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Graf played in her first professional tournament in October 1982 at Filderstadt, Germany. In August as a 15-year-old (and youngest entrant) representing West Germany, she won the tennis demonstration event at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.She lost her first round match 6–4, 6–0 to Tracy Austin, a two-time US Open champion and former world No. (Twelve years later, Graf defeated Austin 6–0, 6–0 during a second round match at the Evert Cup in Indian Wells, California, which was their second and last match against each other.) At the start of her first full professional year in 1983, Graf was 13 years old and ranked world No. She won no titles during the next three years, but her ranking climbed steadily to world No. No medals were awarded as this was not an official Olympic event.Furthermore, she is the only tennis player to have won each Grand Slam tournament at least four times. 1 by the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) for a record 377 total weeks—the longest period for which any player, male or female, has held the number-one ranking since the WTA and the Association of Tennis Professionals began issuing rankings.She won 107 singles titles, which ranks her third on the WTA's all-time list after Martina Navratilova (167 titles) and Chris Evert (157 titles).

She soon began winning junior tournaments with regularity, and in 1982 she won the European Championships 12s and 18s. In 1984, she first gained international attention when she almost upset the tenth seed, Jo Durie of the United Kingdom, in a fourth round Centre Court match at Wimbledon.This narrow focus meant that Graf, already shy and retiring by nature, made few friends on the tour in her early years, but it led to a steady improvement in her play.In 1985 and early 1986, Graf emerged as the top challenger to the dominance of Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert.During that period, she lost six times to Evert and three times to Navratilova, all in straight sets.She did not win a tournament but consistently reached tournament finals and semifinals, with the highlight being her semifinal loss to Navratilova at the US Open.

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