Steffi Graf: 5 things to know about the greatest tennis player of the 20th century

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Tennis legend Steffi Graf is celebrating her 52nd birthday today.

The German retired in 1999, aged 30, having established herself as one of the best sportswomen of the 20th century. She is still considered a tennis great today.

In honour of Graf’s birthday, GiveMeSport Women picks out five things you should know about the 22-time Grand Slam winner.

Began playing tennis at three years old

Graf first picked up a tennis racket at a very young age. Her father was an aspiring tennis coach and taught her how to swing a wooden racket at just three years old. Graf began practising on a court a year later, before entering her first tournament aged five.

Such an early start paid dividends. Graf won the European Championships 12s and 18s in 1982, and had her first professional outing in the same year. This came at the Porsche Grand Prix, where she lost 6–4, 6–0 to Tracy Austin.

The loss did not dishearten Graf, who went on to become one of the most successful tennis players in the world.

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Record-breaking 22 Grand Slams

During her 17-year career, Graf achieved an incredible 22 Grand Slams. This included seven wins at Wimbledon, six French Open titles, five US Open triumphs and four Australian Open victories.

Graf has the second most major trophies since the Open era began in 1968. She is behind only Serena Williams, who has 24 Grand Slams to her name. Overall, Graf is third in the list of total major wins in women’s tennis, behind Margaret Court on 24 and Williams.

The German is also the only tennis player, male or female, to win each Grand Slam at least four times.

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Seoul 1988 Olympic champion

Graf enjoyed more than just Grand Slam success during her illustrious career. She became Olympic champion at the 1988 Games in Seoul, defeating Argentina’s Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 6-3 in the final.

As a result, Graf became the first and only tennis player, male or female, to win all four Grand Slams and an Olympic gold medal in a single calendar year.

Graf also picked up a bronze medal at the Seoul 1988 Olympics, placing third alongside Claudia Kohde-Kilsch in the women’s doubles.

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World number one for a record 377 weeks

As a result of her phenomenal success on the tennis circuit, Graf enjoyed a record-breaking amount of time at the top of the women’s world rankings.

She occupied world number one for an incredible 377 weeks, the equivalent of seven years. Graf even went out on a high, announcing her retirement while she was still third in the world rankings.

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Married to men’s tennis star

Graf has been married to former world number one Andre Agassi for 20 years. The pair first met at the Wimbledon Ball in 1992, but didn’t strike up a romantic relationship until after the 1999 French Open. They married in 2001 and now have two children.

Graf’s American husband has his fair share of Grand Slam titles. He triumphed at the Australian Open four times and at the US Open twice. Agassi was also victorious at Wimbledon in 1992 and the French Open in 1999. Graf was the women’s winner at both tournaments. 

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