Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi both won Olympic gold medals in singles
Graf completed the "Golden Slam" in Seoul in 1988 after winning all four grand slams
Agassi said his 1996 Atlanta win was a "boyhood dream"
Graf has full set of Olympic medals to add to 22 grand slam singles titles
Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi may have won the small matter of 30 grand slam singles titles between them but for the most famous couple in tennis their Olympic gold medals are the most cherished moments of legendary playing careers.
Graf won singles gold for Germany when tennis was an exhibition event in Los Angeles in 1984 then followed it up with “official” gold at Seoul four years years later.
Agassi topped the podium for the United States at the Atlanta Games in 1996 and in an exclusive interview for CNN’s Open Court leaves no doubt where it stands in his list of achievements.
“Being on that podium was a boyhood dream,” he said.
“The medal around the neck, the national anthem, tears in my eyes. It’s an out of body experience.”
Graf’s 1988 triumph was even more significant because it came in the same year she won all four grand slam tournaments.
Sports Illustrated first coined the phrase “Golden Slam” and it stuck.
Graf can also wax lyrical about the uniqueness of the Olympic experience.
“To me this was bigger than a grand slam, it was more special,” the 43-year-old said.
“It’s a different feeling, it’s very unique and definitely more special.”
Given she was only 19 at the time, Graf’s achievements are all the more remarkable. When she arrived in South Korea she was feeling the effects of an arduous season, not to mention a grueling three-set victory over Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina in the U.S. Open final.
“I was a bit tired emotionally, probably physically as well,” Graf said.
“I just remember arriving at the airport and all the attention that I was getting, I just think I wasn’t quite prepared for it at that point.”
But Graf was able to concentrate on the task in hand and it was Sabatini who was again her victim in the singles final, this time in straight sets.
The German also won a bronze in the women’s doubles and completed a full set of Olympic medals after losing the gold medal match against Jennifer Capriati of the United States on the clay of Barcelona in the 1992 Olympics.
Agassi was only 18 at the time of the Seoul Games and he also missed Barcelona.
But inspired by his father Mike, who had boxed for Iran at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics – losing in the early rounds both times – Agassi was determined to take his chance on home soil.
“For me to be playing for my country and on top of it to be playing to achieve what my father had hoped for but had not accomplished in his Olympic experience, I just felt like I was playing for something larger than just me,” said the American, now 42.
Agassi had endured a generally below-par year by his high standards and it was to prove a tough battle for gold, but as the memories flooded back he reeled off in quick succession how he did it.
“Jonas Bjorkman, 7-6 7-6. Karol Kucera, 6-3 6-4. Gaudenzi (Andrea), I was down a set and a break and beat him 6-3 in the third. Quarterfinals, Wayne Ferreira. He served for the match at 5-4 in the third and I ended up beating him 7-5 in the third. Leander Paes, who I beat in two rough sets, 7-6 6-4. And then Sergi Bruguera.”
Playing in 102 degrees Fahrenheit with high humidity at Stone Mountain, Agassi made light of the conditions to dispatch the Spaniard – a two-time French Open champion – in straight sets.
He openly shed tears of joy during the medal ceremony that followed.
“I remember being on that podium and I remember that feeling of seeing it so many times over the years, what someone might be feeling when that gold medal is put round their neck,” Agassi said.
“Tears came to my eyes and my father was in the crowd so I was enjoying it on so many levels.”
While her future husband was winning gold, Graf had the disappointment of sitting out the 1996 Olympics with a knee injury she aggravated while winning her seventh Wimbledon title earlier in the summer.
While other top players had often been lukewarm about having tennis in the Olympics, Graf was almost evangelical in her support, feeding off her incredible experiences in Los Angeles, where as a 15-year-old she first made her golden mark in that exhibition event.
Four years later Graf enthusiastically embraced the true spirit of the Games.
“I stayed in the village for quite a few days until it got too loud and noisy and then I had to move back to the hotel,” she said.
“I was out at the boxing, I went to see some of the track and field, some of the swimming competitions, so I was really trying to take it all in, but also trying to play.
“To get through the first few rounds and then playing for the gold medal was extraordinary.”
By the time the 2000 Olympics in Sydney came around, Graf had retired from tennis and a year later she married Agassi. They now have two children, Jaden Gil and Jaz Elle.
Agassi continued playing until 2006, winning his final two grand slam titles at the Australian Open in 2001 and 2003.
It was his French Open triumph in 1999 that enabled Agassi to complete his own “Golden Grand Slam” – one of only two men, Rafael Nadal is the other – to win all the four majors and Olympic gold.
As proud parents – on a nominated “professions day” once a year – Agassi and Graf visit the Las Vegas school where they send their children to talk about their careers.
“We bring some trophies and all the children just want to take that gold medal, they want to hold it, they want to touch it. ‘Is it real gold?’ they ask,” Agassi said.
So who will win that “real gold” when Olympic tennis comes to Wimbledon, just 20 days after the finish of the All England Championships, won by Federer?
“I look at the favorites being Djokovic and Federer,” Agassi predicted.
As he speaks it is clear that he is envious of the current generation of greats getting the chance to have a double dose of glory at Wimbledon.
“It’s our Masters, it’s our Augusta, it’s our pillar, the one if you could win one, most athletes, most tennis players would tell you, separate from the Olympics, that Wimbledon is the one they want to win,” he said.
“So you combine that with the Olympics, that’s got to be sensory overload. I don’t know even how to put that into perspective of what that’s going to feel like.”
Federer, should he repeat his Wimbledon heroics, would also complete the “Golden Grand Slam” but Graf’s record of winning them all in one year may never be equaled.
With three different winners of women’s grand slams this season it will certainly stand for another four years.
“I think this is a big highlight of anybody’s career and I’m pretty sure for anybody that you ask it’s a main goal,” Graf said.
Serena Williams has already spoken of her desire to win a third Olympic gold medal in the women’s doubles with her elder sister Venus. After her fifth Wimbledon victory last month, the American is a hot favorite to double up – as Venus did in 2000.
Meanwhile tennis’ golden couple will surely be keeping a keen eye on the action, finding time in between their busy schedule – with their respective foundations and charities – not to mention a busy family life with two very active children.
“A lot of different interests, very active. They keep us on our toes,” said Graf.
“We’re professional babysitters,” joked Agassi. “The best job in the world,” his wife chimed in.