Who Is Steffi Graf?
Steffi Graf entered pro tennis at 13 and became one of the sport's top players. Known for her powerful forehand, Graf won 22 Grand Slam singles titles; in 1988, she had a "Golden Slam," winning all four major competitions and Olympic gold in one calendar year. Graf retired from tennis in 1999 and wed fellow tennis player Andre Agassi in 2001.
Stefanie Maria Graf was born on June 14, 1969, in Mannheim, West Germany. Her parents, Peter and Heidi, were both tennis players, and Peter gave his daughter a tennis racket with a sawed-off handle to swing before she turned 4. At age 6, she won her first junior tournament.
With Peter serving as her coach, Graf earned acclaim as one of the sport’s top young talents. She won several prestigious tournaments, including the Junior Orange Bowl in Florida and the German 14-and-under and 18-and-under championships.
Professional Tennis Success
Graf turned professional in October 1982 at just 13 years and 4 months of age, and a few weeks later, she became the second-youngest player to earn an international ranking (No. 124). Although tennis was just a demonstration sport at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, California, she outlasted the field to win an honorary gold medal.
Her schedule carefully managed by her father, Graf saw her world ranking climb to No. 6 by the end of 1985. She claimed her first Grand Slam title by winning the French Open in 1987, defeating Martina Navratilova. On August 17, 1987, Graf became the world's No. 1 female tennis player, a spot she held for an impressive 186 consecutive weeks.
Graf won the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1988, making her just the third female player to win all four Grand Slam events in one calendar year. She also captured gold at the Olympic Games that autumn in Seoul, South Korea, her groundbreaking series of victories dubbed a "Golden Grand Slam."
On October 3, 1991, Graf became the youngest woman to notch 500 career wins. An outstanding athlete with intense focus and a superlative forehand, she collected at least one Grand Slam singles title every year until 1997. She also received a silver medal at the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain.
Graf's father remained heavily involved in his daughter’s career even after relinquishing full-time coaching duties in the mid-1980s, earning the unflattering nickname "Papa Merciless." After mishandling some of Graf's income, Peter was convicted of tax fraud in 1997 and spent 25 months in prison. Although Graf was cleared of any wrongdoing, her game was affected by the scandal.
In April 1993, fellow tennis player Monica Seles – who had dethroned Graf to sit at the top of women's tennis – was stabbed by a mentally ill Graf fan. In 1999, Graf admitted, "To know that it was a fan of mine that did it, even though I had nothing to do with it, gives you a guilty feeling for always. There's no way out of that."
Tennis Retirement and Legacy
Although injuries had taken their toll, Graf was still a highly ranked player in 1999. She won the French Open that year and almost added another Wimbledon singles title before a close loss in the final. However, she realized that her enjoyment of the game was slipping, so she announced her retirement that August at age 30.
Over the course of her career, Graf spent a total of 377 weeks ranked at No. 1 and received more than $21 million in prize money. She won the Australian Open four times (1988-90, 1994), the French Open six times (1987-88, 1993, 1995-96, 1999), the U.S. Open five times (1988-89, 1993, 1995-96) and Wimbledon seven times (1988-89, 1991-93, 1995-96), for an Open-era record 22 Grand Slam singles titles. In 2004, she became a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
On October 22, 2001, Graf married Agassi, another tennis player who had reached the highest echelons of the sport. The couple lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, with their two children, Jaden and Jaz.
In addition to family life, Graf stays active with charity work. This includes her foundation, Children for Tomorrow, which offers help to crisis-stricken children and their families.
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