Roland Garros visitor’s guide:
A trip down memory lane:
1956: First time at Roland Garros for Rod Laver
Portrait of Manuel Santana, first Spaniard to capture a Grand Slam title in 1961
1967: Françoise Durr defeats Lesley Turner
1969: Rod Laver defeats Ken Rosewall
Portrait of 6-time Roland Garros champion Bjorn Borg
Portrait of Adriano Panatta, the only player to beat Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros
1978: Virginia Ruzici defeats Mima Jausovec
1978: Bjorn Borg defeats Guillermo Vilas
1982: At the request of Monsieur Wilander
1982: first Grand Slam for Mats Wilander
1983: Yannick Noah defeats Mats Wilander
1984 French Open: Ivan Lendl defeats John McEnroe
1985 French Open: Chris Evert defeats Martina Navratilova
Roland Garros 1985: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
Roland Garros 1988: bold Leconte swept aside by a Mats for all surfaces
Portrait of Natasha Zvereva, 1988 runner-up
Portrait of Arantxa Sanchez, 1989 French Open champion
Portrait of Michael Chang, 1989 French Open champion
1990 French Open: Opposites attract, Gomez defeats Agassi
Roland Garros 1990: Defending champion Sanchez loses in the first round
Roland Garros 1990: Edberg and Becker lose in the first round
1991 French Open 3RD: Michael Chang defeats Jimmy Connors
1991 French Open final: Jim Courier defeats Andre Agassi
1996: An unflinching Edberg causes a grand upset
Roland Garros 1996: Pete Sampras run through the semi-finals
1997: Going ga-ga over Guga
Steffi Graf – Martina Hingis Roland Garros 1999
2000: Mary Pierce finds peace and glory
2004: Coria vs Gaudio: the egotist vs the underdog
2005: Rafael Nadal defeats Mariano Puerta
2006: Nadal defeats Federer, wins second Roland Garros title
A look back at Roland Garros 2011
A look back at Roland Garros 2014
A look back at Roland Garros 2015
Pictures and Recaps:
Fashion and gear:
Who will win Roland Garros 2016?
- Rafael Nadal (50%, 125 Votes)
- Novak Djokovic (29%, 73 Votes)
- Andy Murray (11%, 27 Votes)
- Roger Federer (5%, 12 Votes)
- Kei Nishikori (2%, 5 Votes)
- Stan Wawrinka (1%, 3 Votes)
- Other (1%, 2 Votes)
- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0%, 1 Votes)
- Tomas Berdych (0%, 1 Votes)
- Richard Gasquet (0%, 1 Votes)
- David Ferrer (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 250
Who will win Roland Garros 2016?
- Serena Williams (42%, 47 Votes)
- Victoria Azarenka (15%, 17 Votes)
- Angelique Kerber (13%, 15 Votes)
- Garbine Muguruza (12%, 13 Votes)
- Simona Halep (7%, 8 Votes)
- Other (4%, 5 Votes)
- Carla Suarez Navarro (4%, 4 Votes)
- Agnieszka Radwanska (2%, 2 Votes)
- Belinda Bencic (1%, 1 Votes)
- Petra Kvitova (1%, 1 Votes)
- Roberta Vinci (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 113
Article by Franck Ramella for l’Equipe Magazine, translation by Tennis Buzz:
Since 1983, Les Petits As tournament welcome players aged from 12 to 14 who sometimes write the beginning of a long story. Like Richard Gasquet, winner in 1999 after a victory of Nadal in the quarterfinals.
Q: Before we speak about the young ones, let’s talk about a soon-to-be 30 who has a bad back. Are you feeling better since December?
There’s no more pain. I hit again only since last week. I mostly did bodybuilding and an infiltration. I always went to Spain to consult an osteopath.
Q: Les Petits As, it reminds you memories?
Q: Do you remember your opponents?
The first year, in 1998, I lost to Robin Soderling in the quarterfinals. The next year, I was the favorite. And I was happy to have won the tournament. A beautiful victory. In the final, I beat American Brian Baker 7-5 6-1 (7-5 6-3 in fact). I was born in 1986 but played aginst players born in 1985. I remember I beat Frenchman Antoine Tassart 6-0 6-0. And then I beat Rafael Nadal in the quarters (6-7 6-3 6-4).
Q: Was it already a special match?
