Steffi Graff

Twenty-Years Ago? A Golden Slam For Steffi

Can you believe it was 20 years ago when Steffi Graf swept all four major tournaments to win the last “Grand Slam?” Not only was it a “Grand Slam” but a “Golden Slam” as Graf went on to win Olympic gold in women’s singles at the Seoul Games. Bud Collins, the world famous tennis historian, writer, commentator and fashion icon, shares with us an excerpt on Graf’s 1988 year below from his upcoming book THE BUD COLLINS HISTORY OF TENNIS, which right now is being sold for an incredible pre-sale price of 39 Percent off on the on-line retailer Amazon. Go to for more information and to link to Amazon to take advantage of the great savings.

Steffi Graff

Steffi Graf added the Grand Slam to her resume in 1988, sweeping the championships of Australia, France, Wimbledon and the United States. And Don Budge, the first person to win all four of the world’s major tournaments in one season, witnessed each of her conquests. While the West German prodigy expressed mostly relief, the courtly American seemed enormously pleased with Graf’s Slam-clinching, U.S. Open victory over Gabriela Sabatini.

In welcoming Graf to the most exclusive club in tennis, Budge, who’d accomplished his Grand Slam 50 years earlier, whispered into her ear during the award ceremonies at Flushing Meadows. “He said he knew it all the way,” she recalled later. “He said he thinks I’m going to do it a couple more times.”

Graf would not achieve a second Grand Slam (of the five persons who have claimed the four major titles within a calendar year, only Rod Laver did so twice) but that in no way diminished what she accomplished in 1988. She lost but two sets in her triumphant march, the first to Martina Navratilova in the Wimbledon final and the second to Sabatini. Budge said he expected Graf to capture the Slam after watching her in Australia. At the Wimbledon Ball, he told her, “Steffi, when you win the Grand Slam, I hope they let me present the trophy.”

The U.S. Tennis Association was too conscious of tradition to allow such a radical departure, but Budge was included in the ceremony on the golden anniversary of his achievement. He held one handle of the silver jug while Gordon Jorgensen, the USTA president, held the other. They were surrounded by the Stars and Stripes, the Union Jack, the Tricolor and the Southern Cross.

Clearly, the sport’s dominant player in 1988 was a teen-aged female who followed in the Grand Slam steps of Maureen Connolly (1953) and Margaret Smith Court (1970). In fact, Graf took a few steps beyond by adding the Olympic title to her collection—call it a Golden Slam.
“There’s nothing quite as special as winning a gold medal for your country,” she said after her September triumph on a hard court in Seoul, South Korea.

For the first time since 1924, tennis was returned to the Olympics as a medal sport. The acceptance of tennis as a full-fledged medal sport marked a breakthrough—or official breakdown of amateurism—hardly noticed at the time. The ITF got permission from the IOC (International Olympic Committee) to approve the best players available for the Games if nominated by their countries. That meant out-and-out pros. It changed the complexion of the next Games in 1992 at Barcelona, where the U.S. NBA “Dream Team” took basketball gold, and numerous other declared pros took part. Tennis had led the way, for better or worse.

A slam of sorts was registered in men’s competition as well. But this was national and not individual. As the result of Mats Wilander’s victories at the Australian, French and U.S. championships and Stefan Edberg’s ascendancy at Wimbledon, each of the major events was captured by a Swede. There hadn’t been a male sweep by citizens of one country since Laver ran the table in 1969.

In a season that would stand forth regardless of Graf’s transcendent performance, Wilander also bumped Ivan Lendl from the top spot on the computer. Lendl, slipping from the No. 1 position for the first time in 156 weeks, reached only one Big Four final, at Flushing Meadows. He also surrendered his Masters title, which he had held for three years, to Boris Becker.

Graf, the 6-3, 6-3 golden victor over Sabatini, was the first Olympic women’s singles champion since Helen Wills in 1924. Steffi, lost but three matches all year. Sabatini triumphed twice, beating Graf, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1, for the first time after 11 consecutive losses to win Boca Raton in March, and in a semifinal at Amelia Island one month later, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 in a tournament won by Navratilova, 6-0, 6-2. Shriver applied the final blemish to Graf’s record, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), in the semifinals of the Virginia Slims Championship, which the 18-year-old Sabatini won for her fourth title of the season, beating Shriver 7-5, 6-2, 6-2.

