As Wimbledon’s final weekend approaches, Stylist talks exclusively to Steffi Graf – winner of 22 Grand Slam titles and an Olympic Gold.
During the French open, we hopped on the Eurostar to Paris to meet the woman who revolutionised women’s tennis. Steffi Graf was famous for her unbeatable forehand and record haul of grand slam titles. Since retiring from the sport – and marrying fellow tennis ace Andre Agassi – Graf has channelled her energy into nurturing future tennis stars and has started her own charity, the Steffi Graf foundation.
What’s your favourite memory of Wimbledon?
Wow, so many. I remember seeing Centre Court for the first time when I was 11 or 12. I was so excited but I was surprised by how small it all was. It looks so big on TV!
What do you remember about playing there?
I was playing [Britain’s] Jo Durie and my mum insisted I wore a skirt because those were the rules of Wimbledon. I hated them and wanted to play in shorts. We played on Centre Court and I lost and was walking off feeling sorry for myself when Jo pulled me back and said “curtsy!” I loved the ceremony of playing in England. ''
Was it tough playing tennis when you were just 11?
Tennis is a tough sport but also very playful. I started my career in my living room. We moved the sofas and used them as a net. My dad threw the ball and I hit it – I destroyed a lot of furniture.
Does nationality have anything to do with breeding champions?
It helps to have players from your country to look up to. Role models inspire kids to take up sport, especially girls.
Was it helpful for you to have a husband that has the same career?
I’d retired when I met Andre but I still knew what he was going through. Understanding what his needs were – the things that have to be said and the ones that don’t – was important to both of us.
Did you learn anything in your early career that really stayed with you?
You lose and you cry and you see opponents cheat or say ‘yes but the empire did this or that’. Mostly you learn to keep your emotions to yourself.
Do you miss the competitive game?
Do you know what? I don’t. I gave it my all and have no regrets. Meeting Andre right away and starting a family a few years later, starting my charitable foundation meant I was fulfilled in other ways.
Our Fair Game campaign aims to tackle sexism in sport. Have you ever encountered any sexism in your sporting career?
It’s a big topic. Women used to get less money than male players but it never bothered me. The men play best of five and we play best of three; there is a difference in the physical exertion you need for that. I felt strongly that equality should come into play, but I wasn’t offended by it.
Longines Ambassador Stefanie Graf was at Roland Garros to support the Longines Future Tennis Aces Tournament: For under 12 year old players from around the world