You get to know that only later. This match has been much commented afterwards. And it remained in the minds of the people. If you have told me he would win 9 Roland Garros titles, I would have said no. But he was difficult to play. He made no unforced errors. He ran everywhere. He was so full of energy! (Nadal won Les Petits As the year after).
Q: Some say you used to whimper on court throwing you racquet
I don’t know if I used to cry, but throw my racquet, yes, for sure. Losing is difficult. I did not lose often back then. I also remember that with my father, we used to leave the hotel early, even though the matches were later in the day. We were going around the stadium, I was discovering, but I was losing my influx. I was exhausted.
Q: What advice would you give to the young generation?
Les Petits As, you’ve got to be there. The whole experience made a strong impression on me. But beware, it’s not an end. It’s just a step.
Q: Do you follow the results?
Yes, I like to see how the guys evolve. I know Rayane Roumane won two years ago. Now, I sometimes train with him. He plays really well, He is the number-one French hope.
Q: You would like to return to Les Petits As?
I went back for an exhibition in 2006 with Gael (Monfils). But yes, I’d like to see how it goes now.
Interview by l’Equipe, translation by Tennis Buzz:
Q: Do yo remember exactly your route to victory here in 2006?
Ouch! (Thinking…) I start with the Chinese Sun. Right? Then Emilie (Loit), and Krajicek who retires. And in the fourth round, who was it? That’s right, Vaidisova! And then I defeat Patty (Schnyder) in the quarterfinals, Kim (Clijsters) in semis and Justine (Henin) in the final.
Q: Do you remember the score of the shortened final?
6-1 2-0 30-0.
Q: After the final, everybody critizices Henin’s attitude. Mats Wilander says “Even crawling she should have finished the match”. But you don’t say anything.
I only do realize that the next day. And suddenly I feel bad. And I say to myself: “But wait, she did that! She only had 3 or 4 more games to play. And she stopped.” Yet she was not dying. You can not do that.
Q: Have you forgiven her?
It took time. When I was still playing, not really. She stole me a moment. And moments like that are rare.
Q: Did she apologize?
Q: Your coach Loic Courteau was annoyed because all the emotion could not get out. And you?
Yes, of course, but I was so sure this tournament was for me. Withdrawal or not, in my opinion I was better.
Q: Did you have the same feeling, six months later in Wimbledon, that the tournament was for you?
Not at all. I was not playing as well at Wimbledon. The final was not good. In Melbourne, before the final, I had no doubt, no stress. Unlike the Wimbledon final, where I hardly slept the night before.
Q: From when did you feel that superiority in Melbourne?
Not immediately. But after my win against Vaidisova and my big match against Patty. Against her, even I won often, it was always tough. But that time, I did dominate her physically and tactically.
Q: Would you have won the tournament if you had not win the Masters in 2015?
It’s related. The Masters are a real trigger. I experienced these Masters a bit like my first Grand Slam. I surfed on that confidence. The winter that following, during preparation, I played like crazy. The practice sessions (lots of them with Alexandre Sidorenko who won the boys’ title the same day as Mauresmo) were amazing.
Q: Yet a few weeks before the Masters, you had reached a low point.
The match agasint Mary Pierce at the US Open had killed me (a 6-4 6-1 loss in the quarterfinals). After the match, I thought “I can’t do it against hard-hitting players. I don’t return as well as these players. I can’t do it.” Mary, Davenport, Venus, Serena, it was going too fast for me. Even Justine who could do more things chose that playing style. Was there some place for me? For change of pace, variation? I asked myself a lot of questions. We thought about it with Lolo (Courteau) and we decided to go to the net even more. But I play two disastrous tournaments, Moscow and Zurich. I win one or two games a set (she loses 6-1 6-1 to Schiavone in Moscow and 6-2 6-0 to Srebotnik in Zurich). I keep questioning myself: I’m 26 and except Novotna, there is no female player winning a first Grand Slam title at that age.
Q: You do not have always known you were a champion
That’s right. I fought against a lot of things related to our sporting culture in France, to our approach to winning or rather our non-approach.
Q: Also fight the “She has a nice game” cliché
Technically, my forehand was not really good, but people said: “She has a nice backhand, she varies her shots, she volleyes”. Efficiency is not a priority in France. I can feel the difference with Andy (Murray) and even before when I worked with Azarenka.
Q: By winning in Melbourne you also get rid of another weight, that of being labeled as the world number one who had not won a Grand Slam. Was it important?
I was eager to put an end to this discussion. But it was not a suffering.
