French Open Legends – Steffi Graf
The 2021 French Open is right around the corner! As we get closer to the best clay-court tournament the world has to offer, I can’t help but think about the legendary players who made their mark at this prestigious tournament. Steffi Graf is one of these legendary French Open champions. I think it’s also timely to remember Steffi’s runs at the French Open because her slice backhand reminds me a lot of how Ash Barty has been using her slice backhand on the clay as of late. Both Barty and Graf are masters at using the slice to neutralize the topspin from their opponents. In all, Graf would win six French Open titles. Her first and last Grand Slams would be at the French Open, beginning in 1987 and ending in 1999.
Graf has had some classic finals at the French Open, but the following three finals are probably the most memorable.
1995 French Open
Graf would be coming in as the number two seed, behind number one seed, and defending champion Sanchez-Vicario. The last time these two had met in a French Open final was in 1989 when Sanchez-Vicario shocked Graf to claim her first French Open title. By now, Sanchez-Vicario had established herself as a force to be reckoned with, especially on clay. This time around it would be Graf who would surprise the Spaniard, winning her fourth French Open in three sets, routing Sanchez-Vicario 7-5, 4-6, 6-0.
1996 French Open
The 1996 French Open would be a rematch of the 1995 French Open final, where once again the two top clay-court players in the world would meet in the final. This time Graf would be the number one seed, whereas Sanchez-Vicario would come in as the number four seed. This final would end up being the most competitive match Graf and Sanchez-Vicario would ever play. In the end, Graf would prove too strong once again. She would capture her fifth French Open by the score of 6-3, 6-7, 10-8.
1999 French Open
Graf would retire shortly after winning her sixth and final French Open in 1999. Coincidentally, her win coincided with her future husband’s 1999 French Open win. In 1999 Graf was coming off an injury-plagued in 1997 and 1998. She would be seeded sixth at the French Open and would meet world number one Martina Hingis in the final. Hingis was a heavy favorite in this match. However, Graf’s experience and resilience would prove too much for the youngster, who lost both her cool and her game during this dramatic three-set affair. Graf would win her final Grand Slam with the score of 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
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