Tennis Players That Changed The Game: Steffi Graf

R LSenior Analyst ISeptember 11, 2008

Steffi Graf. When you hear the name, you think one of the greatest females to ever play tennis (if not the greatest). She won 22 Grand Slam singles titles over her career—second only to Margaret Court's 24. That includes both male and female players.

Her first Grand Slam singles title came at the 1987 French Open, where she defeated Martina Navratilova in the finals—who was the World No. 1 at the time. This would begin a series of great matches between the two women. That year, Navratilova defeated Graf in the finals of both Wimbledon and U.S Open to go ahead in the series.

However, Graf had won more titles than Martina that year (10 titles to four). As a result, the Virginia Slam Championships in November was expected to decide the World No. 1 for that year. Navratilova was upset by Gabriela Sabatini in the quarterfinals, allowing Graf to defeated Sabatini in the final and earn the top ranking. She finished the year with a 74-2 match record.

The year of 1988 was golden indeed. I was born that year, but that's not what we're talking about. Graf won all four Grand Slam singles titles that year, becoming the first and only player to win the "Golden Slam". Maybe my birth gave her some good luck that year.

Obviously I'm kidding. She had all the talent in the world and luck wasn't even needed. The next year, she started off as expected—winning the first Grand Slam of the year (Australian Open). Her Grand Slam winning streak ended at the French Open where young Spaniard Arantxa Sanchez Vicario defeated Graf in three sets.

Not to worry though. She would go on to win Wimbledon and the U.S Open, thus winning three of the four majors that year and seven of the last eight. Graf finished 1989 with a record of 86-2 in singles competition. Absolutely dominating.

In 1990, she defeated Mary Joe Fernandez in the final of the Australian Open. During a tournament in Berlin, a German tabloid ran a story about Steffi's father allegedly having an affair with a former Playboy model. This could have affected her game tremendously.

She lost the French Open final to Monica Seles in straight sets and faced the same result to Sabatini at the U.S Open. Graf still managed to finish the year as the No. 1 ranked woman. Injuries, personal issues and bad form made 1991 a tough year for the German.

Wimbledon was her only major title that year. That one title would be a dream for many other players, but it wasn't up to Graf's standards. She was capable of winning anything in tennis. The next year was the same, with Wimbledon her only Grand Slam title. Monica Seles was dominating the women's game at the time.

Graf won three of the four majors in 1993 to re-establish herself as the best women's player. She stumbled again in 1994 with the Australian Open being her only major title, but won three of the four Grand Slam singles events the following year (French Open, Wimbledon, U.S Open).

In 1996, she missed the Australian Open, but successfully defended her three Grand Slam titles she won the previous year. Her last major title would come at the 1999 French Open in a final against Martina Hingis.

Graf won seven singles titles at Wimbledon, six at the French Open, five at the U.S Open and four at the Australian Open. She remains the only person to have won at least four singles titles at each Grand Slam event. In 56 Grand Slam events, her record was 282-34—a ridiculous 89 percent. Her singles win-loss record was 900-115.

She was also ranked World No. 1 for a total of 377 weeks during her career—a record no male or female has been able to surpass. Another record she holds among women is being World No. 1 for 186 consecutive weeks.

Graf was known for her deadly inside-out forehand drive. She would position herself at the backhand corner, leaving the forehand section wide open for a shot. However, her great speed assured it would have to be a perfect shot to get past her.

Steffi also had a powerful backhand drive, but used the backhand slice more often. This accurate slice allowed her to set up for easy forehand winners. Her serve was accurate and fast, going up to 180 km/h—one of the fastest serves in women's tennis.

Whatever the tournament or surface, Steffi Graf dominated the game. Martina Navratilova said it best in 1996.

"Steffi is the best all-around player of all time, regardless of the surface."

Bjorn Borg

Ivan Lendl

John McEnroe