The road less travelled at Wimbledon

July 10, 2017 OPINION/NEWS , OTHER , Sport

AFP photo

 

By

Bikash Mohapatra

 

The journey from being a successful junior at the All England Club to winning the ultimate prize in sport is a tough one. Only a handful of players have managed it, to do the ‘junior-senior double’ that is.

 

Martina Navratilova once famously said, “Wimbledon is like a drug. Once you win it for the first time you feel you’ve just got to do it again and again and again…”

There were some players who tasted this drug only once in their respective careers. Michael Stich, Richard Krajicek and Conchita Martinez some eminent names in this category.

There were others who liked the taste so much that they came back to get a taste of it again and again, till they got hold of it. Examples in this category are Jana Novotna and Goran Ivanisevic.

Then, there were some who wanted this drug badly, but it proved too expensive for them, Ken Rosewall, Ivan Lendl, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario the best examples in this case.

Amidst these, there are a handful of players (six to be precise) who got a chance to take this drug while still in their early stages (read junior level). And the addiction was such that they couldn’t resist the temptation thereafter.

These players happen to be the only ones (in the Open Era) to have won the junior title and followed it up with triumph at the senior event. Let’s take a look at this elite group.

 

Björn Borg (Sweden)

As a 16-year-old, Borg beat Briton Buster Mottram 6–3, 4–6, 7–5 in the boys’ singles final in 1972 to mark his arrival on Centre Court.

He made his men’s singles debut a year later, with an opening round win over India’s Premjit Lall. He would eventually make the quarter-finals and lose to another Briton, Roger Taylor in five sets. Three years later, he would go on to beat Romanian Ilie Nastase in straight sets for his first title.

Borg dominated Wimbledon for the next few years, winning five titles and finishing runner’s up to McEnroe in 1981 and compiling a 51–4 career singles match record.

Though Pete Sampras, and later Roger Federer, dominated at the Big W in later years, Borg’s dominance outweighs them for the sheer quality of his opponents.

 

Pat Cash (Australia)

The Australian made early waves in 1981, when he was the world’s top-ranked junior. A year later, he made his point clear, with back-to-back junior titles at Wimbledon and the US Open.

His 6–4, 6–7 (5), 6–3 win over second-ranked Swede Henrik Sundstrom in the 1982 boys’ final signaled the coming of age of a junior. No wonder, he turned pro that same year and also won his first senior title in Melbourne.

His first appearance in the men’s singles at the All England Club would end with a straight sets fourth round loss to Czech Ivan Lendl.

In 1984, Cash reached the semi-finals before losing in three sets to eventual champion, John McEnroe. However, the Australian also was the runner-up in the men’s doubles that year and also in 1985.

His moment of glory finally came in 1987.

He beat Mats Wilander in the quarter-finals and two-time champion Jimmy Connors in the semi-finals, before exacting revenge on Lendl in the final.

Cash won in straight sets and sealed victory by climbing into the stands and up to the players’ box at Center Court, where he celebrated with his family. This started a Wimbledon tradition that was been followed by many other champions thereafter.

That triumph just about summed up his career.

 

Stefan Edberg (Sweden)

Poetry in motion. Or do we say some beautiful lyrics interwoven to the tune of Wimbledon?

However, we might put it, explaining Stefan Edberg playing on the grass of Wimbledon will always seek something more.

The Swede and the Centre Court made a perfect couple.

And it was child marriage. Edberg was still in his teens when he won the boys’ singles title in 1983, with a 6–3, 7–6 win over Australian John Frawley.

He went onto complete the junior Grand Slam that year, and remains the only player to achieve that feat.

The transition to men’s singles was immediate. Edberg was simultaneously playing in the men’s singles in 1983; he suffered a second round exit at the hands of fellow-Swede Henrik Sundstrom.

There were a few hiccups in the following years till he finally made his presence felt with a semi-final showing in 1987 (losing to Ivan Lendl in four).

