Action Replay: October 1 1988
Originally published on: 26/02/10 14:33
Steffi Graf arrived in Seoul, unofficially at least, as the reigning Olympic tennis champion. The sport, removed from the Olympics in 1924, had been included in the 1984 Olympiad as a demonstration sport and Graf, then just 15 and the competitions youngest entrant, won the event.
Four years on, and Graf had taken the tennis world by storm. A year on from her 1987 breakthrough season, in which she won the French Open and reached the finals of both Wimbledon and the US Open on her way to the world No.1 ranking, she won the Australian Open without dropping a set, and the French Open final in just 32 minutes.
Graf became the first player – male or female – to achieve the Golden Slam
At Wimbledon, Graf came from 7-5 2-0 behind against Martina Navratilova to win 5-7 6-2 6-1, and completed the Calendar Year Grand Slam by beating Gabriela Sabatini in three testing sets to clinch the US Open crown. Only Maureen Connolly Brinker and Margaret Court had previously achieved the feat.
When she arrived in Seoul, however, even Graf admitted an Olympic gold looked out of her reach. The pursuit of the Grand Slam, particularly the last leg just two weeks previously in New York, had taken its toll. ‘‘I came here really tired,’‘ she said. ‘‘I was not expecting too much of myself.’‘
But as the Olympic tournament progressed, Graf slowly became rejunvenated. After surviving a scare in the quarter-finals, when she dropped a set to Latvias Larisa Nieland, a doubles specialist, her enthusiasm returned – and in her last two matches, it showed.
With her mental exhaustion passing as she lapped up the Olympic experience – she even went for some runs on the training track at the Athlete’s Village with the West German track team she played one of her best matches of the season, defeating American Zina Garrison 6-2 6-0 in the semi-finals.
In the final, appearing more relaxed and uninhibited than she had during the US Open final three weeks earlier, Graf completed what remains regarded as the finest year ever in tennis, defeating her doubles partner Gabriela Sabatini 6-3 6-3 to win the Olympic gold.
With that, the 19-year-old West German became the first player – male or female – to achieve the Golden Slam, winning the true Grand Slam and Olympic title. ‘‘I’m very excited,’‘ she said. ‘‘It’s something not many people after me will achieve. It’s amazing.’‘
The match was closer than the scores might have indicated, and Sabatini had several chances to take home the gold herself. She wasted three break points in the first game of the match, but broke Graf in the fifth game and was playing well enough to win.
Graf broke back in the sixth game, forcing two errors with her booming forehand. She broke Sabatini in the eighth game, again pressuring her opponent into making mistakes and hitting her groundstrokes with an authority that had dwindled as the Calendar Slam had approached.
She even went on training runs with the West German track team
She closed out the first set with an ace, leaving her only six games away from the Golden Slam. Sabatini stayed with her for the first four games of the second set, but was broken in the fifth, when Graf ran around her forehand on Sabatini’s second serve, whipping a winner down the line. After that, the result never looked in doubt.
‘‘I felt I would win after the fifth game of the second set,’‘ said Graf afterwards, having broken Sabatini again to win the gold, fittingly, with a forehand winner on match point. ‘‘But I actually had a very good feeling after the first game of the match. I was liking the way I am playing.’‘
On the back of her unprecedented success, and her 40th consecutive win, Graf finally agreed to give herself a break. “I will take time off, see how I feel,” she said. “It depends on me. I’ll do whatever I feel like.”
What happened next
Graf also took home the doubles bronze medal from the Seoul Olympics, and reached the final of the 1992 Games in Barcelona, where she lost to Jennifer Capriati to claim silver.
Steffi Graf went on to win 22 Grand Slams before retiring in 1999. Most recently, she has been helping 18-year-old Romanian Sorana Cirstea prepare for the Beijing Olympics along with husband Andre Agassi the only other tennis player to achieve a Golden Slam, albeit not in one season.