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10.9.1988: Grand Slam for Steffi Graf
It was not merely that Graf won the Grand Slam, however, but the manner in which she did so which created a furore. When the season began with the Australian Open in January 1988, Graf had only ever won one of the Grand Slam tournaments – the Paris Open in 1987. Since then she had been ranked number one in the world listings and was therefore favourite in Melbourne, where she stormed through.

Her second victory in Paris was not necessarily a surprise for experts, but the final match was an absolute sensation. On the slowest of all surfaces, she required only a record 33 minutes to dispatch Belorussian Natascha Zvereva 6:0, 6:0.

But the crucial victory for Steffi Graf en route to the Grand Slam was in London. A reporter‘s commentary ran: "After one hour and 33 minutes matchpoint to Graf, Martina (Navratilova) serves from the left and with a ball that just catches the net, it’s game set and match to Steffi. She raises her arms in triumph, the two shake hands and are applauded by 16,000 tennis fans.“

Before Wimbledon no one would have believed Graf capable of excelling on grass, especially not against Martina Navratilova, unquestionably the best female player on that surface. But the 5:7, 6:2, 6:1 victory proved clearly that she could. She became the first German woman to win the prestigious Wimbledon tournament since Cilly Aussem in 1931.

Following that tournament the critics were unanimous: Graf will continue to win for as long as she wants to, and for observers the achievement of the Grand Slam was a mere formality.

A formality, even when Gabriela Sabatini managed to win one set in the final of the U.S. Open, eventually losing 6:3, 3:6, 6:1. The Argentinian was incidentally the only other player capable of beating Steffi Graf in 1988.

At the time Graf was the first German woman to achieve the Grand Slam, taking her place in tennis history alongside Maureen Connolly in 1953 and Margaret Court-Smith in 1970 – this following what was only her fifth Grand Slam tournament victory. Martina Navratilova had won six Grand Slam tournaments in succession, but never quite managed four in one year.

All this wasn’t enough for Steffi, she added the final touch to her domination of women’s tennis in the Seoul Olympics.

„We have what is possibly a historic moment here today. Steffi Graf has reached matchpoint for the second time against Gabriela Sabatini, following a 6:3, 5:3 match. Sabatini to serve. Second service is returned with a powerful forehand shot from Graf and the match is over. Game, set and match to Steffi Graf who wins Olympic Gold for her victory over Sabatini.“

It was Steffi Graf’s year. The Grand Slam had become a Golden Slam – a phrase coined by journalists before the final even began.

With one golden stroke Steffi had made it to the tennis halls of fame, at a point when most of her career lay ahead of her, when she still had much to learn technically and tactically. She achieved her triumph through those qualities which were to be characteristic throughout her career. Determination and the will to win, speed and top fitness, and of course, her much-feared forehand.

In 1988 Graf’s victories were of course celebrated and enjoyed, but her reserved nature prevented her from winning a place in the heart of the public in the way that Boris Becker had done. Graf kept too great a distance from the media.

It is only today, at the end of her career, following 22 Grand Slam victories, 101 tournament victories and 377 weeks as the world’s number one tennis player, following struggles with more than 70 injuries, illnesses and with private problems and numerous comebacks that Steffi Graf, now a more relaxed and open person, is finally getting the public recognition and respect that she has deserved ever since 1988.
   
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When did Steffi Graf win her first Grand Slam event at the French Open, defeating top seed Martina Navratilova?
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