Stefanie Maria “Steffi” Graf (born 14 June 1969, in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, West Germany) is a former World No. 1 German tennisplayer.
In total, Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles, second among male and female players only to Margaret Court‘s 24. Her 22 singles titles mark the record for most Grand Slam wins by a tennis player (male or female) since introduction of the Open Era in 1968. In 1988, she became the first and only tennis player (male or female) to achieve the Calendar Year Golden Slam by winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year.
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 also holds the open era record for finishing as the year-end World No. 1 the most times, having done so on eight occasions. 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).
A notable feature of Graf’s game was her versatility across all playing surfaces, having won each of the four Grand Slams at least four times, the only player to do so, and she is best known for her great footwork and for her powerful forehand drive. Graf won six French Open singles titles (second to Evert) and seven Wimbledon singles titles (third behind Navratilova and Helen Wills Moody). She is the only singles player (male or female) to have achieved a Calendar Year Grand Slam while playing on four different types of tennis courts (Rebound Ace, grass, clay andDecoTurf), as the Calendar Year Grand Slams won by other players before her occurred when the Australian and US Opens were still played on grass. Graf reached thirteen consecutive Grand Slam singles finals, from the 1987 French Open through to the 1990 French Open, winning nine of them. She played in 36 Grand Slam singles tournaments from the 1987 French Open, her first Grand Slam win, through the 1999 French Open, her last Grand Slam win, winning 22 titles. She reached a total of 31 Grand Slam singles finals, third overall behind Evert (34 finals) and Navratilova (32 finals).
Graf is regarded by some to be the greatest female tennis player of all time. Billie Jean King said in 1999, “Steffi is definitely the greatest women’s tennis player of all time,” Navratilova herself has included Graf on her list of great players. 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 have two children – Jaden Gil and Jaz Elle. Graf was inducted into the Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004.
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 Graf lost in the 4th round of Australian open in straight sets 2–6, 5–7 to Amanda Coetzer. 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. Graf then skipped Wimbledon due to injury.
After missing almost half of the tour in 1998, 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.
At the beginning of 1999 Graf played the warm up event to the Australian Open in Sydney; she defeated Serena Williams in the 2nd round and Venus Williams in the quarter-finals before losing to Lindsay Davenport in the semi-final. Graf then went on to reach the quarter-finals of the Australian Open before losing to Monica Seles 7–5, 6–1. Graf stated after the match she was extremely nervous heading into match primarily because of how strongly Seles had started in their prior match at the 1998 Corel WTA Championships. In Indian Wells,1999 Graf lost to Serena Williams 3–6,6–3,5–7. Serena hit 8 times more winners than Graf in this match.
At the 1999 French Open, Graf reached her first Grand Slam final in three years and fought back from a set and two breaks down in the second set to defeat the top ranked Hingis in three sets for a memorable victory. Graf also became the first player in the open era to defeat the first, second, and third ranked players in the same Grand Slam tournament by defeating second ranked Davenport in the quarter-finals 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 Davenport 6–4, 7–5. In mixed doubles at Wimbledon, Graf partnered with John McEnroe, but she withdrew at the semi-final stage to protect her knee in advance of the singles final.
In August 1999, after retiring from a match in San Diego, Graf announced her retirement from the women’s tour. 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.”