʁa:f]; born 14 June 1969) is a German former tennis player, who was ranked world No. 1 during her career. Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles. Her 22 singles titles put her second on the list of Major wins by a tennis player (male or female) since the introduction of the Open Era in 1968 and is third all-time behind Margaret Court (24) and Serena Williams (23). In 1988, she became the first and only tennis player (male or female) to achieve the Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year. Furthermore, she is the only tennis player to have won each Grand Slam event at least four times.
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 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). She and Margaret Court are the only players, male or female, to win three grand slams in a calendar year five times (1988, 1989, 1993, 1995 and 1996).
Notable features of Graf’s game were her versatility across all playing surfaces, footwork and her powerful forehand drive. Graf won six French Open singles titles (second to Evert), seven Wimbledon singles titles, four Australian Open titles, and five U.S. Open singles titles. She is the only singles player (male or female) to have achieved a Grand Slam since hard court was introduced as a surface at the US Open in 1978. Consequently, Graf’s Grand Slam was achieved on grass, clay, and hard court while the previous five Grand Slams were decided on only grass and clay. Graf reached thirteen consecutive Grand Slam singles finals, from the 1987 French Open through to the 1990 French Open, winning nine of them. She won 5 consecutive Majors (1988 Australian Open to 1989 Australian Open), and seven Majors out of eight, in two calendar years (1988 Australian Open to 1989 US Open, except 1989 French Open). She reached a total of 31 Grand Slam singles finals.
Graf is regarded by some to be the greatest female tennis player of all time. Navratilova included Graf on her list of great players. In 1999 Billie Jean King said “Steffi is definitely the greatest women’s tennis player of all time”. 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. The couple has two children – Jaden Gil and Jaz Elle. Graf was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004.
Stefanie Graf was born on 14 June 1969, in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany, to Heidi Schalk and Peter Graf (18 June 1938 − 30 November 2013), a car and insurance salesman. When she was nine years old her family moved to the neighbouring town of Bruhl. She has a younger brother Michael. Graf was introduced to tennis by her father, an aspiring tennis coach, who taught his three-year-old daughter how to swing a wooden racket in the family’s living room. She began practicing 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, Graf was 13 years old and 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. No medals were awarded as this was not an official Olympic event.
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 practicing and match play. Working with her father and then-coach Pavel Složil, 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.
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 play. 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 tournament 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 Martina, who was the World No. 1, 6–4, 4–6, 8–6 after beating 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.
Graf had a win-loss record of 75-2 for a 97.4 winning percentage in 1987, both losses coming to Navratilova as they split the four matches they played during the year. On August 17, after defeating Evert in a straight set final in the Virginia Slims of Los Angeles, Graf overtook Navratilova for the world number one ranking for the first time in her career, a ranking she would hold for the next 186 consecutive-weeks, a record that has not been broken. Graf was the first player other than Navratilova or Evert to hold the top spot since Tracy Austin in 1980.
Unprecedented Golden Slam: 1988
Seoul women’s tennis results
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 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 shortest-ever and most one-sided Grand Slam final ever and the only double bagel in a Major final since 1911. Zvereva, who had eliminated Martina Navratilova in the fourth round, won only thirteen points in the match.
Next came Wimbledon, where Martina Navratilova had won six straight titles. Graf was trailing Martina 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 beat Sabatini in a three-set final to win the Grand Slam by 6–3, 3–6, 6–1, a feat previously performed by only two other women, Maureen Connolly Brinker in 1953 and Margaret Court in 1970. Graf’s 1988 Grand Slam remains the only one in history completed on three surfaces (grass, clay, hard court), as all other Grand Slams in tennis history were achieved prior to the introduction of hard court at the US Open in 1978.
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”. The feat has only been achieved by Graf to date. 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 was upset by Pam Shriver, only her third loss of the year. She was named the 1988 BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year.
The municipality of Brühl, where she lived most years of her professional career gave her the title of honorary citizen with at age of 19.
New challengers and personal challenges
Steffi Graf backhand
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 tournament winning streak to five events at the Australian Open, defeating Helena Suková in the final. Her 6–3, 6–0 defeat of Argentina’s Gabriela Sabatini in a semifinal was described by veteran observer Ted Tinling as “probably the best tennis I’ve seen”. He went on to add, “I saw what Steffi did to Sabatini at the Australian Open this year, and that was it. She is better than them all.”