Q: At the 2006 Australian Open, three players retire against you, but you also had big problems..
The morning of my match against Vaidisova, I wake up and I’m panicked. My neck is blocked, I’m upset. I call Michel (Franco, her physiotherapist), he massages me, he does what he can. I play suffering, serving at 130 km/h, but Vaidisova commits lots of unforced errors. That year it is very hot. In the semi finals, with Kim, we play a big match, very physical. We play indoor because it is 40 °C. She twists her ankle because she is tired; back to the hotel, I fainted. The next day I did not come to hit at the stadium.
Q: In 1999, you had also reached the final in Melbourne..
Yes, but in the game, I do not really know why. My game was very instinctive. I do not even know how I was playing back then. In 2006 my game was in place.
Q: You keep good memories of the Château d’Yquem 1937 you drank to celebrate your victory
In fact we drunk it during the summer of 2007. It was excellent.
By Cindy Schmerler, Tennis Magazine, May 2000:
Jennifer Capriati spanks a backhand down the line winner past Jimmy Brown, head pro at the Saddlebrook resort outside Tampa, Fla. Even Brown, a former tour player who has logged thousands of hours on court with Capriati over the last five years, is impressed. But Capriati barely looks up as she sidesteps pigeon-toed across the baseline to prepare for the next shot.
A Capriati forehand finds the top of the net and falls back. She slaps her thigh in disgust, then wails with pain. The cause: a series of unsightly red blotches that stretch across her legs, arms, and torso, the result of an allergic reaction to penicillin that was prescribed to treat a case of strep throat. The virus had pushed Capriati’s fever past 102 degrees a few days earlier, prompting her father, Stefano, to literally toss into a tub of ice water. This morning, he and Jennifer made a trip to the emergency room, where she was given Benadryl spray to combat the pain and itching. And still she insisted on practicing.
Capriati has had several weeks off since her semifinal run at the Australian Open – her best Grand Slam showing since reaching the semis of the US Open in 1991 – and it’s clear that she has spent a great deal of that time woking out. She’s fit and trim (she says she’s lost 30 pounds over the last few years and now weighs about 130); her upper body is leaner, stronger, more impressive.
After practice, Capriati hops into a golf cart for the short ride back to her house. It was more than ten years ago – Oct. 31, 1989, to be exact – that a 13-year-old Capriati, on the verge of worldwide fame, donned a hillbilly costume, complete with blackened tooth and braids made to stand upright with the help of a wire coat hanger, and went trick-or-teating in a golf cart through the Saddlebrook grounds. Even when she upended the cart, nearly causing herself and a passenger serious injury, Capriati shrugged it off with little more than a giggle.
Capriati doesn’t giggle anymore. She’s 24, with a still-broad, toothy smile, but now her laugh is easy, confident. Her hair is back to its natual dark brown, with just a few blond streaks. Her nails are painted a vibrant red. Her mantra over the past few years has been “forget the past, live in the now.” And with a newfound inner peace, not to mention a Sanex WTA Tour ranking scampering toward the Top 10, Capriati says she has never been more content.
“Everything is real to me now,” she says.
Capriati has been very reluctant to do interviews since her comeback, but she’s both engaging and forthcoming on this occasion.
“The way I am, what I’m doing, is real. Before, it was a little fake. I was trying to fake that everything was going great and I was happy and da, da, da, da, da. It even felt fake to me because I wasn’t content inside yet. Now it’s what I am. It’s good now. And even if it gets bad again, that’s fine too.”
The “bad” part of Capriati’s life is often told – the years between ages 18 and 20 when she received a police citation for shoplifting an inexpensive ring at a mall, mixed with the wrong crowd at Florida Atlantic University, and spent two weeks in rehab after her arrest for marijuana possession at a scuzzy Miami Beach hotel. Tabloid photographs – repeatedly splashed on TV screens around the world – showed an overwrought, overweight Capriati in a tie-dyed skirt with an earring in her nose.
“The worst part is what I went through afterward, with all the media attention,” she says. “Just the total reaction, my reputation going down the drain. But I was a kid, and you’re not supposed to know what’s going on. You’ve got to experience it. When you’re older and you make the same mistakes, then it’s your fault.
But I don’t put the blame on anybody. Basically, we’re all human and we all make mistakes and don’t know what we’re doing some of the time. So I can’t go around blaming people. Before I blame someone else, I’ll blame myself.”
