A tribute to Boris Becker and Steffi Graf
Getty Images/Georges De Keerle

For certain tennis fans, the golden generation of the sport was from the late '70s to the late '90s and in that 20 year period, there were many champions, playing a variety of styles.

High among that group was a couple of German stars; Boris Becker and Steffi Graf.

The duo led a revolution in German tennis that really took the game in the nation to another level, but their impact and influence went far beyond the borders of their own country. Their impact was felt all around the world.

Their style of play, each quite unique and revolutionary in their time, their success on the court and even their off-court issues, made them headline-grabbing players in both the best and worst of times.

The Beginning

Becker was born in 1969, while Graf arrived just over a year and a half later, however, it was Steffi who made her professional debut first. 

The player with the ferocious forehand made her first strides into tennis on the circuit at just 13-years of age in her home country in Fiderstadt. Becker, who is also known as "Boom Boom" due to his huge serve, made his debut in 1984 and won his first title that same year, in the doubles in Munich.

Of the two, it was Becker who first managed to make the breakthrough in the big time and what an impact he had!

In 1985 the boy(he was still 17 at the time) won the Queen's Club title, but there was even greater history to be made very soon thereafter. Becker entered that year's Wimbledon unseeded, but that did not deter the Leimen born player, as he stormed through the draw at SW19. 

With his big serves and diving volleys, Becker faced difficulties throughout the sport's biggest tournament, as he negotiated two five-set encounters, four, four-set clashes, including in the final. In said final, he faced American number eight seed Kevin Curren and triumphed 6-3,6-7,7-6,6-4. 

It was indeed with the effect of his trademark serve that he clinched the Wimbledon title, as Curren failed to return it on his backhand, and Becker lifted his hands in the air. He became the youngest player to ever win a major(broken later by Michael Chang at the French in 1989), the first German to win a grand slam and the first unseeded player.

Imagine not being even able to drink or vote and breaking records like these?!

Becker defended his crown a year later, beating the Czech Ivan Lendl in straight sets. 

While Becker was bursting down the doors on the men's side of the sport, Steffi was making steady progress on the women's end. The player from Mannheim won her first professional title in 1986 in South Carolina, beating the already legendary Chris Evert in the final. The next year, however, would be that much better, as she got her maiden slam, winning the French Open defeating then world number one Martina Navratilova. 

National Team Success

She added to her trophy haul, this time representing her country, as they beat the USA in the Fed Cup final in Vancouver. Her style of using her big forehand, with her slice to go with her reputation for the big serves, were starting to give players on the WTA Tour nightmares.

There would be more joy for Germany, as the duo were not only achieving accolades for themselves, but also for their country. Becker led a German assault on the Davis Cup in 1988 and defeated Sweden in their home court in Gothenburg 4-1, in a commanding performance.

The duo of Boris & Steffi were making the game so popular back in the nation that kids started picking up tennis rackets as opposed to the customary football.

Reaching Their Peak

Arguably the peak of Graf's career came in 1988.

She achieved the first and to this date the only "Golden Slam" when she won all four majors and the Olympic gold in Seoul. The greatest achievement that year was at Wimbledon when she was trailing Navratilova a set and a break, to storm back to win 5-7,6-2,6-1. The then 19-year old won her only doubles title in London with Gabriele Sabatini.

The next year was then time for Becker to hit arguably his peak, as he won both the Wimbledon and US Open crowns in 1989 to go with another Davis Cup title as Germany defended their win. 

Unfortunately, like many top athletes, the pair faced their fair share of scandals.

The first of which hit Graf in 1990, as there were reports in German papers that involved her father, which caused her to break down in tears at a Wimbledon press conference. The early '90s was a difficult period for the pair; as Becker also had to deal with troubles of his own, with problems with his personal life, including tax concerns with the government. The pair experienced regular injury problems as well, as the toll at competing at the highest level of tennis, probably physically and mentally started to affect them.

However, while Graf had a second coming of success, there was no such fortune for Becker.

Between 1993-1996, Steffi, who started implementing more serve & volley to her game, in an attempt to keep the points shorter, won 10 grand slams. At this point in her career, she was both physically fit and mentally prepared, as the troubles of a few years earlier, were seemingly behind her.

Becker, while still performing solidly, including victories at the Tour Finals and Grand Slam Cup, added a single major to his honours list, that being the Australian Open of 1996. 

By the late 90's both Germans would retire, firstly Becker in 1997 and Graf in 1999, and in an interesting coincidence, both at the age of 30.

It's been over two decades since the German pair left the professional tennis circuit, but their influence is still being felt to this day. Roger Federer has stated several times that he was influenced by Becker, while many of the current female players, including Serena Williams and others, have said that Graf was an inspiration to them growing up.

There has been many things said about the pair's tennis ability, but the two quotes that really stand out;

On Steffi Graf, Chris Evert said: "Steffi is the best all-round player, Martina won more on fast courts and I won more on slow courts, but Steffi came along and won more titles on both surfaces."

Similar to Graf, Becker was also more comfortable on the faster courts, which led Pete Sampras to exclaim: "Becker is the best indoor player I have ever played."

Since retiring, both players have stayed in and around the game; both playing a few senior tournaments, while Becker commentates on Wimbledon, while Graf is focused heavily on her charity work. 

While both preferred to play a fast game, utilising their big serves to immense effect, their personalities, especially on the court, were vastly different. Graf was pretty laid back, mostly quiet and just went about her play, while Becker was prone to the occasional outburst and racket breaking.

No matter their differences, they led a German revolution on tennis and it made them a popular and much-beloved duo during a golden era of the sport.