In 1988, Edberg proved his point, a four-set win over Boris Becker giving him his first title. The duo would contest the next two finals, Becker winning in 1989 and Edberg returning the compliment in 1990, this five-setter is arguably the best ever final at the Big W.

There have been many champions at Wimbledon but none were as graceful as the genial Swede.

 

Martina Hingis (Switzerland)

This might as well incur the wrath of die-hard Martina Hingis fans, but it won’t be entirely wrong to say that Hingis was simply not cut for the Big W.

Her game wasn’t suited to the conditions, and the lack of a good serve would eventually prove to be her undoing.

Having said that, ‘Swiss Miss’ still made her presence felt at the All England Club and has some achievements to defy the above arguments.

Hingis, who in 1993, became the youngest player to win a Grand Slam junior title (at 12) when she won the girls’ singles at the French Open, retained her French title in 1994, and also won the girls’ singles title at Wimbledon, with a 7–5, 6–4 win over Korean M R Jeon.

Her women’s singles debut ended in an opening round exit in 1995, but a year later, she became the youngest Wimbledon champion when she teamed with Czech Helena Sukova to win the women’s doubles title at age 15 years and 9 months.

In 1997, the Swiss became the youngest singles champion at Wimbledon since Lottie Dod in 1887 when she beat Jana Novotna in a three-set final.

The win was more about the Czech’s mental frailties as much as it was about Hingis’s doggedness. Novotna did prove her point a year later, beating Hingis en route to title.

But, by then, ‘Swiss Miss’ had already become a member of this elite list.

 

Amelie Mauresmo (France)

In 1996, Amelie Mauresmo won the ‘doubles’ at Wimbledon. Well, in the juniors, to be specific.

A 4–6, 6–3, 6–4 win over Spaniard Magui Serna in girl’s singles was followed by a doubles triumph partnering Olga Barabanschikova of Belarus.

The Frenchwoman would make her women’s singles debut as a losing qualifier a year later and it would take her five years to make an impact in that level. However, between 2002 and 2005, she made the semi-finals thrice (she did not play in 2003).

In fact, her 2004 three-set semi-final defeat at the hands of American Serena Williams was rated by veteran BBC Commentator John Barrett as one of the best matches ever.

But in 2006, exactly 10 years after her junior triumph, Mauresmo had her moment of glory at the Big W.

As the top seed, she defeated Anastasia Myskina in the quarter-finals and Maria Sharapova in the semis before overcoming a first set deficit to defeat Justine Henin in the final 2–6, 6–3, 6–4.

The victory made her the first French woman since Suzanne Lenglen to win Wimbledon.

 

Roger Federer (Switzerland)

Roger Federer is currently riding on a 59-match unbeaten streak on grass that includes 10 titles, including five straight at Wimbledon.

The Swiss had his first brush with glory at the All England Club as a junior.

A 6–4, 6–4 win over Irakli Labadze of Georgia in the boys’ singles final in 1998 gave him his first Wimbledon title of any magnitude.

His first appearance in the men’s singles came a year later (1999) and ended with an opening round defeat to Czech Jiri Novak.

However, in 2001, Federer shocked everyone with a five-set fourth round win over defending champion Pete Sampras. He would go on to lose to Tim Henman in the quarters and get beaten by Mario Ancic in the opening round in 2002.

Then started a run of victories, which is enviable. Well, that is an understatement.

The Swiss won five straight titles, only the second player after Bjorn Borg in the Open Era to do so, between 2003 and 2007, and seven overall (2009, 2012).

He has compiled a 84–11 singles record going into Wimbledon 2017.

 

 

 

 

bikash-mohapatra

Bikash Mohapatra

A firm believer in the adage ‘variety is the spice of life’, New Delhi-based Bikash Mohapatra has been a human resource manager, a communication specialist, a strategist, a media professional and a researcher/writer at various stages of his career, acquiring a new set of skills with every additional responsibility.

Outside of work he is an avid traveler, with an innate desire to learn about various people, places and cultures. It is this ‘travel education’, coupled with varied ‘professional experience’ that manifest into thoughts and take the shape of detailed and elaborate narratives.

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