Steffi Graf And A Tennis Year To Remember
Thirty years ago, Steffi Graf turned in an unprecedented tennis season that still stands on its own today.
Steffi Graf And A Tennis Year To Remember
Thirty years ago, Steffi Graf turned in an unprecedented tennis season that still stands on its own today. In 1988, the West German prodigy captured all 4 major tournaments plus the Olympic gold to earn a Golden Grand Slam.
In the same year, Sweden’s Mats Wilander was battling for supremacy on the court, winning the Australian Open, the French Open and the U.S. Open, but getting knocked out in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
Had Wilander swung to victory in London, the tennis world would have celebrated a dual-gender Calendar Grand Slam. That tantalizing prospect was reminiscent of 1969, the closest the sport had come to serving the same man and woman with all the singles trophies.
Back then, racquet virtuoso Rod Laver basked in glory after winning all four competitions. Reigning queen Margaret Court claimed three of the prized events but succumbed at Wimbledon in the semifinals.
But 1988 ruled supreme in the annals of professional tennis and young Steffi Graf made it happen. Nineteen years old at the time, the versatile power hitter started off the season with a major title already in hand.
The wunderkind who had turned pro at a tender age of 13 defeated top-ranked Martina Navratilova at the 1987 French Open. She closed out her breakthrough year with a 75-2 winning record to assume the world’s #1 spot and held it for the next 186 consecutive weeks, still a record today though tied by Serena Williams in 2016.
Taking center stage at the 1988 Australian Open Final, the baseline master faced another tennis veteran in the form of Chris Evert. She vanquished the American in two straight sets.
Navratilova and Evert had dominated women’s tennis the entire decade and “fraulein forehand” was the first to break their duopoly.
Meanwhile, a seasoned Mats Wilander was struggling at the Final against local Australian hero Pat Cash, one of the greatest net players of all time. Wilander ultimately emerged victorious to notch his 5th career title.
Following a traditional line of Swedish tennis stars, Wilander won his 4th Grand Slam singles at the age of 20, the youngest male in the pros to achieve that feat. Similar to Graf, 1988 proved to be the pinnacle of his professional career.
Both sailed through the next competition at Roland-Garros. Graf shut out Natasha Zvereva 6-0,6-0 in a 32-minute Final, the shortest ever on the books. Wilander beat Henri Leconte in three straight sets.
At Wimbledon, Graff and Navratilova squared off again and the youthful gun succeeded in overcoming her 32-year old European rival 5-7,6-2,6-1. The Czech-born player was no stranger either to the All England tennis club; she had won Wimbledon 6 years in a row leading up to 1988.
Wilander, though, stumbled earlier and lost to Miloslav Mecir, effectively killing not just his chances of wearing all 4 crowns, but at being the first male to win on three court surfaces- hard, clay, and grass.
At the U.S. Open in New York, the West German and Swedish duo once again reached the champions’ podium. Wilander took out Ivan Lendl in a hard-fought, five-set duel that lasted 4 hours and 54 minutes, the longest Final ever played at the time.
Graf defeated Gabriella Sabatini to become the second woman after Margaret Court to complete a Calendar Grand Slam. She then carried her triumph to new heights, beating the Argentine again 6-3,6-3, this time for the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Seoul.
By all measures, 1988 was one of the most heralded years in professional tennis, blazoned by a rising female genius and complemented by an established male star.
HORSE RACING May 7, 2011 Animal Kingdom, drawing 21/1 odds at post time, wins the 137th running of the Kentucky Derby, clearing the finish line in 2:02:04. With John Velazquez aboard, the chestnut-colored thoroughbred was in 10th position going into the final turn when he broke out to move 4 wide, advanced to 5th place at the mile pole, and completed the race 2¾ lengths ahead of second place, Nehro. Two weeks later, Animal Kingdom came in second at the Preakness, but was out of the money at Belmont.
SOCCER May 23, 2001 Bayern Munich defeat Valencia in penalties at the UEFA Champions League Final. With a 1-1 score at the end of official time, the match went into penalty kicks where the Germans prevailed 5-4. It was the 4th overall victory for Bayern and first in a quarter-century at the annual Champions League tournament. For Valencia, it was their second consecutive trip to the Final, having lost to Real Madrid a year earlier. German goalie Oliver Kahn received the ‘Man of the Match’ award.
BASKETBALL May 20, 1991 Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls is named the NBA’s MVP. It was the second of what would be 5 total league MVP designations for the hoops superstar. A 14x NBA All-Star, Jordan’s numerous accolades include 6 NBA Championships and 5 NBA Finals MVP awards. Playing the majority of his career with the Chicago Bulls from 1984-1993 and 1995-1998, the basketball prodigy posted career statistics of: 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg and 5.3 apg.
TENNIS May 1, 1981 Billy Jean King becomes the first prominent sportswoman to come out with her sexuality, acknowledging a lesbian relationship with Marilyn Barnett. Winner of 12 grand slam singles titles, King is regarded as one of the greatest female tennis players of all time. Throughout her career, the California native fought for gender equality and was a founder of the Women’s Tennis Association and Women’s Sports Foundation. In 2006, the USTA National Tennis Center in NYC was renamed after her.