“Steffi Graf was like an icon to me” – Sabine Appelmans opens up on her toughest opponents

Jamie Shaw in Australian Open 17 Jan 2022
Sabine Appelmans in action (Bernd Weissbrod/DPA/PA Images)

Former Australian Open quarter-finalist Sabine Appelmans has hailed Steffi Graf as her toughest opponent during her playing career.

Appelmans turned professional in 1988 and enjoyed a successful 13-year playing career which saw her rack up seven WTA titles.

The Belgian left-hander competed in three consecutive Olympic Games from 1992 to 2000, reaching the Quarter-Finals in Barcelona on her debut.

Twice Belgian Sportswoman of the year, Appelmans has been reflecting on her toughest battles on the court and has revealed her three most challenging opponents.

Appelmans faced 22-time major singles title winner Graf on four occasions, losing the first three before finally prevailing in Hanover in 1998.

In a recent interview with Betway Insider, Appelmans said: “Steffi was so complete, she was like an icon to me. I looked up to her.

“She had an unbelievable forehand and unbelievable footwork as well.

“I remember playing her for the first time and only winning one game, so that was very tough.”

Appelmans’ best run in a Grand Slam came at the 1997 Australian Open – when she reached the Quarter-Finals as the number 16 seed. She was also a doubles semi-finalist at Wimbledon that same year.

Appelmans also spoke of her respect for fellow Belgian Dominique Monami – who became the country’s first ever top ten tennis professional and was also a quarter-finalist in the 1997 Australian Open.

She added: “We were very close in the rankings and we were good friends, but we also had to play each other on the court.

“It was not always easy playing someone else from Belgium and also with somebody you’re very close with.”

Appelmans had a 100 per cent losing record against nine-time Grand Slam singles title winner Monica Seles – who she described as “a fighter” on the court.

Seles was a former world number one who represented Yugoslavia and the United States and won the Australian Open on four occasions between 1991 and 1996.

“She was such a fighter on the court,” said Appelmans. “She played everything with two hands and got to all the balls, bringing everything back.

“I enjoyed playing her but I never beat her, so that was a tough opponent.”

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