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 tournament 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 and won only three more points in the match. Suffering from food poisoning, she had struggled to beat Monica Seles in their semifinal 6–3, 3–6, 6–3 and said that she had had menstrual cramps in the final. Graf, however, recovered to defeat Martina Navratilova 6–2, 6–7, 6–1 in the Wimbledon final after defeating Monica Seles 6–0, 6–1 in a fourth round match, Arantxa 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. The match was notable for its dramatic ending. Having suffered from leg cramps since the middle of the third set, Graf ran off the court seconds after match point to seek medical treatment. In the final, Martina 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 in four sets. Graf ended 1989 with an 86–2 match record and the loss of only twelve sets. Her .977 winning percentage is the second-highest in the open era behind Navratilova.
Graf defeated Mary Joe Fernández 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. Shortly after winning in Tokyo, Graf injured her right thumb while cross-country skiing in Switzerland and subsequently withdrew from the Virginia Slims of Florida and the Lipton Championships. 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 Major 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, including a pair of straight set wins over Sabatini in the finals of Zürich and Worcester. Although Sabatini got the best of Graf in the semifinals of the season-ending Virginia Slims Championships, Graf still 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 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 again defeated Seles in the Hamburg final. Following her tournament victory in German Open 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. At Wimbledon, however, Graf captured her third women’s crown, this time at Sabatini’s expense. Sabatini served for the match twice, and was two points away from her first Wimbledon title. After breaking Sabatini’s serve to even the third set at 6–6, Graf defeated Sabatini by winning the next two games to take the match 6–4, 3–6, 8–6. Martina 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 in 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 rubella 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, including a semifinal loss to Jana Novotná in Chicago. It was Graf’s second consecutive loss to Novotna, and dating back to their 1991 Australian Open quarterfinal match, Jana had won three of their last five meetings. Chicago was notable, however, for being the first tournament Graf played with her new coach, former Swiss player Heinz Günthardt. Graf’s father had approached Günthardt during the 1991 Virginia Slims Championships. She would work with him for the remainder of her career. In Boca Raton, Florida, Graf reached her first final of the year, where she faced Conchita Martínez for the title. In their five previous head-to-head matches, Graf had defeated Martínez each time. Even though Conchita won the opening set, Graf went on to prevail 3–6, 6–2, 6–0. She lost twice to Sabatini in the early spring at the Lipton International and the Bausch & Lomb Championships; however, the Bausch & Lomb loss would be Graf’s final loss to Sabatini, winning her next, and last, 8 matches against Sabatini.
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. Graf then renewed her rivalry with Monica Seles in the final, which Monica Seles won 10–8 in the third set. Monica 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 Monica 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 Arantxa 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, 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
Graf began 1993 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 Fernández and Sabatini in three-set matches to claim her seventh title there in eight years.
Monica Seles beat Graf in three sets in the final of the Australian Open 4–6, 6–3, 6–2. This cemented Seles as the dominant #1 player in the world, having won 5 of the previous 6, 7 of the previous 9, and 8 of the previous 12 major singles titles. In that timespan of 12 majors, Graf had won twice (1991 and 1992 Wimbledon) in comparison.
During a quarterfinal match between Seles and Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg (Graf’s home country), 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. More than two years elapsed before Seles competed again. Shortly after the stabbing, at the Italian Open in Rome, 17 of the world’s top 25 WTA members voted against preserving Seles’ world #1 ranking while she was sidelined (only Sabatini abstained from this vote). Since Graf skipped the Italian Open, she did not take part in the vote.
Following the absence of Seles, Graf won 65 of 67 matches, three of four Grand Slam events and the year-end Virginia Slims championships. She won her first French Open title since 1988 with a three-set victory over Mary Joe Fernández in the final. The win elevated Graf to the World No. 1 ranking for the first time in 22 months. At Wimbledon, Graf defeated Jana Novotná to win her third consecutive, and fifth overall, ladies’ title. In the third and deciding set, Jana had a point to go up 5–1 on her serve. After breaking Novotná’s serve, Graf won the next four games to take the match 7–6, 1–6, 6–4. Graf had a bone splinter in her right foot during this 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 Acura Classic in San Diego and the Canadian Open 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 Jana 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 Arantxa 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. Graf later stated it was the best tennis she had ever played in a Grand Slam final. She then won her next four tournaments in Tokyo, Indian Wells, Delray Beach and Miami respectively. 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. As the defending champion Graf lost in straight sets to Mary Pierce in the French Open semifinal. This was followed by a first-round straight-sets loss at Wimbledon to Lori McNeil, her only loss at Wimbledon between 1991 and 1997 and 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. Graf developed a bone spur at the base of her spine due to a congenital condition of the sacroiliac joint. She 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 against Sánchez Vicario but lost the next two sets — Sanchez Vicario’s last victory over Graf. In the middle of the second set, Graf suffered back spasms while reaching for a ball in the ad court. She took the following nine weeks off, returning only for the Virginia Slims Championships where she lost in straight sets to Pierce in the quarterfinal.
