Former World Number One, Steffi Graf has been credited with a considerable amount over the years. Chief among those things is the popularising of tennis in Germany.
Graf’s influence in the sport extends well beyond that though, with the popular opinion being that she pioneered the modern brand of women’s baseline tennis – that she was the initial female power player. Her value extends beyond monetary terms.
How Much Is Steffi Graf Worth? Steffi Graf’s net worth is estimated to be in the region of $30-million. The thing about pioneers, regardless of the field they are in, is that they seldom benefit the most from the sacrifices they make. Steffi Graf is a glaring example of this, as she only made $21,895,277 in career prize money while she was still an active player. That places her at an astonishing 14th on the all-time list.
Steffi Graf Legacy
When you examine the Top 10 on the all-time prize money list in women’s tennis, you will find that nine of them are active players. When you include Agnieszka Radwańska, who slots in at nine on that list, all of the Top 10 earners in women’s tennis essentially come from the same generation. Radwańska only retired from the sport recently.
With the exception of Serena Williams, who comes in at the top of the women’s prize money list, all of the other women’s achievements pale in comparison to Graf.
Radwanska, for example, only ever made one Grand Slam singles final her entire career. It does therefore seem somewhat astonishing that she accumulated about $6-million more in career prize money than Graf – who won 22 Grand Slam singles titles.
However, the fact that is the case is actually a credit to Graf, who effectively changed the way viewers, sponsors and advertisers looked at the women’s game. While Graf did shy away from the cameras at every opportunity, she always made a massive statement when she was on the tennis court.
The Williams sisters took over that baton, when they turned professional. However, the same can’t really be said for any of the other women who played professional tennis after Graf’s retirement. But it has remained enough for all the relevant stakeholders to take women’s tennis more seriously than they had before.
Steffi Graf Endorsements
The three stripes of Adidas have always been the most recognisable for a sportswear manufacturer in Europe – the pride of Germany. However, the association between that brand and Steffi Graf would help lift the company to heights it had never reached before. The timing of Graf’s emergence as a tennis star was also exquisite in that it coincided with the rise of a certain Boris Becker, who won back-to-back Wimbledon titles just before Graf’s historic 1988 season.
Interestingly enough, Becker’s rackets at the time were being produced by rival German company Puma. So, Graf’s insatiable rise put a spanner in the works on that front but it was great news for Adidas and ultimately Germany.
In the early days Graf actually wore Dunlop apparel, which was associated with the British.
However, Adidas ended that with an outstanding endorsement deal signed in 1985. Critically, that was before she won her first Grand Slam singles title – before her profile blew up.
That deal included a line of shoes called the St. Graf Pro line.
The association with Dunlop was not completely lost though, as she continued to use that company’s rackets during the peak of her powers, which is a period that extended right up to the mid-90s.
However, with the emergence of Pete Sampras as the premier player in men’s tennis during the 90s, it was inevitable that his racket company (Wilson) would want to snap up Graf at some point. As we all know far too well, what American companies want, they generally get.
Between 1994-99, Graf used Wilson rackets. She remained very productive on the tennis courts while she was the face of Wilson rackets. Sampras used the Wilson Pro staff Original but Graf used the Wilson Pro Staff 7.0 lite.
Unlike Sampras who stuck with the same racket his entire professional career, Graf upgraded her Wilson rackets quite often. During the backend of her career Graf also used the Pro Staff 7.5 in 1996 and the Pro Staff 7.1 in 1998, just one year before she would go on to call it quits.
Following her retirement, Graf would go on to use HEAD rackets, which are a highly popular brand for players (amateur and professional) on the “wrong side of 30”. HEAD rackets are associated with more stability and more power. So, the older tennis players among us, whose bones are starting to creak a little opt for this racket.
The story does not end there for Graf though, as she has now become actively involved in the production of a line of new tennis rackets produced by HEAD.
For ten years between the mid-80s and mid-90s Graf had secured a major endorsement deal with German company Opel. She was also associated with Australian deodorant brand Rexona for much of the 90s.
Graf also had endorsement deals with pasta giant Barilla, German sparkling water brand, Apollinaris, Citibank, Danone and German tea trading company Teekanne.
