On this day 31 years ago, Steffi Graf defeated her great rival Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 6-3 to win the Olympic gold medal in Seoul, earning an Olympic glory at the age of 19 and accomplishing something that will almost certainly stay out of reach for all the players in the following decades.
Namely, the super talented German conquered all four Grand Slam titles in 1988, adding that Olympic tournament to her tally to become a proud owner of the only Golden Slam in the history of tennis! Before 1988, Graf had already been one of the best players in the world despite the young age, claiming the first Major crown in Paris in 1987, losing Wimbledon and the US Open finals to Navratilova to show her class on all three surfaces.
Steffi elevated her game to another level in 1988, though, winning a mind-blowing 86 out of 88 encounters and conquering 11 WTA titles. A teenager kicked off the season with the second Grand Slam crown in Australia, toppling Chris Evert in the title match before defending the Roland Garros title following demolition of Natasha Zveeva 6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes, losing 13 points in the entire clash!
At Wimbledon, Graf took down the untouchable Martina Navratilova, trailing 7-5, 2-0 before shifting into a higher gear and sailing through the rest of the encounter, taking 12 of the next 13 games to lift her first title at the most prominent event of our sport.
The pressure was on her at the US Open but nothing could have stopped an amazing German that season, ousting Gabriela Sabatini 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in the final to achieve the first Calendar Grand Slam since Margaret Court in 1970 and become the first woman who did that on three different surfaces!
In 1984, Steffi won the Olympic tournament in Los Angeles that was still the U21 demonstration event, standing as the biggest favorite in Seoul 1988 in the first official tennis tournament after 1924 and chasing what media forged as the Calendar Golden Slam, a feat that includes four Majors titles and Olympic gold in the same season!
Chris Evert lost in the third round and it was the battle between Graf and Sabatini all the way in the remaining rounds, setting up the final clash on October 1 in the re-run of the US Open final. As was expected after such a grueling season, Graf came to South Korea tired after everything she had achieved in the first nine months, managing to pass the opening rounds and reach the last four where she played a fantastic match against Zina Garrison to earn a chance to fight for the gold medal.
Against Sabatini, Graf played with less pressure than in the New York final a few weeks ago and she scored a 6-3, 6-3 triumph to complete an astonishing season, regardless of the remaining tournaments that year. An 18-year-old Sabatini had already beaten Graf in March and Steffi knew how dangerous her rival was, with the result that could have been much tighter if the Argentine used her chances more efficiently.
The German defended three break chances in the opening game before giving serve away at 2-2 after netting an easy forehand that sent Gabriela in front. Still, Graf recovered instantly, breaking back after a good return in game six and delivering another break in game eight when Sabatini failed to control crafty slice backhand from her opponent.
The German was now in full control from the baseline, wrapping up the opening set in the ninth game with an ace, rattling off four games in a row and moving a set away from another big title of the season. Gabriela stayed in touch in the opening four games of the second set before Steffi seized the lead, striking a forehand winner to forge a 3-2 advantage.
The Argentine had the opportunity to pull the break back, wasting two chances in the eighth game and paying the price a few minutes later when she dropped serve again to end the match on the losing side. Graf sealed the deal with an uncatchable forehand return to start a massive celebration, ruling the WTA world at that moment after holding all four Majors, winning 40 matches in a row and listening to the German anthem on the podium in Seoul with an Olympic gold medal around her neck.