May 3, 2013 by Parveer Mann
Many things felt new coming into the 1988 Australian Open. The grass courts in Kooyong had been replaced by a shiny new facility in Melbourne Park equipped with hard courts. It also was the first year that Steffi Graf came into the Australian Open as a legitimate contender and probable favourite.
After missing the 1987 tournament, Graf entered the ’88 Australian Open as the world number one and a player who sought to rebound from two close calls that past summer. Even after the losses to Martina, Steffi was still the hottest player on tour and a win at the year-end Virginia Slims (WTA Tour finals) punctuated her status. So it was really no surprise that she was ready come January to prove that she belonged at the top in another grand slam.
A little Jeopardy fun for everyone.
A: Amy Jonsson. Janine Tremelling. Cammy Macgregor.
Q: Who are the three ladies that Graf would quickly dispatch in the early rounds of the ’88 Aussie Open (all were probably happy to both play Graf and go that far in the main draw).
It was not until the fourth round that Steffi would face a more known entity in 13th ranked Catarina Lindqvist. A player who was coming off a career-best semis appearance at the previous year’s Australian Open and someone who had beaten a young Graf in a smaller tournament final. For those expecting a competitive match, you only got one in the second set but only after a first set donut put Lindqvist out of it. In the first week, Graf played eight sets (winning all of them) including two 6-0 sets.
Taking out the defending champ
The quarters set up an interesting matchup with defending champion, Hana Mandlikova. At 25, Mandlikova had already won four grand slams and was a runner-up in four additional slams. Her success was impressive in the era of Navratilova and Evert dominance but she had struggled against the younger Graf. In ’87, Steffi had beaten her on clay and artificial turf and would be a heavy favourite in Melbourne. The result was true to form with Graf winning 6-2, 6-2. Graf would clinch her first Australian Open finals berth with a victory over country woman and eight seed, Claudia Kohde-Kilsch in straight sets.
Evert and a Rain Delay
The 1988 Australian Open Women’s final would prove to be a sort of trivia question for tennis buffs. As it would end up being the last time the great Chris Evert would compete in a grand slam final (her 34th and final one). Also, it meant that Graf would avoid facing Martina for a fourth consecutive grand slam final (1-2 record to that point) as she was defeated by Evert in the semis. It also was a much more favourable opponent as Graf had far greater success against Evert to that point.
The match would be interrupted by rain and forced to be played under a closed roof (the first for a grand slam final). It was Graf who dominated early winning the first set easily and taking a 5-1 lead in the second. The match would be forced into a second set tiebreak after a resilient Evert comeback but like over the entire tournament, Graf would ultimately prevail in two sets.
Her first Australian Open victory came without dropping a set and was her first slam as world number one. It also put her into that rare category of having beaten both Navratilova and Evert in different grand slam finals.