This year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the US Open, we’re counting down the 50 most memorable moments in the history of America’s Grand Slam. Today, we take a look back at No. 5.
At the outset of the 1988 season, nearly everyone in and around the center of the world of tennis knew full well that Germany’s Steffi Graf was going to be close to the edge of invincibility. She had won the French Open in 1987 and had also been to the finals of Roland Garros and the US Open. She had moved past Martina Navratilova to No. 1 in the world. Her growing influence was indisputable.
Graf made it abundantly clear as 1988 unfolded that her all-consuming drive and determination would take her just about anywhere she wanted to go. She opened that campaign by ousting Chris Evert in the Australian Open final. At the French Open, she crushed Natalia Zvereva, 6-0, 6-0, in 32 minutes to claim that crown. Shifting to the lawns of Wimbledon, Graf prevented Navratilova from taking a seventh singles title in a row, roaring from behind to garner a three-set triumph.
Now Graf was within striking distance of the calendar-year Grand Slam.
She was chasing a dream, and so the media followed her every move as she attempted to become only the third woman ever to win all four majors in a single year, constituting a Grand Slam. Moreover, only two players – Rod Laver in 1969 and Margaret Court in 1970 – had garnered Grand Slams during the Open era. Graf was fully committed to joining those immortal figures.
After blitzing through the draw in New York and getting a default from Evert in the semifinals – the Floridian was suffering from a severe stomach virus – Graf took on Argentina’s effervescent Gabriela Sabatini in the final. They split sets, but then Graf took over with her explosive forehand and her wondrous food speed. The German overpowered the topspin artist from Argentina, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, and at 19, she was unshakable and on top of the world. No one in the sport could contain her.
As Graf recollected her magnificent Grand Slam feat during an International Tennis Hall of Fame press conference in 2004, she said reflectively, “I was so exhausted. I was aware at the US Open that the pressure was on. I wish it could have been later [in my career] so I could have enjoyed it more.”
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