However, it is in post-retirement that Graf has actually made the biggest splash, insofar as endorsement deals are concerned. Since retiring, Graf has made commercial appearances for Cannon, Longines, Kerala tourism and Ayurveda. The last two deals were struck as recently as 2015.
Clearly, Graf still has the pull she once did as a professional tennis player – two decades ago.
Steffi Graf Exhibition Tennis
When Steffi Graf was at the peak of her powers, the brand of tennis she produced was an exhibition in itself – to this day, there is nothing quite like the Graf backhand slice in women’s tennis.
People these days try to avoid stereotypes but that Graf backhand slice was an outstanding example of German precision if ever there was one. She never mishit it and her opponents trying to negotiate it was truly a sight to behold.
But we digress. In any post-retirement period, most professional sportsmen and women tend to realise that they were actually meant for nothing else in life beyond the sport they thrived in.
In Graf’s case that is tennis. Yes, the injuries she developed towards the backend of her career stifled her a considerable amount but she clearly still had a considerable amount to offer the game.
That became increasingly apparent just months after she told the tennis fraternity that she would be stepping away from the professional game, when she took part in something that would go on to be called the Steffi Graf Farewell Tour.
During that tour, Graf played against accomplished individuals like Jelena Dokic in New Zealand, Amanda Coetzer in South Africa and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario in Spain. There was most certainly an element of nostalgia about all of those matches, as Graf had rivalries with all of those players.
Well, Dokic was really still a rising star in the early 2000s – a star that didn’t really shine that bright in the end. The fact Dokic had been a Wimbledon semi-finalist in 2000 made the fixture against Graf a compelling one nonetheless.
Subsequent to those matches, there were also fixtures against Kimiko Date, Gabriela Sabatini , Martina Navratilova and Kim Clijsters. She won a lot of those fixtures but more often than not the real winner was charity.
During the early post-retirement period, Graf also dabbled in a little World Team Tennis, which is pure exhibition stuff. Most of those matches would have been played against active players, mostly at the lower end of the rankings spectrum.
She didn’t enjoy a considerable amount of success there, which was all the confirmation Graf needed that a return to professional tennis would not be appropriate or practical.
Where Did The Money Go? A Tax Scandal That Almost Broke Graf
Steffi Graf had a considerable amount on her plate during the mid-90s.
One of them was a tenacious American called Monica Seles – who had emerged as a genuine challenger to the women’s tennis throne. Such was the intensity of that rivalry that lunatic tennis fans got involved and one actually stabbed Seles during a tournament in 1993 – because he wanted to see Graf retain the World Number One ranking. Graf’s image suffered a little after that attack, although she had nothing to do with it.
It was also during the mid-90s that Graf found herself having to negotiate a series of injuries, which were definitely having a detrimental impact on her performance.
However, the straw that broke the camel’s back presented itself in her personal life, after father and former coach Peter Graf was accused of tax evasion in 1995. Graf’s father was actually arrested in August of 1995 and subsequently sentenced to 45 months in prison. He served about half of that sentence in the end.
At the time it was reported in the Los Angeles Times that Graf was worth something in the region of $75-million. It is hard to confirm that but in addition to the two homes that she had in Germany at the time, Graf also had homes in Florida (a popular destination for professional athletes) and New York.
Then there was also the small matter of a $1.4-million penthouse in Heidelberg. There was a considerable amount of money to go around at the time and this was when Graf’s marketability was at its peak. Everybody who had cash to splash wanted an association with Graf.
That invited some level of scrutiny on the Graf finances and the findings were damning. While her father was found guilty of tax evasion, there was still a considerable amount of scrutiny on Graf herself, with people questioning how it was that she could not have known what her father had been doing.
The case against Steffi Graf was only dropped in 1997, and that was after she had agreed with German authorities that she would pay a fine and some money to a charity of her choice. Nobody knows how much money was paid to the charity in question but Graf paid a 1.3-million Deutsche Marks fine to German tax authorities.
She claimed – and this was bought in the end – that her father had complete control of her finances and she had trusted him with that responsibility. Peter Graf was her financial manager.
She could not have been involved in the evasion. It was a betrayal that almost set Steffi Graf’s career back permanently, especially as that cloud had hung over her head for a sustained period.
Steffi Graf Tournament Wins
One of the comments that was made in a documentary about Steffi Graf at the height of that tax evasion scandal is that she could not have been unaware of what was going on, regardless of her father being in control of the finances.
