Opportunities lost: The would-be Wimbledon champs
Bruce Emond, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sun, 06/20/2010 11:09 AM | Sports A | A | A |
Francesca Schiavone’s surprise French Open victory last month showed that fairy-tales can come true in tennis.
The 29-year-old tour journeywoman played with heart to beat higher-ranked, more powerful and naturally talented players. She rose to the occasion, saying later that she wanted to prove that anybody can achieve their dreams if they believe.
It’s an inspiring thought, but sometimes where there is a will there is still not a way to triumph. It’s especially true at Wimbledon, the oldest, most prestigious and most unusual of all the Grand
Although grass was once the surface the sport was played on, today it is limited to a three-week swing of tournaments in Europe.
Players have to learn a different style of play; bending their knees, being alert to funky bounces and moving forward to volley. They also must deal with London’s notoriously inclement weather.
Another factor is simply the luck of the draw; several defending champions — Martina Hingis against Jelena Dokic in 1998, Steffi Graf versus Lori McNeil in 1994, Lleyton Hewitt facing towering Ivo Karlovic in 2003 — have been shocked in the first round by dangerous floaters.
But others were able to seize the opportunities gifted them. Although a semifinalist the year before, Conchita Martinez was not considered a top contender in 1994.
But she labored past McNeil 10-8 in the third set of their semifinal, and sliced and spun her way to defeat Wimbledon legend Martina Navratilova in the final.
Justine Henin says her aim in returning to the tour this year is to add the grass-court Grand Slam to her collection.
She has the all-court game and agility to triumph, if all the other variables fall her way.
Otherwise, she (and Andy Roddick) will go down in history on the list of greats from the past 40 years who could not clinch the most important title of all.
If you think Roger Federer has a beautiful backhand, then take a look at YouTube videos of this Australian’s stylish one-hander.
Rosewall came to prominence in the 1950s, along with compatriots Frank Sedgman and doubles partner Lew Hoad. Seeded third in 1954 at the age of 19, he was expected to defeat his surprise final opponent, Czech veteran Jaroslav Drobny, but was upset in a dogged battle. He lost again two years later to Hoad, and then turned professional.
He returned with the open era in 1968, but was often eclipsed by another Aussie great Rod Laver. He fell in five sets to countryman John Newcombe in 1970, and four years later, at age 39, he had the chance to perform his own Drobny-like upset of young pretender Jimmy Connors. It was not to be as the American teenager decimated his defenses. He ended his career with multiple Grand Slam titles — the Australian, French and US Opens — but no Wimbledon.
Generally regarded as one of the most talented and frustratingly self-destructive of players. The Romanian lost an epic 1972 final against American Stan Smith in five sets, and four years later, at the age of 30, crumbled against the consistency of Bjorn Borg. In ensuing years, the 1972 US Open and 1973 French Open champion became better known for his on-court antics and spreading waistline than his once magical talent.
With a sour, all-business demeanor, Lendl was no favorite among fans or fellow players.
Still, there was something poignant about his perennial losing quest to take Wimbledon, and there was no Goran Ivanisevic charmed ending. He was unlucky to be playing during an era of grass-court greats, from John McEnroe, through Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg (the one that truly got away from him was the 1987 final against Pat Cash, when the unfavored Australian gave his all).
Perhaps he wanted it too much; in his autobiography, Becker says Lendl, who usually needled his opponent before a match, appeared “frightened, almost transfixed” before their 1986 final.
Lendl no doubt rues frittering away his chances as a young player when he pulled out of the tournament claiming an “allergy” to grass (and was then photographed playing golf).
Another poker-faced Czech, Mandlikova’s sweet-stroking game seemed cut out for Wimbledon. A losing finalist twice (1981 to Chris Evert, 1986 to Martina Navratilova), she lacked the consistency and focus to win it all. The naturalized Australian has all three other Grand Slams to her name: The Australian (1980, 1987), the French (1981) and the US Open (1987).
There will always be a host of “what ifs” shadowing the career of Seles due to the 1993 knife attack that sidelined her for two years. (After catty complaints from other players about her grunting, a subdued Seles had lost the 1992 final to Graf).
Two-handed off both sides, her style of play was not naturally suited to grass, but her indomitable will to win and strength would have made her a top contender if her career was not so brutally interrupted.
The Spanish player was the little baseliner who could, relying on grit, determination and superb court coverage to grind out wins. A true clay-courter, she won the French Open three times, but adapted well to all surfaces, and also took the US Open in 1994 and was a two-time Australian Open finalist.
On grass, she reached the Wimbledon final in 1995 and 1996, losing on both occasions to longtime rival Graf.
The three-set 1995 final, full of scintillating rallies and drama, is now considered a classic.
With the all-court prowess to take the US Open twice, Rafter came close to winning in London, losing to Sampras in 2000 and almost providing a not-so-happing to Ivanisevic’s fairy-tale final the following year.
These players were talented and gifted, but they did not bring home the slams. We know things happen for a reason, but with a bit of luck, who knows.
The fleet-footed native New Yorker was unfortunate to be around at the same time as Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas, who always had his measure on the big occasions (he did win two Australian Opens in the late 1970s, in the absence of the top players). Lost a famously tense semifinal to Borg in 1977. Partied a bit too much for his game’s good, too. Died at age 40 in 1994.
A player from a polyglot of countries, Bunge reached the Wimbledon semifinals at age 19, losing to Martina Navratilova easily. With among the most stylish players tennis has ever seen, the German was tipped to go far, but was felled by injuries and a lack of consistency.
The beautiful and beautifully gifted Argentinian came tantalizingly close to winning the title in 1991, and her failure to put away a volley that would have given her championship matchpoint against Steffi Graf has been analyzed ad infinitum. Burned out from the game, she retired five years later at age 26. Martina Navratilova has said she believes there was a Wimbledon title in Sabatini’s future if she had played on.
Tennis commentators were wowed by the grass-court skills of Indonesia’s best ever player, who reached the fourth round of Wimbledon four times and made the quarterfinals once (her scalps on grass included Magdalena Maleeva, Lindsay Davenport and Irina Spirlea). Veteran tennis writer Barry Wood is among those who believe that Yayuk had the potential to at least reach the final in London. If only.
We hear the groans. The elegant serve-and-volleyer, a four-time semifinalist, was never able to send the Henman Hill into a full frenzy by giving Britain its first men’s singles crown since Fred Perry in 1936. Tiger Tim was tamed by the fire power of nemesis Pete Sampras in his heyday; in 2001, after Sampras lost, he should have beaten Ivanisevic in the semis but was unsettled by a rain delay. And Britain is still waiting.