Holy cow!!! I completely forgot to close my “Greatest Tennis Player” series. Sorry about that.
So, why is Steffi Graf the greatest tennis player ever?
When I first saw her (I think it was the 1986 Wimbledon semi final with Martina Navratilova) the first thing that struck me about her was the seriousness with which she played. But at the end of the game when she lost she let out this anguish cry of frustration and promptly left the court and I felt that this person lives and breathes tennis (later on I found out howtrue that was).
Her forehand is legendary; her sliced backhand is still considered one of the best; her serve accurate and hard; her smashes were overpowering. There is not one aspect of her game that I can criticize. Her domination of women’s tennis in the late 80’s was considered bad for the game until the critics saw the new breed of women players who aped Steffi and,collectively, took women’s tennis to new heights.
Why was she the best?
Short answer : because she WAS.
Long answer : it takes the greatest player :-
- to be able to dominate over established, albeit older, players;
- to be able to redefine women’s tennis with a completely in your face attitude;
- to be able to shun the personal pressures and injuries and go on to win 22 grand slam and 174 tournaments;
- to be able to retire when at the top of your game (she was ranked number 3).
Her game relied on speed, accuracy and cunning and she had ample supply of them all. Her forehand was truly amazing. I remember watching the 1988French Open final against Natalia Zevereva who was utterly demolished by the power of Steffi Graf. And it was her forehand that did most of the damage. Natalia had absolutely no answer to that forehand. It was a short swing and the follow through was clean with body moving back to generate immense power. And her back hand slices…oooooh. Those were another potent weapon which she developed in her later years. Again a short swing with the racquet close to her body. The really good thing about those slices was her placement. The ball would invariably land in a corner which the opponent had great difficulty in returning. Not many critics comment on her net game but I think that she was one of the best net players. It’s true that she preferred to stay back but during her later years she preferred the net game to the baseline and was always very good at it.
No one has been able to achieve this kind of success in tennis, male or female. Even though her domination over the sport ended in 1990 with the arrival of Monica Seles (who would probably have ranked right up there with the greatest were it not for the lunatic who knifed her during a tournament) and Arantxa Vicario, a slew of personal problems and injuries (she developed
a bone spur in her back which was to remain with her for the rest of her career), she regularly won tournaments, especially, the grass courts. Her era is called the golden era of the women’s tennis when it truly came fore and stayed in the imagination of the public.
Even in retirement, she is one of the most beloved tennis stars. I know that it will take an exceptionally brilliant player to surpass her record.
And with that we end the greatest tennis player series.