Though these days she favors the name Stefanie, during her brilliant career, this thoroughly dedicated German was known to the world as Steffi Graf. Her resume is epic – 107 WTA singles titles, including 22 singles majors. Graf had it all: performance, dominance, longevity. She won her first major at 17, her last the same month she turned 30.

But of all Graf’s achievements, none surpass what she accomplished on October 1, 1988. On this day, in Seoul, Korea, Graf defeated Gabriela Sabatini in the finals of the Olympics. Graf’s victory completed what was dubbed the “Golden Slam,” a calendar-year sweep of all four singles majors, capped off by Olympic gold.

It was the culmination of one of the most dominant years in tennis history. Graf’s 1988 match record was 72-3. Her wins in the finals of majors all came versus future Hall of Famers: 6-1, 7-6 against Chris Evert at the Australian Open, a 32-minute double-bagel over Natasha Zverev at Roland Garros, three-set wins over Martina Navratilova at Wimbledon and Sabatini at the US Open. In 28 matches at the majors, Graf only lost two sets.

With the Olympics coming so soon after Graf’s pressure-filled run to the title in New York, she was hardly feeling eager to compete. “I came here really tired,” Graf was quoted in a New York Times article. “I was not expecting too much of myself.” But perhaps the chance to be around athletes from other sports inspired her. This was the first time tennis had been a full-fledged Olympic sport in 64 years. Just four years earlier, at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, the 15-year-old Graf had won the tennis demonstration event. Now, in Seoul, she stayed in the Olympic Village, rode a bicycle, attended the boxing competition, went on a few runs around the track, and soon enough found her special brand of competitive willpower, an inward drive that generated tremendous intensity – and one crackling forehand after another.


On this day, in Seoul, Korea, Graf defeated Gabriela Sabatini in the finals of the Olympics.

On this day, in Seoul, Korea, Graf defeated Gabriela Sabatini in the finals of the Olympics.

After a few early struggles, Graf in the semis came up against eighth-seeded Zina Garrison. Just weeks earlier, Garrison had upset Navratilova at the US Open. Against Graf, though, she had no answers, Graf winning 6-2, 6-0. “Everything zipped past me,” said Garrison in the New York Times’ account of the match. “I am excited,” said Graf in the same story, “because I played great tennis. I am very pleased, especially after the last couple of days when I did not play that well.”

Graf’s only two previous losses that year had come at the hands of Sabatini. On her best days, Sabatini’s mix of spins – high-bouncing topspin most of all – could pose problems for Graf. Eleven months younger than Graf, the Argentine was often considered to be the German’s greatest contemporary (the two had also joined forces to win the Wimbledon doubles title in ’88). There were hopes then that Graf-Sabatini could eventually blossom into a rivalry on the scale of Evert-Navratilova.

Graf fought off three break points in the opening game. Though broken at 2-2, Graf immediately captured Sabatini’s serve and, as she did often, swiftly took charge of the set. She won 13 of the set’s final 15 points, closing it out at 5-3 with an ace. The second set followed a similar pattern, Graf in this case breaking Sabatini at 2-2 and eventually winning that set, 6-3.

“I’m very excited that I achieved this now,” Graf said in the Los Angeles Times’ story about the match. “It is something that not many people after me will achieve, I think. It is amazing.”

To date, no one else has earned a “Golden Slam.”