This year marks the 50th anniversary of TENNIS Magazine's founding in 1965. To commemorate the occasion, we'll look back each Thursday at one of the 50 moments that have defined the last half-century in our sport.
Sports fans love to talk about records that will “never be broken.” Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Norm Van Brocklin’s 550 passing yards in one game, Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 points in a game: These marks, all set 50 or more years ago, have indeed stood the test of time.
Theoretically, though, they all remain breakable. Once the tiebreaker was instituted at Wimbledon, most tennis fans thought that the 1969 marathon between Pancho Gonzalez and Charlie Pasarell would stand as the longest in the tournament’s history at 112 games. Then along came John Isner and Nicolas Mahut, who played more games, 138, in their breaker-less fifth set alone in 2010.
But if we’re talking about the record for the most dominant single season in tennis history, it’s hard to see how anyone will ever surpass the one that Steffi Graf put together in 1988. Not only did she become the first player in 18 years to capture the Holy Grail of tennis, the calendar-year Grand Slam, she became the first and so far only player to go the Grail one better and add an Olympic gold medal in the same year. The Golden Slam, as it’s now known, stands alone.
Graf was just 18 when she started on her quest, but her run didn’t come out of nowhere; the German had been building toward it since 1984, when she reached the fourth round at Wimbledon at 15 and announced herself as a force to be reckoned with in the future. From the start, Graf played unprecedentedly fast and forceful tennis; no player before her had ever moved with such predatory haste. Her forehand, which she clubbed from every part of the court, was quickly recognized as an evolutionary leap for the shot. Crosscourt, inside-out, inside-in, down the line: Fraulein Forehand hit them all. Once a junior practice partner of Boris Becker, Graf brought a mid-80s power revolution to the women’s game at the same time that her countryman was doing something similar on the men's side. In the process, Graf dissolved the age-old division between net-rusher and baseliner that had defined the biggest rivalry of the previous era, Martina Navratilova vs. Chris Evert.