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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, August 17, 2016

 
Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf

"Steffi was a reminder of what I needed to do when I was out there. When I looked up, she always had a focus about her, an intensity," Andre Agassi says of  wife Steffi Graf.

Photo credit: AP

Impeccable footwork and impenetrable focus helped Steffi Graf set a gold standard that may never be matched.

The woman who held the top spot a record 377 weeks made history by becoming the first player to complete the Golden Slam by winning the singles gold medal at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul after sweeping all four Grand Slam championships.

Nadal: I Will Compete For Grand Slams Again

Reflecting on her run to Olympic glory, the Hall of Famer recalls her daily roll in Seoul began with an assist from German teammates.

"Olympics for me, was just a giant highlight to take part of," Graf tells CNN's Open Court. "It's just the camaraderie that goes on. When I think back of '88, for example, the cycling team they gave us bikes. Instead of having to walk over to the tennis courts (we rode bikes).

"It was interactions with all these different athletes."



Graf remains the only player to complete the Golden Slam in a single season. Her husband, Andre Agassi, world No. 1 Serena Williams, who won her 22nd Grand Slam at Wimbledon to equal Graf's Open Era record, and 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal have each attained the career Golden Slam.

The calendar Golden Slam is record that may never be matched; achieving it took a physical and mental toll on Graf.

"In 1988, I was so exhausted I had nothing left," Graf said. "Obviously, I was happy when I won and I remember match point and beating Gabriela (Sabatini) at the end of my physical ability during that match (a 3-6, 6-3, 6-1 win in the 1988 U.S. Open final), starting to cramp and then winning that match was just incredible. But after that I just went through a stage where I had to get ready to leave for (the next event)."

A 19-year-old Graf had little time to celebrate her first US Open title.

Since the Olympics were contested after Flushing Meadows that year, a drained Graf moved on to Seoul where she defeated No. 3 Sabatini again to complete the feat.





In retrospect, Graf says capturing the Olympic gold medal brought more joy than claiming the Grand Slam because of the immense pressure she felt winning the US Open to gain the Grand Slam. See her reaction to the golden moment at the 90-minute mark of the video above.

"It was so much for me at such a young age (19) that unfortunately, I was just exhausted to really soak it in and know what I've done," Graf said. "I just didn't have fun and with tennis the tough part is that you win such a big tournament and you're off to the next one...

"It was crazy. But if anything, I would say that winning the gold medal meant more at that point to me and I enjoyed it so much more than crazy enough winning the Slam because I was a lot more relaxed."

The passion, perfection, professionalism and purpose Graf brought to her practices and matches undoubtedly helped drive her to become the only player — male or female — to win each of the four major singles titles at least four times, but it may also have contributed to the chronic injuries that forced her to travel with a trainer and ultimately contributed to her retirement at age 30 when the third-ranked Graf became the highest ranked player to ever announce her retirement.





Her devotion to the sport also led her to the love of her life, Agassi, who recounts in his memoir "Open" how Graf, widely regarded as one of the fastest players in tennis history, formerly trained with the German Olympic track team. Agassi recounts how former coach Brad Gilbert aided his pursuit of Graf by scheduling Agassi's practice sessions right after Graf's practices on the same court ensuring the pair would cross paths.

"I practiced extremely hard, and I think looking back, I wish that I would have just taken it a little easier," Graf said. "I think, you know, what can I say? I have no regrets and I wouldn't change a thing. But I just wish that I would have had an easier time of getting away a little bit from the tennis and, you know, I always wanted to play.

"I wish I wouldn't have had that desire as much, because I think that would have kept me probably a little healthier. But I worked always hard and that took a toll at times physically, but other than that, I have to say, what kind of regrets can I have? I was very fortunate with my career, so I wouldn't change a thing. Look where I am right now, you know, through my career, I got to meet my husband. So I don't want to change one thing."


 

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