The Calendar Golden Slam: How Steffi Graf dominated 1988
Steffi Graf is one of just two women to complete the ‘Golden Slam’ and the only player to do it in a single calendar year.
First Leg – Australian Open 1988
Steffi Graf entered the 1988 Australian Open with a maiden Slam title already under her belt, Roland Garros 1987. She was 18 years old and number one in the world.
She had lost in the final at the last two Slams. At Wimbledon, Martina Navratilova defeated Graf to win a sixth consecutive title. Then, at the US Open, Navratilova defended her 1986 title to add a fourth overall triumph there. Graf lost both matches in straight sets.
1988 was the first Australian Open to be played on outdoor hard courts, having made the switch from the grass courts of the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club.
Graf began her campaign with three straightforward wins, never being pushed beyond 6-3 in a set. Her first seeded opponent was Catarina Lindqvist in the fourth round. Graf dispatched the Swede 6-0, 7-5.
In the quarter-finals, Graf overcame fifth seed and defending champion Hana Mandlikova 6-2, 6-2. She then toppled eighth seed and compatriot Claudia Kohde-Kilsch 6-2, 6-3 to reach a first Australian Open final.
Meanwhile, the other semi-final saw Chris Evert defeat Navratilova 6-2, 7-5. This ended Navratilova’s streak of consecutive Slam final appearances at 11. The streak started at Roland Garros 1985.
Evert had twice won the Australian Open and been a finalist on three other occasions. It was her 34th Slam final and would turn out to be the last of her career. The 33-year-old led the head-to-head with Graf 6-4 heading into the match.
Both women held serve to start the match before rain fell in Melbourne. A delay of over an hour followed as the stadium roof was closed, the first Slam final to be played indoors.
Upon resumption, Graf won five games straight to claim the first set 6-1. The German further tightened her grip on the match with four more successive games before Evert held to make it 4-1 Graf in the second set.
Graf held for 5-1 to leave Evert serving to stay in the championship. After holding, Evert proceeded to break twice and hold again to turn the score around. Graf was now serving to stay in the set herself at 5-6.
The German forced a tiebreak before claiming the title, requiring just one championship point to claim victory 6-1, 7-6 (7-3). This was a first of an eventual four Australian Open titles for Graf.
Second Leg – Roland Garros 1988
Steffi Graf already had one Roland Garros title to her name from 1987. Now, the defending champion was the top seed for the first time in Paris.
As in Australia, Graf was dominant through the opening rounds of the tournament. She won her first four matches for the loss of just 10 games and with three 6-0 sets from eight played.
In the quarter-finals, Graf dispatched Bettina Fulco 6-0, 6-1 to then face fourth seed Gabriela Sabatini. This was by far Graf’s closest battle, winning 6-3, 7-6 (7-3). She surrendered almost as many games in that match (nine) as in her five previous matches (11).
In the other half of the draw, 13th seeded 17-year-old Natasha Zvereva of the Soviet Union upset second seed Navratilova in the fourth round. She then defeated Helena Sukova and Nicole Provis to set up a final with Graf.
What must have been a dream for Zvereva turned into a nightmare, as Steffi Graf went on to win the most one-sided Slam final of the Open Era.
Graf defeated Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in barely 30 minutes on-court to defend her Roland Garros crown. Graf had dropped just 20 games across seven matches to win the tournament. Six of the 14 sets she played ended with a scoreline of 6-0.
This was Graf’s second of six Roland Garros titles, her last coming 11 years later in 1999.
Third Leg – Wimbledon 1988
Steffi Graf came into Wimbledon looking to avenge her loss to Navratilova in the final the previous year. However, that was no small task, the Czech-American having won the last six Wimbledon titles.
Graf started dominantly as was expected, dropping just 10 games across her opening four matches, including a 6-0, 6-0 victory in her opener.
The German then defeated Pascale Paradis 6-3, 6-1 in the quarter-finals before taking on third seed Pam Shriver. Graf dismissed the American 6-1, 6-2 to reach the Wimbledon final for a second successive year.
Navratilova had a similarly smooth road to the quarter-finals reaching the last eight without dropping a set. The second seed then won her next two matches in three sets to face Graf in the final.
This made it seven consecutive Wimbledon finals for Navratilova and 47 match wins in a row at the only grass court Slam. She had a shot at a ninth Wimbledon title in 11 years.
Graf gained the upper hand first to go up 5-3 in the first set. However, Navratilova roared back to win six straight games, claiming the first set 7-5 and going 2-0 up in the second. This was the first set that Graf had lost at a Slam all year.
A swing back in the direction of the German saw her win the next six games to tie the match at a set apiece. Graf then claimed the deciding set 6-1 to end Navratilova’s reign and capture her first of seven Wimbledon titles.
Fourth Leg – US Open 1988
This was a chance for Steffi Graf to etch her name into history. A chance for the first Calendar Grand Slam of the Open Era.
Just like at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, Graf lost just 10 games in her opening four matches, only once being pushed beyond 6-2 in a set.
The top seed then defeated Katerina Maleeva of Bulgaria 6-3, 6-0 in the quarter-finals to set up a meeting with Chris Evert in the semi-finals.
But the third seed withdrew before the battle, handing Graf a walkover to the final. There, Graf faced fifth seed Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina. Sabatini had herself dropped just one set en route to the final, her first at a Slam.
As expected, Graf claimed the opening set, doing so with a scoreline of 6-3. But Sabatini was not quitting any time soon, storming back to claim the second by the same score to force a decider.
Graf doubled down to finish off her opponent, winning the decider 6-1 to complete the Calendar Slam. The 19-year-old had 27 matches in a row across the four Slams, dropping just two sets in the process, both in finals.
Steffi Graf would go on to win four more US Open titles, the last coming in 1996.
Final Leg – Olympic Gold, Seoul 1988
For the first time since 1924, tennis was once again part of the Olympic Games. Los Angeles 1984 had staged tennis as an exhibition event four years prior, a tournament Graf had also won. She was the top seed at the women’s singles in Seoul, South Korea.
Less than two weeks after her US Open triumph, the five-time Slam champion won her first two matches in straight sets to meet 11th seed Larisa Savchenko of the USSR in the quarter-finals.
A close battle saw Graf win 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 to guarantee herself a medal. But the German wanted more. She took on American eighth seed Zina Garrison in the semi-finals, claiming victory 6-2, 6-0 to contest the Gold Medal Match.
As at the US Open, Graf faced Sabatini in the title tussle. This time around the result was more straightforward, as Graf clinched the win 6-3, 6-3.
Five tournaments, 33 wins, four Majors and a gold medal. Graf had completed something truly incredible.
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