Capriati has never fully disclosed what happened to her during those two years away fom the tour, not even to her mother, Denise, who has learned to listen to her daughter without asking too many questions. Jennifer has admitted to succumbing to peer pressure and making lots of wrong choices. But she still feels strongly that she doesn’t owe anyone an explanation.
Just because I’m a tennis player and I’m a famous person, that doesn’t take away my rights as a private human being,”
she says, sounding more weary than bitter. When it’s pointed out that she did choose this life, she’s quick to add,
“I know, and I accept that now. That’s the difference. Before I was so angry at the truth, that that’s the way it had to be. But now I realize, it doesn’t have to affect my life.”
Nothing has affected Capriati’s life more over the last year than a newfound work ethic that has been instilled by coach Harold Salomon, a former top 10 player who she hired just before the 1999 Lipton Championships.
Her on-court results speak volumes. Capriati began the year 2000 by beating No.5 Mary Pierce and No.1 Martina Hingis, her new neighbor and occasional practice partner, at a Hong Kong exhibition. Two weeks later, she reached the semis of the Australian Open before falling in two sets to eventual champ Lindsay Davenport. By early March, Capriati was ranked No.14, up from a demoralizing No.101 at the start of 1999.
Capriati steers past the small house that her family rented when they moved to Saddlebrook in the late 1980s, past the front porch where she and her brother, Steven, used to sit and dream of dueling pro careers. She winces as she passes it. We reach the home that Denise and Stefano built not long after Jennifer inked multimillion-dollar endorsement contacts before turning pro. The house is golf-course-community contemporary, with a red tile roof and a geometric glass design above the front door, a touch that Stefano added a few tears ago, after his divorce from Denise and her move across the state to Palm Beach Gardens.
When the front door opens, two black labradors, Happy and Arie, bound out. Inside, lush green plants jistle for space wuth huge, newly arrived cartons of Fila clothing, tube socks spilling out across the coffee table. The Capriati home is neither lavish nor ostentatious, but it’s certainly comfortable. Jennifer still lives with her dad, as does Steven, now 20 and a Florida State University sophomore who plays on the tennis team and who recently changed majors from communication to pre-law.
Surprisingly, the house isn’t filled with Jennifer mementos. On one side of Stefano’s office is a wall of framed magazine covers and photos signed by everyone from fellow tennis players to Elizabeth Taylor. The pictures used to adorn the open-air den, Stefano says, but have since been moved to a more modest post. The wall of fame ends with a giant collage from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, featuring a dour silver finalist, Steffi Graf, and a shot of a beaming Capriati, gold medal draped around her neck.
Capriati first tested the comeback waters in 1996, yet showed only occasional flashes of brilliance (she reached the final in Chicago late that year, upsetting co-No.1 Seles before losing to Jana Novotna in three sets). But in seven Grand Slam appearances, Capriati won just two matches. It was the spring of ’99 before she realized that if she intended to make a bona fine comeback, time was running out.
“Basically, I had to make the decision of where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do,” she says over a lunch of tossed salad topped with grilled chicken by a poolside cafe at Saddlebrook Resort. “Was I going to be in limbo like this all the time and fell like I was going nowhere, that I was just kind of lost, trying to make it back but still not being 100 percent sure. But I didn’t want to give it up completely. I wasn’t happy that way. So I just said, ‘Well, I’m either going to try and do it the right way or not do it at all.’ Because deep down inside, I always wanted to come back and play tennis.”
Capriati’s first step was to call Solomon, with whom she’d worked briefly in 1996 and again in preparation for the ’97 US Open. But Solomon had worked Capriati hard, driving her to the point of exhaustion before advising her to either dedicate herself to the sport or find another line of work. She had responded by sulking, her already fragile ego taking yet another beating.
In December 1998, Stefano called Solomon. His response? “If Jennifer wants me, it’s got to come from her.” By then, Solomon had all but decided to give up coaching (he’d worked Mary Joe Fernandez and Jim Courier, among others) and move his family from Ft Lauderdale to Colorado.
Three months later, his phone rang. “We talked for two hours,” says Solomon, “but Jennifer had me in the first 15 minutes. She said, ‘I’m willing to work really, really hard,’ and I knew she had turned her life around. She’s a wonderful athlete, so gifted physically, and she has the ability to hit the ball so hard. All of the coaches she’s had have given her great fundamentals. She just needed to believe that she was as good a tennis player as anybody in the world.”
