May 23, 2013 by Parveer Mann
What a difference a year makes. When Steffi Graf returned to the French Open in 1988, she arrived with the aura of a champion. After her ’87 breakthrough at Roland Garros, she had ascended to world number one in the summer and backed it up by winning in Australia earlier in the year.
In the eyes of many, she had already unseated the aging queen of clay, Chris Evert, as the preeminent women’s player on the surface. In the past two years, she had won eight clay court events (more than anyone else on tour) and her legendary footwork made her feel like such a natural on the surface. All the elements were in place for nothing less than a title in Paris and what followed that year may have even topped all expectations we had.
Bagels early and often
I concede that I knew very little about Nathalie Geurree-Spitzer, Ronni Reis and Susan Sloane before I began researching this post. The thing I learned most was those three professionals are forever tied in how thoroughly they lost to Steffi in the early rounds of the ’88 French Open. All three women would suffer a bagel (6-0) and combine to only win six games against Graf.
It would not be until the fourth round and future-Wimbledon runner-up, Nathalie Tauziat, that someone took games against Graf in both sets. She didn’t fare a whole lot better losing 6-1, 6-3 and Graf would regain her penchant for winning at love against little known Argentine, Bettina Fulco in the quarters.
Sabatini and the semis
If Fulco was the little known Argentine, Gabriela Sabatini would have to be considered the complete opposite. A bona-fide tennis prodigy who was ranked the number one junior in 1984, Sabatini turned pro at 15 in 1985 and almost immediately impressed by making a deep run into the semifinals of the ’85 French Open.
I’ve spent some time in this series talking about the legends (Navratilova and Evert) that Graf wanted to measure herself against early in her career. Those players were very much still around in 1988 but it would be Sabatini (a contemporary) who would oppose Graf the most in her Golden Slam year.
Sabatini was entering Roland Garros on a mini-roll after winning the prestigious Italian Open and her ’85 performance here showed that she was capable of shining on this surface. So, this first clash probably was telling of how good Steffi could be on clay as she stormed out early against Gabriela. The second set tiebreak in this match would prove to be the closest anyone would come to knocking Graf off this fortnight.
6-0, 6-0 in 32 minutes.
I repeat 6-0. 6-0 in 32 minutes.
I can safely say that the ’88 French Open final will always be remembered as Graf’s most remarkable stat line. It took her a mere 32 minutes to destroy Natasha Zvereva, a more accomplished doubles player but still ranked 13th in singles at that year’s tournament.
The amazing thing about winning 6-0, 6-0 is that Graf held Zvereva to only 13 points all match! It would also be only the second time since 1911 that a Grand Slam final ended in a double bagel.
Graf said that her victory here last year was more satisfying. ”The win last year, 8-6 in the third set, made it special to win it because it was against Martina and it was so close,” she recalled. Today, she said, ”I felt very surprised on the court to win six-love, six-love.”
Zvereva appeared completely devastated at the news conference. Blinking back tears, she said: ”I wasn’t in the match. It was just a bad game, bad play.”- New York Times
Her second French Open title and third overall Grand Slam was her easiest to date. Graf lost only 20 games over the entire tournament and extended her streak of not losing a set in a slam to an amazing 28 sets.