A champion of the highest order, Steffi Graf turned the world of women’s tennis upside down through the 1980s and 1990s. A woman of quiet dignity who spoke loudly with her racquet, she became the only tennis player of either sex to capture every Major tournament at least four times. Before anyone had heard of her, back in the early Eighties, the German Tennis Federation carried out extensive sporting aptitude tests on more than 100 of its top eight-to-12-year-olds players. Not only did she come top in every single one, the then groundbreaking research also suggested that she had the capability to become an Olympic 1500 metres champion, something she backed up when training with the country’s top runners at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Graf began her professional tennis career aged 13, coached and managed by her father Peter Graf. She won her first WTA tournament in 1986 and went on to win her first Grand Slam title at the French Open in 1987. In 1988 she achieved a ‘Golden Slam’ winning all four Grand Slam titles and the Olympic Gold medal in Seoul. In total Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles more than any other woman in the open era. Her run of 186 weeks as the World No. 1 has not been beaten. She finished eight seasons as the No. 1 ranked woman in the world. Graf is widely regarded as one of the best ever woman’s tennis players. Her mighty forehand was regarded by many as the best ever produced by a woman, and her foot speed was astonishing.
Her career was also haunted by the terrible events of May 1993 when a deranged fan, Gunther Parche, stabbed her then great rival Monica Seles in Hamburg, an act that surely changed the course of women’s tennis history. Prior to that Seles had ended Graf’s period of dominance. Seles had won seven of the previous eight Slams she had entered and, naturally enough, she was never quite the same afterwards, missing more than two years of competition altogether. That led to a second phase of dominance by Steffi, and she had won 10 more majors by the end of 1996.
Steffi married Tennis champion Andre Agassi in 2001