Graf zipped through the Australian without the loss of a set but she was pressed in the final by Evert, playing in her 34th and last major final of her career. But for tennis the match was an unprecedented, schizophrenic, outdoor-indoor title bout made possible by the new stadium’s sliding roof. It was, according to Evert, “the weirdest [final] I ever played.”

Rain suspended the match with Graf ahead, 2-1 in the first. Officials decided to close the roof and, after a 91-minute delay, the outdoor tournament resumed indoors. Graf adapted better to the change, racing to a 6-1, 5-1 lead before Evert steadied herself. She won four of the next five games and came within two points of squaring the match before the German prevailed, 6-1, 7-6 (7-3).

Navratilova won five consecutive tournaments and 29 matches in the U.S. before she was again stopped by Evert at Houston in their 77th meeting, 6-0, 6-4. But Navratilova would win their last three matches—a Wimbledon semifinal, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, and finals in Filderstadt, Germany, 6-2, 6-3 and Chicago, 6-2. 6-2—raising her record in the enduring, 80-match rivalry to a concluded 43-37. Their global warfare, concussive but caring, began in Ohio in 1973 and ceased 15 years later in Chicago, touching down in several countries along the way.

Any semblance of competition at the French vanished when third-seeded Evert was dismissed in the third round by future champ, 16-year-old Arantxa Sanchez of Spain, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4), and second-seeded Navratilova was surprised by 13th-seeded Zvereva in the round of 16, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5). Zvereva then upset sixth-seeded Sukova, 6-2, 6-3. Next the coltish 17-year-old from Minsk outlasted unseeded Australian Nicole Provis in two hours, six minutes, 6-3, 6-7 (3-7), 7-5 to land in her only major final.

Graf, who had beaten Sabatini in the semifinals, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), was brutally efficient against her star-struck opponent. Her 6-0, 6-0, romp lasted only 32 minutes, the most exciting feature of which was an hour rain delay. There hadn’t been such a one-sided major tournament championship match since 1911 when Dorothea Chambers rang up two goose eggs over Dora Boothby in an all-English Wimbledon final. Navratilova added another major, keeping the doubles with Shriver, 6-2, 7-5, over Kohde-Kilsch and Sukova.

It was Wimbledon, of course, that loomed as the biggest obstacle to a Steffi Slam. Wimbledon was the seat of Navratilova’s power. “Wimbledon is the last thing she’s holding onto, the last thing she dominates in women’s tennis,” Shriver said. The naturalized American was in position to surpass the record for most singles championships at the All England Club and she prepared in her usual fashion, winning at Eastbourne against Zvereva, 6-2, 6-2. But Navratilova was less than commanding once the tournament got underway. She struggled both in the quarterfinals and semifinals, edging Ros Fairbank, 4-6, 6-4, 7-5, and Evert, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5. Indeed, after holding out through three match points in their 78th meeting, Evert picked Graf to win.

Graf appeared jumpy in the first set, serving below her standard and committing a bundle of unforced errors. Navratilova had raced to a 7-5, 2-0 lead and appeared well on her way to another glorious moment. Then Graf broke Navratilova’s second service of the second set. Remarkably, the defending champion would not hold service again in the match. Graf allowed Navratilova only one more game and the only delay in a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 triumph was caused by rain after four games of the third set.

“I hit good volleys,” Navratilova reasoned. “I hit good balls that other people wouldn’t get to, and then she hits winners. I didn’t succumb to pressure today. I succumbed to a better player … I still played pretty damn well, but she was hitting winners all over the place.” Steffi had stolen seemingly sure Navratilova points with her legs.

And so ended one phase of Martina’s pursuit of Helen Wills Moody, who won a record 50 consecutive matches while capturing eight Wimbledon singles title. Graf snipped Martina’s match streak at 47, but the loser would get that ninth title two years down the road.

Graf was only one title away from an achievement that had eluded Navratilova in her prime. She even teamed with Sabatini to win the Wimbledon doubles championship, defeating the Soviet pairing of Zvereva and Larisa Savchenko, 6-3, 1-6, 12-10. The Soviets stopped defending champs Navratilova and Shriver in the third round, 7-6, 6-2.

