Friday 10 to 1: French Open breakthroughs
With the young Ash Barty and Nick Kyrgios enjoying success in Paris, we look back at 10 teens who announced themselves to the world at Roland Garros.
It’s been an exciting week for the future of Australian tennis, with promising youngsters Ash Barty and Nick Kyrgios enjoying their Grand Slam breakthroughs at the French Open this week.
In this edition of Friday 10 to 1, we take a look back at 10 teens who announced themselves to the world at Roland Garros.
One of the unlikeliest major champions in history, Iva Majoli was just 19-years-old when she reached her first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros in 1997. Incredibly, she was a massive underdog against her even younger opponent, Martina Hingis. Yet the Croatian played the match of her life, winning in straight sets to break through for her first and only major title, at the same time denying Hingis – who won in Melbourne, London and New York that year – a chance at a calendar year Grand Slam.
The slight Aussie was still a teenager when he won his first major title at the 1953 Australian Open, but back then it was a 32-player field with just five non-Aussies in the draw. He broke through on the world stage for the first time at Roland Garros later that year, winning the French Open as an 18-year-old. Incredibly, he won his second and final French Open 15 years later in 1968, the first Grand Slam tournament in history open to both amateurs and professionals.
Kim Clijsters was always predicted to be a star, but she surprised many with how quickly she became a force on tour. In 2001 at just 17 years of age, she powered her way to the French Open final and very nearly toppled Jennifer Capriati in her first career Grand Slam final, falling 12-10 in the third set of their stunning final. The Belgian would go on to be ranked No.1 two years later and claim the first of four major titles at the 2005 US Open.
As an 18-year-old, Chris Evert reached her first Grand Slam final at the French Open in 1973, a tournament she would come to dominate in subsequent years. Although she fell to Australian Margaret Court in two tight sets, she went on to win the event the next four times she played – in 1974, ‘75, ’79 and ‘80. The American finished her career with seven French crowns among her 18 Grand Slam titles.
Jennifer Capriati was a teen phenom, and stunned the tennis world with a run to the 1990 French Open semifinals at a staggering 14 years of age. It was her first ever appearance at a major event and she made her presence felt, straight-setting five opponents before it took another teen, Monica Seles (more on her later), to stop her. It would be 11 years before Capriati won her first French title in that aforementioned match against Clijsters, yet another teen.
Having won the junior title at Roland Garros in 1981, Mats Wilander took no time at all to adjust to the big league, winning the men’s event just 12 months later. The Swede was contesting just his third ever Grand Slam event, and had never before been beyond the third round at a major. Yet at just 17, he bested in succession Ivan Lendl, Vitas Gerulitas, Jose Luis Clerc and Guillermo Vilas in the final to hoist the 1982 trophy. Below is the controversial end to his semifinal victory over Clerc.
The Spaniard faced a monumental task when she played Steffi Graf in the final at Roland Garros in 1989. But Sanchez-Vicario, only 17 years of age, was a gritty competitor, and forced the powerful German to always hit one more ball. Enjoying the support of the raucous French crowd – who love an underdog – Sanchez-Vicario scored an incredible 7-6(6) 3-6 7-5 upset victory for her first major title. She denied Graf an unprecedented back-to-back Grand Slam, with Graf winning the other three majors in 1989 after scooping all four in 1988.
Big things had always been predicted of Rafael Nadal, and he showed why when, in his first ever appearance at the French Open in 2005, he went all the way to the title. On his 19th birthday, the fiercely competitive Spaniard stunned Roger Federer in the semifinals – his first of many victories over the Swiss in Paris – and then bested Argentine Mariano Puerta in the final for his first major title. Nadal has since gone on to win seven titles at Roland Garros, and is the hot favourite this fortnight to claim an eighth.
> watch highlights of his semifinal defeat of Federer
> watch the full replay of the final against Puerta
In her first ever Grand Slam appearance, Monica Seles made it all the way through to the semifinals at Roland Garros. And the very next year at the same tournament, she claimed her first major title, beating Steffi Graf in two tight sets to become the youngest ever female French Open champion. Seles enjoyed a fabulous record at her breakthrough tournament, winning three straight titles from 1990 to 1992 and also progressing to the 1998 final, ending her career with a 54-8 record in Paris.
The counter-punching Chinese-American to this day remains the youngest men’s winner at Roland Garros, hoisting the trophy in 1989 as a 17-year-old. Ranked 19th and contesting only his fifth Grand Slam event – having previously never gone beyond a fourth round – Chang unseated the mighty Ivan Lendl in a dramatic fourth-round match, in which the cramping Chang employed the controversial underarm serve on his way to a five-set victory. In the final, he bested Swede Stefan Edberg in another five-set thriller.