One of the ultimate goals of a professional tennis player’s career is to win a major tournament, also known as a Grand Slam event. Of the players that win a major, several win more than one, but only a select few win all four during their career to accomplish a career Grand Slam. Even fewer have accomplished the rare feat of winning all four majors in the same year, achieving a calendar-year Grand Slam. Then came Stefanie Graf. Graf not only accomplished this feat but topped off her wins at the four majors in 1988 with a singles gold medal at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, accomplishing the unprecedented Golden Slam.

Photo courtesy of AP Photo

Steffi Graf holding the Virginia Slims championship trophy (right) and a young Graf, poised to return a shot (left) (photos courtesy of ITHF/Carol Newsom).

Stefanie Graf arrived on the scene when she turned professional in 1982, as a 13-year-old. Over the first few years of her career, she steadily rose through the ranks, increasing her ranking with some tournament wins in 1986. However, 1987 is most frequently acknowledged as her breakthrough year, as she won her first major, Roland-Garros, and ended the year as World No. 1, while also winning the WTA’s Player of the Year award.

The Australian Open

Despite her success in 1987, Graf’s 1988 season would go down as one of the most dominant years the sport of tennis has ever seen. Graf started the year with a commanding performance at the Australian Open, claiming victory without dropping a set the whole tournament.

Graf defeated Chris Evert 6-1, 7-6(3) to win her second major title and first Australian Open. She also became the first German to win at the Australian Open.

1988 Australian Open Women’s Singles Championship Trophy presented to Stefanie Graf

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The French Open

A few months later at Roland-Garros, Graf again won easily. Graf overwhelmed Belarussian Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in a mere 32 minutes to claim the second leg of her journey to the Grand Slam.

1988 Roland-Garros Women’s Singles Championship Trophy presented to Stefanie Graf

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Next came Wimbledon, where Graf was challenged early in the final by 6-time reigning champion Martina Navratilova, but Graf prevailed, winning the match 5-7, 6-2, 6-1.

1988 Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles Championship Trophy presented to Stefanie Graf

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The US Open

In the final major, the US Open, Graf won a battle against Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, claiming the title in three sets. After her victory she joined an elite group of players who have achieved the calendar Grand Slam, including the first player to do so, Don Budge (1938), who was present to witness the historic event.

1988 US Open Women’s Singles Championship Trophy presented to Stefanie Graf

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These four victories themselves were quite an accomplishment, as Graf became the third woman and fifth person to win a calendar Grand Slam in singles. However, Graf’s year of dominance was not over, as she represented Germany at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the first year that tennis was a medal event at the Olympics since 1924. In a repeat of the US Open, Graf again defeated Sabatini to win the gold medal, this time in straight sets. Graf would go on to have an incredible career, winning 22 major singles titles, second only to Serena William’s 23 title in the Open Era.
Photo courtesy of AP Photo / Lionel Cironneau