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The day Zina Garrison dethroned Steffi Graf

Garrison won her first Grand Slam semifinal in a monumental 1990 upset over the two-time defending Wimbledon champ

Zina Garrison went to Wimbledon in 1990 with a reputation as a player who could reach the big match but never close it out.

That reputation took a 180-degree turn when she dethroned Steffi Graf, one of the best tennis players in the history of the Open era.

The 26-year-old Garrison, who learned to play on the public courts of Houston, won her first Grand Slam semifinal, 6-3, 3-6 and 6-4, over the two-time defending champion.

“I think if you believe in yourself, that’s all that matters,” Garrison told Los Angeles Times reporter Thomas Bonk. “It was just made to be.”

The American punched her ticket to the final on a cold and dreary July 5 afternoon in London. Bonk compared how Graf fell to the decrease in the temperature that day. By the time the contest finished, it was 45 degrees and the wind was blowing, which forced fans at Centre Court to huddle together.

Garrison struck the final blow on an ace directly down the middle on match point. She raised both hands and ran to the net to shake the German’s hand after the upset. Garrison had won only one other match against Graf, in 1985. And Graf’s record had been a daunting 269-9 in the 3 1/2 years she had been ranked as the No. 1 women’s tennis player.

Zina Garrison-Jackson of the USA punches the air in celebration after victory in a match during the Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon in London.

Bob Martin/Allsport

“Just a simple loss,” Graf told Bonk. “Is it a tragedy? Is it a disaster? Who knows?”

According to the Times, Garrison’s strategy was to hold her own at the net and attack Graf’s backhand head-on, regardless of how well Graf’s forehand was working.

Graf’s trademark forehand failed her throughout the match. Her serve also proved to be inconsistent, and Garrison seized the opportunity.

“I just guessed right at the right time,” Garrison said. “And the main thing, I wasn’t afraid of her power. A lot of people are afraid of her power when she hits the forehand.”

In the first set, Garrison broke Graf’s serve in the second and fourth games to take a 4-1 lead. The German broke back to make it 4-2. With Garrison leading 5-3, Graf double-faulted, which gave the American set point, and a wide forehand by Graf gave Garrison the set.

Graf rebounded in the second set, which took only 39 minutes, and rebuilt some of her confidence.

“After I won the second set, I thought I was playing a little better, so I was thinking, ‘I’m back in the match,’ and I thought I would be OK,” Graf told Bonk.

That was not the case. Trailing the third set, 2-1, Graf had two break-point chances but could not take advantage. On one, Garrison was able to make a save, thanks to Graf’s forehand error; the other was a service winner. The game never got too far from Graf, as she trailed 5-4, but Garrison made sure there was no comeback.

“One more match, that would be a dream come true,” Garrison told the Times.

Garrison advanced to the final against Martina Navratilova, ending Graf’s streak of consecutive Grand Slam final appearances at 13.

Navratilova ended Garrison’s improbable run with a 6-4, 6-1 victory in the championship match.

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.