Steffi Graf and Serena Williams are arguably two of the greatest female tennis players of all times. That they weren’t quite contemporaries is both good and bad; it allowed fans to enjoy their brilliance over a longer time spread across a couple of eras but it also meant they weren’t able to watch them compete like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic do.
So did Steffi Graf and Serena Williams ever play each other?
Yes, they did. Twice in fact and both times in 1999. That was also the year when Graf bid goodbye to the sport, finishing on a whopping 22 Grand Slam titles. Little would she have known at that time, in 1999, when she did play Serena, it would be that opponent who would go on to break that record of major wins.
Graf’s career looked cooked in 1997 after having undergone plethora of knee issues and surgeries; she missed four successive Grand Slams between 1997 and 1998. When she returned in 1998, she lost to Natalia Zvereva in the third round of the Wimbledon and then to Patty Schnyder in the fourth round at the US Open.
It also turned out to be the last time Graf played at the US Open.
On the other hand, 1998 was also the year Serena had kick-started her Grand Slam journey. While she didn’t quite explode on to the scene in her first year – 1998 – the signs were always there as Serena made the fourth round at the French Open.
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A quarterfinal meeting was on the cards for them at the 1998 US Open but neither reached that far with the American bowing out in the third round.
It was no different at the 1999 Australian Open; while Graf finally managed to make it to the quarterfinal she lost to arch-rival Monica Seles while Serena’s defeat came at the hands of Sandrine Testud – again, the duo missing out on playing at the last-eight stage.
The Graf-Williams Matches
That Australian Open, however, was preceded by the first ever meeting between Williams and Graf. It came in the second round at WTA Sydney and Graf came through in three, fighting sets in a match which lasted nearly two and a half hours.
In the next match, incidentally, the German went on to defeat Venus Williams before going down to the top seeded Lindsay Davenport in the semifinal.
Watch the entire Graf v Serena match from that Sydney Open below.
Serena recovered from this and the Australian Open defeat to win her first ever WTA title at the Open Gaz de France by beating Amelie Mauresmo in the final and stretched her winning streak by beating Davenport en route a second successive final in a WTA competition. It was here she met Graf again.
This time, at the Indian Wells Open, the shoe was on the other foot. Williams grabbed the first set, Graf came back to draw level before going on to take a 4-2 lead in the final set.
Serena broke Graf for the first time since the opening set and then repeated the dose in the 11th game of the third set. The American served it out to complete a 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 win in an exciting match which left fans wanting a lot more.
Unfortunately for them, that was the last time the two legends played each other.
What Happened Next?
Graf finished on a high by winning the French Open to record her 22nd and last Grand Slam win. She endured three-setters against Davenport and Seles in the quarterfinal and semifinal before coming back from a set and a break down in the final against Martina Hingis in the final to lift the title.
She followed it up by reaching the final at Wimbledon where she went down to Davenport in straight sets.
Serena was ousted in the third round at the French Open, missed the Wimbledon but befittingly her first ever Grand Slam win came in the first major after Graf’s retirement. The baton had been truly passed.