Solomon began coaching Capriati on a four-to-five-week trial basis for free (his terms). A major component of their deal is that one day a week, Capriati must plan the entire day’s workout. She may not like the added responsibility, Solomon says, but he feels it teaches her leadership and promotes a cooperative work environment. In the off weeks, Capriati still works out with Brown at Saddlebrook, an arrangement that’s paid for by the resort. As Kevin O’Connor, Saddlebrook’s vice president of sports, puts it, “We’ve stayed behind Jennifer through thick and thin. We feel that it takes a village to make a player, and we’re Jennifer’s home crew.” O’Connor estimates the resort’s contribution at $30,000 to $50,000 annually.
Another key member of Team Capriati is Karen Burnett, head of the fitness program at the PGA National Resort and Spa in Palm Beach Gardens. While taking Burnett’s spinning class last spring, Jennifer took one look at the instructor and decided, “I want that body.”
Burnett has designed a program for Capriati that’s fun yet strenuous. They do everything from run three miles on a diagonal together – crisscrossing their way down the street to simulate the staccato movements needed on a tennis court – to weight-training at varying angles to increase upper-body strength.
“Jennifer always enjoyed working out,” says Burnett, who has become a close friend and confidant. “But now she’s taken a more realistic look at herself. She knows she can only play her best when she feels her best.”
The payoff, however, didn’t come immediately. In her first three tournaments under the new regime, Capriati was destroyed by Graf 6-0 6-1 at Key Biscayne, beaten soundly by Anna Kournikova at Amelia Island, and lost to Serena Williams in Berlin, though she fid take the first set of that match to a tiebreaker.
Then came Strasbourg.
In this tune-up for the French Open, Capriati defeated ninth-ranked Nathalie Tauziat in the quarterfinals and Elena Likhovtseva in the final for her first tour victory in six years. Capriati jumped from No. 113 to No. 53, and she rode that surge in confidence through the first three rounds of the French Open before falling to Davenport in the fourth round.
Capriati’s real breakthrough, however, came last September at the US Open. It was there, in 1991, that a 15-year-old Jennifer suffered perhaps the most devastating loss of her career. Facing Seles in the semifinals, she served for the match in the third set and twice came within two points of victory before falling in a tiebreaker. Stefano said that match “left scars” on Jennifer, and by the next year, despite a No. 5 seed, she was ousted in the third round by unheralded Patricia Hy-Boulais. One year later, the free fall began in earnest at Flushing Meadows with an ugly first-round defeat at the hands of Leila Meshki of Russia.
But this was 1999 – and a different Capriati. She entered the tournament poised and supremely confident. In the first round, she dismissed former French Open champion Iva Majoli, one of the few real friends she says she has on tour. Next, she rebounded from a first-set loss to take out Seda Noorlander, who’d beaten her at Wimbledon two months earlier. Then, amid the buzz of a large Labor Day weekend crowd, Capriati knocked off Tauziat, the No. 11 seed, in three sets. Even a fourth-round loss to Seles couldn’t dampen her spirits. Nothing could.
Until she walked into the interview room, that is.
Reading from a statement she says she’d prepared before the start of the tournament, Capriati begged the media to forget the past indiscretions and allow her to live in peace.
“Yes, I made mistakes by rebelling, by acting out in confused ways,” the statement read in part. “But I was experiencing my adolescence. Most of you know how hard that can be. When you do it in front of the world, it’s even harder.
“Let me say that the path I did take for a brief period of my life was not of reckless drug use, hurting others, but it was a path of quiet rebellion, of a little experimentation of a darker side of my confusion in a confusing world, lost in the midst of finding my identity. But I’ve put a great deal behind me, moving forward in the right direction… I feel like I’ve started a new chapter in my life, and I need to leave the past behind.”
Capriati hoped that the statement would put a gag order on any further discussion of the past, but when it instead led to even more probing questions, she left the room in tears. Still, she doesn’t regret her decision.
“It was more positive than negative,” she says. “I know from now on that everything I do won’t always be interpreted the way I want it to be. There’s always going to be some negative about what I do, and there are always going to be people who are against me and are going to say bad things. There will always be critics out there. And I’m prepared for that; I know they don’t mean anything.”
Capriati says that the change in her attitude has been a “very long process,” one that involved introspection, talks with friends, family, therapists, and even some tour mates. Graf, who also grew up in the public eye and is no stranger to personal chaos and media controversy, counseled Capriati not to abandon the game for which she was so well suited.