A strained right calf muscle forced Graf to withdraw from the Australian Open. She came back in February, winning four consecutive tournaments in Paris, Delray Beach, Miami and Houston. She then 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 WTA Tour Championships in 2 hours 46 minutes.
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 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 after undergoing surgery to remove bone splinters from her left foot. She came back to the tour in March, winning back to back titles in Indian Wells and Miami, followed by a record ninth title at the German Open in May. She 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 had led 4-1 in the second set tiebreak, only to lose six points in a row and force a decider. Twice in the third set Sánchez Vicario served for the championship but was broken each time by Graf. It was the longest French Open women’s singles final in history, both in terms of time (3 hours and 3 minutes) and number of games played (40). Graf then had a straight-sets win against Sánchez Vicario in the Wimbledon final. That was the last competitive match Graf and Sánchez Vicario would ever play against one another. In July, a left knee injury forced Graf to withdraw from the Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Graf played only one warmup event ahead of the US Open, the Acura Classic in Manhattan Beach, California, where she lost to Lindsay Davenport in the semifinals. She then successfully defended her title at the US Open, defeating Monica Seles in the final. Graf did not lose a set the whole tournament. She also won her fifth and final WTA Tour Championships title with a five set win over Martina Hingis. In 1988 Graf became only the second tennis player in history to win a Slam on hard court, clay, and grass all in the same season. She repeated the feat in 1993, 1995, and 1996.
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. That year Graf lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open in straight sets to Amanda Coetzer. She subsequently withdrew from the Toray Pan Pacific Open and had arthroscopic surgery performed on her left knee. 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. Only one week later Graf underwent reconstructive knee surgery in Vienna and subsequently missed the 1997 Wimbledon and US Open championships. The treatment was for a fracture of the cartilage as well as a shortening and partial rupture of the patellar tendon of her left knee. After missing almost half of the tour in 1998, Graf lost in the third round at Wimbledon and in the fourth round at the US Open. Shortly after the US Open she underwent surgery to remove a bone spur in her right wrist. Upon her return 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 before losing in the semifinal to first-seeded Davenport.
At the beginning of 1999 Graf played the warm up event to the Australian Open in Sydney; she defeated Serena Williams in the second round and Venus Williams in the quarterfinals before losing to Lindsay Davenport in the semifinal. Graf then went on to reach the quarterfinals of the Australian Open before losing to Monica Seles in two sets. In Indian Wells Graf lost to Serena Williams in three sets.
At the 1999 French Open, Graf reached her first Grand Slam final in three years and fought back from a set and twice from a break down in the second set to defeat the top ranked Hingis in three sets for a memorable victory. Graf became the first player in the open era to defeat the first, second, and third ranked players in the same Grand Slam tournament by beating second-ranked Davenport in the quarterfinals 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 third-seeded Davenport in straight sets.
On 13 August 1999, shortly after retiring with a strained hamstring from a second round match against Amy Frazier in San Diego, Graf announced her retirement from the women’s tour at age 30. 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.”
From the beginning of her career until 1990, Graf regularly played doubles events in Grand Slams and other tournaments, winning a total of 11 titles. In 1986, she formed a partnership with rival Gabriela Sabatini. The pair was moderately successful, winning the 1988 Wimbledon Championships together and reaching the finals of the French Open in 1986, 1987 and 1989. The partnership was the subject of much discussion, as the two women, both known to be shy, usually kept communication to a minimum during changeovers and between points, a highly unusual situation in doubles. Sabatini said of the partnership: “doubles is all about communicating with each other, and we didn’t communicate that much. We would just say the basic things, but nothing else.” The pair played their last major tournament together at the 1990 Wimbledon Championships, losing in the quarterfinals. From 1991 until the end of her career, Graf would only play doubles sporadically, forming short-term partnerships with a variety of players, including Lori McNeil, Anke Huber and her best friends on the tour, Rennae Stubbs, Patricia Tarabini and Ines Gorrochategui. She played her last Grand Slam doubles tournament at the 1999 Australian Open with Gorrochategui, losing in the second round.
