Stefanie Maria Graf was the World No.1 ranked tennis player for a total of 377 weeks – the longest any player, male or female, has ever held that rank.
Born in Mannheim, Baden-Wurttemberg, West Germany on June 14, 1969, she first held a sawed-off tennis racket at three years old, began playing on hard courts at age four and competed in her first tournament at the age of five. Her father sold insurance and cars and served as her first coach, giving up his career to become her full time teacher after she won her first important tournament when she was eight years old. She fell in love with the sport, often having to be coaxed off the practice court, and won junior tournaments regularly, often beating older players. She had a singular focus on tennis and became European Champion in both the 12 and 18s in 1982. Later that year, she withdrew from eighth grade and turned pro. Graff was 13 years old and had become the second-youngest player in tennis history to achieve an international ranking [World No. 214]. She was winless in her first year and in 1984 travelled to Los Angeles to compete in the Summer Olympic tournament, which was then a demonstration event, and finished first. Peter Graf limited his daughter’s play – she only entered 10 events in 1985– and closely monitored her social life. She emerged as the top challenger to the two most dominant players in the world, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert, and consistently reached tournament finals and semifinals against both.
Miss Graf won her first WTA tournament in 1986 when she beat Evert for the first time in Hilton Head, South Carolina. She never lost to Evert again, beating her seven times in the coming three-and-a-half years. She then won the next three in a row, culminating with a defeat of Navratilova in Berlin and finished the year with eight wins. Her breakout year came in 1987, when she won 11 times, including her first Grand Slam win in the French Open, where she beat Navratilova, the number one player in the world, and took over the World No. 1 spot nine weeks later. She beat Evert in the Australian Open to start the 1988 season, defended her title at the French, beat Navratilova to earn her first Wimbledon title and completed the Grand Slam by trouncing Gabriela Sabatini in the U.S. Open. It was the third Grand Slam in women’s tennis history and the only one completed on three surfaces [grass, clay, hard court]. She capped the year by winning the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul to earn the only Golden Slam [all four Majors plus Olympic title] in tennis history and was named BBC Overseas Sports Personality of the Year. She won her fifth Grand Slam title in a row at the Australian Open in 1989, lost at the French and successfully defended at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open to win three of four Grand Slam events. She ended the season with her 14th title of the year at the Virginia Slims Championships. She won one Grand Slam event each year from 1990 to 1992 and bounced back to win 3 of 4 in both 1993, 1995 and 1996. Injuries slowed her after the ‘96 campaign and she won just one more Grand Slam event, the 1999 Australian Open, choosing to retire at the end of that season.
Steffi Graf had no weaknesses as a tennis player and her strength was her forehand, which earned her the nickname “Fraulein Forehand.” Her versatility allowed her to win on all playing surfaces and her footwork, speed and power were unlike any player the game had ever seen. Graf won each of the four Majors at least four times, the only player ever to do so. She reached thirteen consecutive Grand Slam singles finals from 1987 to 1990 and won nine of them. She won 7 Majors out of 8 between 1988 and ’89 and reached a total of 31 Grand Slam singles finals in 17 years. Her career singles record is 900-115 [88.67%], she won 107 events [third all –time behind Navratilova and Evert] and 22 Grand Slam singles titles, second all-time to Margaret Court, who had 24. In 1999, the AP named her best female player of the 20th century and in March 2012, Tennis Channel picked Graf as the greatest female tennis player ever. Steffi Graf earned $ 21,891,306 in official prize money over the course of her 17 year career and she was voted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2004.
On this date in 1991, Steffi Graf became the youngest woman to win 500 professional tennis matches, winning the Leipzig International in Germany at 22 years, 3 months old.