Grand Slam finals are not always close. However, total elimination with solid “donuts” on the scoreboard is an exceptional phenomenon. Spectators saw it at Roland Garros – 1988, when the legendary German Steffi Graf defeated the Belarusian and Soviet tennis player Natalya Zvereva with a score of 6:0, 6:0 in just 32 minutes (the official protocol indicates 34 minutes, but the game lasted less).
Graf earned TBS’s fastest final victory in the Open Era. Zvereva suffered an embarrassing defeat, but was ultimately undaunted and achieved solid doubles success.
Playing with Andre Agassi and doing charity work. Where did Steffi Graf go?
Two “flyers” in the final of the TBSH – an achievement of Graf, which is unlikely to ever be repeated
Steffi Graf rose to number one in the WTA rankings for the first time in August 1987, breaking Martina Navratilova’s hegemony. Steffi held the status of the best tennis player in the world for about four years, until Monica Seles started putting pressure on her.
The 1988 season was especially impactful for Graf. The 18-year-old German started with a victory at the Australian Open, where she defeated the eminent Chris Evert in the battle for the title: 6:1, 7:6. It was the second “Helmet” of hers in her career. The first Steffi won at Roland Garros – 1987, defeating Navratilova in the final – 8:6 in the third set. A year later, the German returned to Paris with the intention of defending the title.
Steffi Graf in 1988
Photo: Mike Powell/Getty Images
Graf very easily reached the final of “RG” -1988. He did not give a single set to his rivals. Steffi’s three matches ended with a “flyer” and a given game, against the Americans Ronnie Reis, Susan Sloane and the Argentine Bettina Fulk. Graf met more or less serious resistance only in the semifinals with the fourth seed Gabriela Sabatini – 6: 3, 7: 6, who almost dragged the champion into the third set.
Graf’s opponent in the final was 17-year-old Belarusian Natalya Zvereva, who at that time was still representing the USSR. The path of the 13th racket in the world Zvereva to the decisive match at Roland Garros was more difficult compared to Steffi, but not essential. Natalia weighed the “wheel” in one of the sets to her rivals in the first three rounds, Laura Golarse, Louis Field and Melissa Garni. For the first time, Zvereva had to get nervous in the fourth round with the second racket in the world Martina Navratilova – 6:3, 7:6, although the matter did not reach the third set.
In the quarterfinals, Zvereva easily faced the Czech star Helena Sukova: 6:2, 6:3. In the next stage, Natalia worked hard to defeat the main sensation of RG -1988, the unseeded world number 53 racket, the Australian Nicole Provis – 6: 3, 6: 7, 7: 5.
Natalia Zvereva at Roland Garros – 1988
Photo: Dimitri Iundt/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Zvereva reached the TBS final for the first time. Natalia was considered a clear loser in the final against Graf. An absolutely one-sided clearance was hardly expected to see even the most devoted Steffi fans, but that’s exactly what happened on the pitch.
The game lasted 32 minutes and ended with the score 6:0, 6:0 in favor of Graf. The match was interrupted for an hour due to rain at the end of the first set, which still did not help Zvereva recover. Steffi played almost perfectly, but still the main reason for the total intrigue is Zvereva’s flurry of mistakes. Natalia earned just 13 points in 12 games. Early in the second set, she led 40:30 and earned a game point on her serve, after which Graf won three points in a row. This is the maximum intrigue that the public had the opportunity to see on the court on June 4, 1988.
Before RG 1988, the last time two “flyers” in the TBS final were at Wimbledon 1911, when Dorothy Lambert Chambers defeated Dora Boothby. None of this happened in the Open Era. And if it ever does happen, it’s unlikely to be very soon. Now the main specialist in the “shuttlecock” is the world’s first racket Iga Sviontek. At Roland Garros-2023, Iga even gave such a rare double “shuttle” to the Chinese Wang Xinyu, but in the final matches the level of her rivals will be higher and she will not have to count on such lightness.
How the great Steffi Graf put together the Golden Helmet in 1988
Comments from Graf and Zvereva after the match
The count was embarrassed and almost apologized to the public for such an easy victory. At the same time, he tried to support Zvereva, because he understood that his opponent was going through a difficult time.
“I feel embarrassed in front of the audience because it ended so quickly. It’s been a long time since I won 6-0, 6-0, but today everything went very well. My right hand is improving. I have really come a step forward in the last two weeks. This year I feel stronger before Wimbledon than I did last year. I saw Zvereva in the locker room and apologized to her. She will definitely bounce back after this defeat. She was surprised that I managed to win two dry sets. Before the match, everyone said that she couldn’t lose in this final and that she would win very easily. She stressed me out. He knew better than to be arrogant. Zvereva previously eliminated Navratilova, so I took the confrontation with her as seriously as possible. I think Natalia was too nervous. It is not easy to play a TBS final at 17 for the first time. She had a great tournament. Now he should think about that, and not about how today’s game went. The best moment of her will still come, ”Graf said after the game.
Steffi Graf and Natalia Zvereva after the Roland Garros final – 1988
Photo: TempSport/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
Upset Zvereva refused to give a traditional on-court interview. The audience, although they were not delighted with the fleeting and uninteresting ending, did not boo Natalya, but tried to cheer her up. However, the tennis player did not find the strength to turn to them, and he burst into tears at the forced press conference.
“I wasn’t nervous. He just wasn’t in that game. It was a very bad game on my part. Steffi was stronger. Why did I refuse to address the public in the stands? I knew what to say. But I just couldn’t do it,” Natalya said and ran out of the conference room crying.
Graf then went on to win Wimbledon and the US Open, as well as gold at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. A unique achievement in tennis history and an outstanding year with the Golden Slam for Steffi. Graf dominated women’s tennis for about four more years, until Monica Seles began to outshine her. The German lost the top ranking spot in 1991. She returned there in 1993 when Seles was stabbed to death on the court by her crazy fan.
A true nightmare. The best tennis player in the world was stabbed on the court before Roland Garros – 1993
Steffi maintained her leadership position until 1997, setting a new record of 377 weeks as world number 1. His victory at the US Open-1995 allowed him to write his name in the history of the sport again. Graf became the first tennis player to win each of the four Grand Slam tournaments at least four times. Steffi retired in 1999 with 22 helmets in his collection. Her record in the Open Era was later surpassed only by Serena Williams (23 Majors won).
Zvereva never reached the TBS singles final again. The best result of her after “RG” -1988-the Wimbledon semifinal-1998, in the third round in which she sensationally beat Graf (6: 4, 7: 5). Natalia snapped a 17-match losing streak in personal meetings with Steffi, defeating the German on court for the first and only time.
Zvereva performed quite well in singles, but in pairs she was much better. Yes, this is not so prestigious, but Natalya has achieved historical success. She has won 20 double doubles (including two in mixed doubles). 14 of them together with the Puerto Rican Gigi Fernández, which makes them the second most successful couple in the history of women’s tennis behind Navratilova and Pam Shriver. Special mention deserves her victory with Larisa Savchenko in the final of Roland Garros-1989 over Graf and Sabatini-6: 4, 6: 4. Zvereva held the top spot in the world doubles rankings for a total of 124 weeks. She retired from professional tennis in 2003. Her loss in the 1988 Roland Garros final is an embarrassing and unpleasant moment to remember, but one that in no way overshadows Zvereva’s outstanding tennis legacy.