Fittingly, the only genuine competition Graf faced at the U.S. Open was contemporary in nature. Having failed to derail her at Wimbledon, Navratilova lost any opportunity at Flushing Meadows when she was ousted in an exciting quarterfinal by Garrison, 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 7-5, her first win over Martina in 22 starts. Evert, recently married to former Olympic skier Andy Mill, earned a chance to thwart the Grand Slam but had to withdraw on the day of the semis with a stomach virus that left her so weak she could barely get out of bed.

That left Sabatini, Graf’s doubles partner and the person responsible for the “2” in Graf’s 61-2 record at that point. Sabatini defeated Garrison in their semi, 6-4, 7-5, and became the first Argentine to qualify for a major women’s final. In the end, although Sabatini did extend “Fraulein Forehand” to a third set, Graf added the U.S. title to her necklace of jewels with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 victory.

After the victory, Graf seemed more relieved than thrilled. She didn’t jump for joy or kneel in supplication. Graf merely jogged to the stands to embrace her family and she barely smiled during the award ceremony. “Now I’ve done it,” she said. “There’s no more pressure.”

Steffi didn’t have much time to savor the moment.

The Olympic tournament was scheduled to begin in a week. Naturally, Graf was seeded No. 1. Naturally, she won. In the final, she again bested Sabatini, this time by the definitive score of 6-3, 6-3.


Australian Open

Men’s Singles Final: Mats Wilander (SWE) def. Pat Cash (AUS), 6-3, 6-7 (3), 3-6, 6-1, 8-6

Women’s Singles Final: Steffi Graf (GER) def. Chris Evert (USA), 6-1, 7-6 (3)

Men’s Doubles Final: Rick Leach and Jim Pugh (USA) def. Jeremy Bates (GBR) and Peter Lundgren (SWE), 6-3, 6-2, 6-3

Women’s Doubles Final: Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver (USA) def. Chris Evert (USA) and Wendy Turnbull (AUS), 6-0, 7-5

Mixed Doubles Final: Jana Novotna (CZE) and Jim Pugh (USA) def. Martina Navratilova and Tim Gullikson (USA), 5-7, 6-2, 6-4

French Open

Men’s Singles Final: Mats Wilander (SWE) def. Henri Leconte (FRA), 7-5, 6-2, 6-1

Women’s Singles Final: Steffi Graf (GER) def. Natalia Zvereva (USSR), 6-0, 6-0

Men’s Doubles Final: Andres Gomez (ECU) and Emilio Sanchez (ESP) def. John Fitzgerald (AUS) and Anders Jarryd (SWE), 6-3, 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-3

Women’s Doubles Final: Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver (USA) def. Claudia Kohde-Kilsch (GER) and Helena Sukova (CZE), 6-2, 7-5

Mixed Doubles Final: Lori McNeil (USA) and Jorge Lozano (MEX) def. Brenda Schultz and Michael Schapers (NED), 7-5, 6-2

Men’s Singles Final: Stefan Edberg (SWE) def. Boris Becker (GER), 4-6, 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-2

Women’s Singles Final: Steffi Graf (GER) def. Martina Navratilova (USA), 5-7, 6-2, 6-1

Men’s Doubles Final: Ken Flach and Robert Seguso (USA) def. John Fitzgerald (AUS) and Anders Jarryd (SWE), 6-4, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (3)

Women’s Doubles Final: Steffi Graf (GER) and Gabriela Sabatini (ARG), Larisa Savachenko and Natalia Zvereva (USSR), 6-3, 1-6, 12-10

Mixed Doubles Final: Zina Garrison and Sherwood Stewart (USA) def. Gretchen Rush Magers and Kelly Jones (USA), 6-1, 7-6 (3)
U.S. Open

Men’s Singles Final: Mats Wilander (SWE) def. Ivan Lendl (CZE), 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4

Women’s Singles Final: Steffi Graf (GER) def. Gabriela Sabatini (ARG), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1

Men’s Doubles Final: Sergio Casal and Emilio Sanchez (ESP) def. Rick Leach and Jim Pugh (USA), walkover

Women’s Doubles Final: Gigi Fernandez and Robin White (USA) def. Patty Fendick (USA) and Jill Hetherington (CAN), 6-4, 6-1

Mixed Doubles Final: Jana Novotna (CZE) and Jim Pugh (USA) def. Elizabeth Sayers Smylie (AUS) and Patrick McEnroe (USA), 7-5, 6-3