This Day in History (2-Oct-1991) – Steffi Graf becomes the youngest woman to win 500 professional tennis matches

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


This Day in History (9-Jul-1877) – Wimbledon tournament begins

In 1868, the All England Club was established outside London. The club was originally founded to promote croquet, another lawn sport, but the growing popularity of tennis led it to incorporate tennis lawns into its facilities. In 1877, the All England Club published an announcement in the weekly sporting magazine The Field that read: “The All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club, Wimbledon, propose to hold a lawn tennis meeting open to all amateurs, on Monday, July 9, and following days. Entrance fee, one pound, one shilling. Please bring own rackets and “shoes without heels”. Balls would be provided by the club gardener.” The All English Club purchased a 25-guinea trophy and drew up formal rules for tennis. It decided on a rectangular court 78 feet long by 27 feet wide; adapted the real tennis method of scoring based on a clock face—i.e., 15, 30, 40, game; established that the first to win six games wins a set; and allowed the server one fault. These decisions, largely the work of club member Dr. Henry Jones, remain part of the modern rules.

Twenty-two men registered for the tournament, but only 21 showed up. Semifinals were held on July 12, but then the tournament was suspended to leave the London sporting scene free for the Eton vs. Harrow cricket match played on Friday and Saturday. The final was scheduled for Monday, July 16, but, in what would become a common occurrence in future Wimbledon tournaments, the match was rained out. It was rescheduled for July 19, and on that day some 200 spectators paid a shilling each to see William Marshall, a Cambridge tennis “Blue,” battle W. Spencer Gore, an Old Harrovian racket player. In a final that lasted only 48 minutes, the Gore dominated with his strong volleying game, crushing Marshall, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

In 1884, the Lady’s Singles was introduced at Wimbledon, and Maud Watson won the first championship. That year, the national men’s doubles championship was also played at Wimbledon for the first time after several years at Oxford. By the early 1900s, Wimbledon had graduated from all-England to all-world status. Mixed doubles and women’s doubles were inaugurated in 1913.