Today, just five days after another historic finish to the French Open, Steffi Graf—one of the greatest players in tennis history who had some of her finest days in Paris—celebrates her 50th birthday.

Graf was born on June 14, 1969 in Bruhl, Germany and was introduced to tennis when she was three years old by her father, Peter. Within a few years she was playing junior tournaments, and in 1982 she won the European Championships—not just the 12-and-unders, but also the 18-and-unders.

When she was 13 years old she made her debut on the WTA rankings, one of the youngest players ever to appear on the WTA rankings—and by the time she was 16 she was already in the Top 10.

It was in 1987 when Graf truly came into her own. She won her first 45 matches of the year, which brought her seven titles—including her first major at Roland Garros. She eventually reached No. 1, too, taking the top spot from one of her toughest rivals, Martina Navratilova, on August 17, 1987.

Graf then rewrote history in 1988, winning a Golden Slam—all four Grand Slams plus Olympic gold in the same year. To this day no one else has achieved the feat, though three players have a Career Golden Slam: her now-husband, Andre Agassi, as well as Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams.

“I’m very excited that I achieved this now,” Graf said after beating Gabriela Sabatini in the gold medal match in Seoul, 6-3, 6-3. “It’s something not many people after me will be able to achieve, I think.”

Happy Birthday, Steffi! Tennis legend Graf turns 50

Happy Birthday, Steffi! Tennis legend Graf turns 50


And on playing for no prize money at the Olympics that week: “I don’t think about the money,” she commented. “I wanted to win the gold medal. I care more about winning than about making money.”

That burning desire to win brought her Grand Slam career haul to 21 by the end of 1996, and in 1999—at the site of her very first major triumph, Roland Garros—she won her 22nd and last Grand Slam title. She did it the hard way, too, becoming the first woman ever to beat the Top 3-ranked players at the same tournament: No. 2 Lindsay Davenport in the quarters, No. 3 Monica Seles in the semis and No. 1 Martina Hingis in a dramatic final where she rallied from 6-4, 2-0 down to win, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.

The German played one more major at Wimbledon that year, finishing runner-up to Davenport, and retired from professional tennis later in the summer. She was ranked No.3 when she retired.

Graf still has the third-most career Grand Slam titles in tennis history with 22. Only two players, Margaret Court and Serena Williams, have more majors than her, with 24 and 23, respectively.

She also amassed 377 career weeks at No. 1, an all-time record for a man or a woman.

Since retiring from professional tennis in 1999, Graf has started a family with her husband, Agassi, having two children, as well as doing charity work with her foundation, Children For Tomorrow, which helps kids traumatized by war and other crises. She’s also played a number of exhibition matches.