Graf also occasionally played mixed doubles, although she never won a title. She partnered with doubles specialist Mark Woodforde at the Australian Open in 1994, with French player Henri Leconte at Wimbledon in 1991 and at the French Open in 1994, and with American player Charlie Pasarell at the US Open in 1984. In an unusual arrangement, she paired with her coaches Pavel Složil at Wimbledon in 1988 and Heinz Günthardt in 1992 and 1996, also at Wimbledon. At the 1999 Wimbledon Championships, Graf formed a much-publicized partnership with John McEnroe, with whom she reached the semifinals before withdrawing because of a strained hamstring.
Post-career exhibition matches
Steffi Graf (Wimbledon 2009)
In late 1999 and early 2000, as part of her Farewell Tour, Graf played a series of exhibition matches against former rivals in New Zealand, Japan, Spain, Germany and South Africa. She played Jelena Dokic in Christchurch, New Zealand, Amanda Coetzer in Durban, South Africa, and her former rival Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in Zaragoza, Spain. It was Graf and Sánchez Vicario’s first head-to-head meeting since 1996. In February 2000, Graf played against Kimiko Date at Nagoya Rainbow Hall in Tokyo, winning in three sets. In September 2004, Graf dispatched her former doubles partner Gabriela Sabatini in straight sets, in an exhibition match played in Berlin, Germany. She was also in Berlin to host a charity gala, as well as inaugurating a tennis stadium renamed the “Steffi Graf Stadion”. Proceeds from her match against Sabatini went to Graf’s foundation, “Children for tomorrow”.
In July 2005, Graf competed in one tie of World Team Tennis (WTT) on the Houston Wranglers team. She was beaten in two out of three matches, with each match being 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, however, in the mixed doubles match. Graf completely ruled out a return to professional tennis. In October, Graf defeated Sabatini in an exhibition match in Mannheim, Germany, winning both of their sets. Like the exhibition match the previous year against Sabatini, proceeds went to Graf’s foundation “Children for tomorrow”.
Steffi Graf at a charity tennis tournament for Rexona
In 2008 Graf lost an exhibition match against Kimiko Date at Ariake Colosseum in Tokyo. As part of the event, billed as “Dream Match 2008”, she defeated Martina Navratilova in a one-set affair 8-7, with Graf winning a tiebreaker 10-5. It was the first time in 14 years Graf had played Navratilova. 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 in 2009. She lost a lengthy one-set singles match to Clijsters and also the mixed doubles.
In 2010, Graf participated in the WTT Smash Hits exhibition in Washington, D.C. to support the Elton John AIDS Foundation. She and Agassi, her husband, were on Team Elton John, which 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 282–32 (89 percent) (87–10 at the French Open, 75–7 at Wimbledon, 73–9 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, tied with Serena Williams, a record in the women’s game) and a record total 377 weeks overall.
The main weapons in Graf’s game were her powerful inside-out forehand drive (which earned her the moniker Fräulein Forehand) and her intricate footwork. 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’s technique on the forehand was unique and instantly recognizable: generating considerable racquet head speed with her swing, she reached the point of contact late and typically out of the air. As a result, she hit her forehand with exceptional pace and accuracy. According to her coaches Pavel Složil and Heinz Günthardt, Graf’s superior sense of timing was the key behind the success of her forehand.
Graf also had a powerful backhand drive but over the course of her career tended to use this less frequently, opting more often for an effective backhand slice. Starting in the early 1990s, she used the slice almost exclusively in baseline rallies and mostly limited the topspin backhand to passing shots. 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. However, Graf admitted in 1995 that she would have preferred having a two-handed backhand in retrospect.
She built her powerful and accurate serve up to 174 km/h (108 mph), making it one of the fastest serves in women’s tennis and was a capable volleyer.
Equipment and endorsements
Graf wore Adidas apparel and sneakers during her tennis career. She had an adidas sneakers line known as the St. Graf Pro line. Early in her career, she used the Dunlop Max 200G racquet before switching to Wilson from 1994 to 1999. She first used the Wilson Pro Staff 7.0 lite, then switched to the Pro Staff 7.5 in 1996 and switched again to the Pro Staff 7.1 in 1999. In 2006, she signed an endorsement deal with Head. In 2010, Graf and Agassi collaborated with Head and developed the new line of Star Series tennis racquets.
Graf has signed many endorsement deals throughout the years including a ten-year endorsement deal with car manufacturer Opel in 1985, and Rexona from 1994 to 1998. Other companies she has endorsed include Barilla, Apollinaris, Citibank, Danone and Teekanne. She has appeared in many advertisements and television commercials with Andre Agassi including Canon Inc. and Longines in 2008 (Agassi became Longines ambassador in 2007). In 2015, she was appointed as the brand ambassador of Kerala tourism, for promoting Ayurveda in North America and Europe.