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Meet Wimbledon's 'unexpected' winners' club

Last updated on: July 08, 2013 23:24 IST

Meet Wimbledon's 'unexpected' winners' club

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In a career spanning 13 years, Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli won seven titles before Saturday’s triumph at Wimbledon. She’s joins a long list of ‘unlikely’ champs at the hallowed tennis courts, says Bikash Mohapatra.

It took her 47 attempts, the most by a woman in the Open Era, but Marion Bartoli finally won a major title.

-PHOTOS: Bartoli ends her major drought in 47th attempt

-Boom Boom Bartoli sinks tearful Lisicki to win Wimbledon

The fact that the Frenchwoman’s drought ended at the All England Club was somewhat unexpected.

Wimbledon, over the years, has become a tournament dominated by a set of players. The likes of Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Pete Sampras and Roger Federer among the men have been the consistent performers in the lone grass court major.

Likewise, among the women, we had names like Margaret Court, Billie Jean King, Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, Steffi Graf, Venus and Serena Williams dominating.

There are other winners too, but most of them are names that were considered likely champions. When the likes Richard Krajicek (1996), Jana Novotna (1997) and Goran Ivanisevic (2001) won it wasn’t a surprise.

These were players who had the game to suit the surface, had fairly good records at the venue and were deemed future winners. It was inconsistency and, on more occasions than not, nerves that led to the delay in them actually lifting the trophy.

However, Bartoli didn’t fit this criterion.

In a career spanning 13 long years, the Frenchwoman had only won seven titles (before this), all of them in bottom-tier events. Yes, she did reach the final at Wimbledon in 2007 but that was more of an aberration – she has no other major finals to her credit.

There wasn’t a single basis on which she could have been considered a title contender. However, as luck would have it, the early exit of the higher seeds in her half of the draw ensured the French player smooth passage to the final, where a nervous opponent (Sabine Lisicki) literally gifted her the title.

Bartoli, in the process, became the first player to win the Venus Rosewater Dish without facing a single top 10 opponent. She did admit afterwards she was surprised at her win.

While she deserves all the accolades, at the same time, it cannot be denied that Bartoli is an ‘unlikely’ Wimbledon champion.

Rediff.com lists players whose triumph at the All England Club belied expectations.


Image: Marion Bartoli of France celebrates championship point
Photographs: Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images

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Jan Kodes (1973)

He was the quintessential clay-court player.

Jan Kodes was a double French Open champion (1970-71). However, his grass court credentials weren’t as impressive.

However, in 1973, the Czech was presented with a glorious opportunity. Many players -- 13 of the top 16, and 81 in total -- skipped the tournament in a bid to show solidarity to Nikola Pilic, who had been banned by the ILTF earlier that year.

Kodes seized the opportunity, beating home favourite Roger Taylor in the semis before whipping Alex Metreveli in straight sets in the final.

That remained his lone title on grass.


Image: Czech tennis player Jan Kodes
Photographs: Central Press/Getty Images

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Pat Cash (1987)

Former Indian Davis Cupper Ramesh Krishnan once said: "I won eight career titles. Pat Cash won six. But one of them happened to be at Wimbledon."

Pertinent words from an experienced player.

Cash was a good grass-court player, no doubt. But him winning a Grand Slam, let alone Wimbledon, seemed a bit far-fetched considering the competition in those days.

However, a shocking exit for two-time defending champion Boris Becker coupled with Ivan Lendl beating Stefan Edberg in the semis paved the way for what was a shocking result.

Cash achieved little else in his fairly long career.


Image: Pat Cash of Australia
Photographs: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

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Michael Stich (1991)

Ahead of the start of the 1991 edition, Michael Stich had won just one title in almost four years as a professional and had done precious little in major events.

However, his title triumph that year is arguably one of the most shocking results in the history of the tournament, more so considering the fact that he beat the defending champion, Stefan Edberg, in the semi-finals, without breaking the top-ranked Swede’s serve even once in the match.

That compatriot and three-time champion Boris Becker had an off-day made Stich’s task easy in the final.

Stich failed to win a second major title in what was largely a chequered career.


Image: Michael Stich
Photographs: Clive Rose/Getty Images

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Andre Agassi (1992)

In the late 1980s, Andre Agassi arrived with a bang and was soon deemed a Grand Slam contender.

The fact that he choked at the final stage on his first three attempts – French Open (1990-91) and US Open (1990) – did dent his credentials a bit. Nonetheless, many felt it was a matter of time before he won one of those two, considering he skipped the Australian Open in those days.

However, not even his staunchest supporters could have imagined Agassi’s first major title would come at the All England Club.

Agassi and Wimbledon were an unlikely combination. The American, known for his colourful outfits in those days, had chosen to give the grass court major a miss from 1988 to 1990 because of the tournament's predominantly white dress code. And he did play, in 1991, be failed to get it past American journeyman David Wheaton.

However, in 1992, he shocked the world, and most definitely himself, by making his major breakthrough at the most unlikely of venues.

Agassi accounted for two former champions, Boris Becker and John McEnroe, en route to the final and bested Goran Ivanisevic in five sets in the decider.

The Croat, despite serving a whopping 37 aces in the final, showed nerves at a crucial juncture, which helped his American opponent considerably.

That 1992 triumph remained Agassi's lone success on grass.


Image: Andre Agassi serves
Photographs: Jeff Golden/Getty Images

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Conchita Martinez (1994)

Like many fellow-Spaniards Conchita Martinez was a clay-court specialist. It is sheer irony that her lone career major isn’t the French Open.

To her credit, Martinez had, in 1993, become the first Spanish woman since 1928 (Lili Alvarez) to reach the semi-finals at the All England Club. It was a great achievement no doubt but not good enough to make her a title favourite.

It was, therefore, surprising when she made it to the final the following year. Martinez had benefitted from a favourable draw and the early exit of three-time defending champion Steffi Graf. She held on to beat the German’s conqueror (Lori McNeil) in the semi-finals and set up a showdown with nine-time champion Martina Navratilova.

At 37, Navratilova was in the twilight of her career. Yet she was the favourite going into the final. Few believed Martinez could beat the veteran on grass.

That is precisely what the Spaniard did, in the process becoming the first (and so far only) woman from her country to win Wimbledon.

No points for guessing. Martinez never won on grass again.


Image: Conchita Martinez of Spain serves
Photographs: Getty Images

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Martina Hingis (1997)

Martina Hingis was the undisputed world No.1 in 1997.

In winning the Australian Open that year she had, at 16 years and three months, become the youngest Grand Slam singles winner in the 20th century.

However, her winning Wimbledon was difficult to fathom, just as her losing the French Open final –- to unheralded Iva Majoli –- a few weeks earlier.

But a smooth passage to the final and a nervous opponent therein, made it easier for the Swiss Miss, making her the youngest singles champion at Wimbledon since Lottie Dod in 1887.

Jana Novotna started well before her nerves got the better of her. Suffice to say that the Czech lost the final.

Despite the win Hingis had a poor singles record (23-8) at the All England Club and never won another title on grass.

As regards Novotna, she exacted revenge on Hingis in the semi-finals in the following year and held her nerve to finally pocket the elusive title.


Image: Martina Hingis of Switzerland
Photographs: Michael Dodge/Getty Images

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