Graf was the one who picked up the cheques when she won tournaments – and even when she was a tournament runner-up. However, the counter to that would be that she collected many cheques during her glorious career. When you have a financial manager – in this case that was her father – to take care of these things it can be difficult to keep track.
Here is a brief rundown of the major tournaments that Steffi Graf won during her career.
One thing worth noting is that she won all four of the tennis Majors at least four times. That remains a sole record. She is also one of just two players who have won the Calendar Year Grand Slam. The only one in the Open Era. Then there is also the small matter of that Calendar Year Golden Slam recorded in 1988.
Steffi Graf At The Majors
1988 beat Chris Evert
1989 beat Helena Sukova
1990 beat Mary Joe Fernandez
1994 beat Arantxa Sánchez Vicario
1987 beat Martina Navratilova
1988 beat Natasha Zvereva
1993 beat Mary Joe Fernández
1995 beat Arantxa Sánchez Vicario
1996 beat Arantxa Sánchez Vicario
1999 beat Martina Hingis
1988 beat Martina Navratilova
1989 beat Martina Navratilova
1991 beat Gabriela Sabatini
1992 beat Monica Seles
1993 beat Jana Novotná
1995 beat Arantxa Sánchez Vicario
1996 beat Arantxa Sánchez Vicario
1988 beat Gabriela Sabatini
1989 beat Martina Navratilova
1993 beat Helena Suková
1995 beat Monica Seles
1996 beat Monica Seles
1988 beat Gabriela Sabatini
Steffi Graf Books
A considerable amount has been written about Steffi Graf over the years but none of that has been by her, and little of that has been for her either. It is not at all surprising for a player who valued her privacy more than most other players in the professional tour.
In fact very few of the other professional players on tour had access to Graf either. Any book that was written about the German prodigy was bound to attract a considerable amount of attention. Human beings are naturally curious as it is.
The first of those Graf books was “Steffi Graf”, written and published by Laura Hilgers in 1990.
That book documented what was essentially the insatiable rise of Germany’s most prominent sportswomen of the last century.
Then there was Ron Knapp’s “Sports Great Steffi Graf”, which was published in 1995. The genres for both of those books was essentially biography. Both books documented the career of the superstar tennis player.
Then there was the 2017 publication of “Outstanding Sportsman’s Biography: Steffi Graf” by Ileen Bear. The book produces a comprehensive history of Steffi Graf, from the time she was born to the day she retired from professional tennis.
Philip Brooks got in on the act in 1996, when he published “Steffi Graf, tennis champ”. That was also a biography of sorts.
By now, you can already pick up that everybody was interested in writing and reading about Steffi Graf, except Graf herself. That dates back to when she was still making her breakthrough as a professional tennis player.
There were others too.
Sue Heady published “Steffi Public Power Private Pain” in 1995. James Rothaus published “Steffi Graf” in 1991. Perfect Papers published “I Love Steffi Graf” in 2018, then there was “I Love Steffi Graf More Than Chocolate” published by Gorgeou Gift Books in May 2019.
Finally, we had “Steffi Graf 239 Success Facts”, published by Julie Beard in 2014. Regardless of how you look at it, Steffi Graf was and is a cultural icon.
German sport experienced a golden period during the last two decades of the 20th century, and the first four years of the 21st century, come to that.
When Michael Schumacher won his last Formula 1 World Championship in 2004, the finality of that country’s dominance in individual sporting codes became difficult for some to fathom, both in Germany and elsewhere in the world.
More critically perhaps, the search for any compelling female sports talent in Germany post the Steffi Graf era has been an agonising affair.
When Sabine Lisicki reached the Wimbledon Final in 2013, Germany almost had a complete meltdown at the prospect of producing another Grand Slam winning tennis player. Such was the nature of the sporting drought.
Angelique Kerber has subsequently won three Grand Slam singles titles, at Melbourne Park, SW19 and Flushing. However, that simply isn’t Graf-like dominance.
The point we are trying to make here is that life after Steffi Graf has taken some getting used to in Germany and there are many around the world who like to hold onto the idea that Graf is still the most dominant force in tennis.
Understanding that makes it easier to understand why she still has corporate appeal around the world in 2020. She remains one of the most marketable brands in women’s sport, two decades after abruptly retiring from tennis.