Capriati now insists on having time alone to read (Memoirs of a Geisha is currently on her nightstand), write (she puts down in a journal the feelings she doesn’t want to express out loud), and, perhaps most important, sleep (sometimes 11 hours a day). And she’s dating: Xavier Malisse, a promising 19-year-old player from Belgium.
Indeed, she’s starting to see her cup as half full, not half empty. “I had to realize that there were more good people out there than bad,” Capriati says. “It started with family and friends. I had to believe that they loved me and cared about me.” She pauses. “First, I had to believe in me, that I loved myself first. Then it started around my family and close friends. I knew they were right, that they couldn’t be wrong. So I didn’t believe these other schmucks anymore.”
Family has always been the cornerstone of Capriati’s life. When things began to spiral out of control, the omnipresent Stefano, who for years served as coach, motivator, gatekeeper, and spokesman for his daughter, was made the fall guy. But it can’t be said that he doesn’t love his children. When Jennifer went to Australia in January with Denise, he stayed behind with Steven, following his daughter’s results point by point on the internet or through long-distance phone calls to his brother in Italy, who was able to get Jennifer’s matches on live TV instead of tape delay.
“Jennifer is in my heart, even if she doesn’t win a Grand Slam,” says Stefano. “Even if she doesn’t win anything, I don’t care. She’s a champion for me.”
That wasn’t always the prevailing public sentiment. Until last year’s US Open, Capriati had not a single endorsement deal, having been dropped years before by Prince, Diadora, Oil of Olay, and others. At the first three majors of 1999 she wore outfits purchased off the rack from local pro shops. But then, on the eve of Flushing Meadows, Capriati’s agent, Barbara Perry of IMG, arranged an 11th-hour deal with Fila to provide her with free clothing, but no money – unless she reached the quarterfinals. Jennifer fell one match shy. But she now has paid contract, one that, if she meets certain incentive clauses, could be worth millions.
“A lot of people have asked me why I was willing to take a chance on Jennifer, especially when no one else would,” says John Epstein, president and CEO of Fila USA. “But I believe in her. There’s something about a champion that’s unique; you just don’t lose that. Sure, she made mistakes. So what? Everyone does. But now she’s back trying to fulfill a dream. We want to be part of that.”
So does her family.
“Just going through what she did really helped Jennifer grow up,” says Denise. “Sometimes you have to be humbled.”
Jennifer was in Australia, preparing for the 2000 Open, when she picked up a newspaper and read about some young cancer victims who happened to be big tennis fans. She arranged for four of them to attend the tournament as her guest, to meet other competitors, even to sit in the players’ box for her matches.
There was more to her gesture than met the eye. Early last year, it was discovered that Steven had a tumor in his groin area. He had successful surgery in mid-December, but the ordeal only reinforced the family’s belief that in the grand scheme of things, tennis is secondary.
It was also Down Under that Capriati realized how much support she has from players, something she didn’t sense when she first returned to the tour. Seles said it was “great to see that smile back on Jennifer’s face,” and Davenport said before their semifinal that if she couldn’t win the event, she hoped Capriati would.
Jennifer Capriati, an inspiration to other players?
“I think so,” she says quietly. “A lot of players have felt the way I felt, and even feel that way now. And when they see what I’ve experienced or tried to overcome, they relate to it more. Because it’s tough for everyone. Everyone’s got their own stuff to deal with.”
Two months after her French Open victory over Martina Hingis and one month after her loss to Lindsay Davenport in the 1999 Wimbledon final, 22-time Grand Slam champion Steffi Graf announces her retirement.
‘Steffi has retired’. So, Steffi as well. It’s Friday 13 August 1999, six weeks after my Wimbledon farewell. Officially she played 994 professional matches; I played 932. She won twenty-two Grand Slams; I won six. If the friendship between Steffi and me turned into a book or a film, nobody would believe it. She was six and I was eight when we met for the first time.
I rode my bike to Leimen. She came with her mother. In those days I often had to play against girls, which felt like a kind of punishment, especially when then older boys – who later wouldn’t have stood a change against Steffi – used to say, ‘Look at the redhead, fighting it out with the little girl!’ It also got on my nerves when the coach, Boris Breskvar, ended the game just at the moment when I was set for victory. My mother conforted me: ‘He really doesn’t know how to handle children.’
Even as a child, Steffi was focused and introverted, and sometimes trained like a robot. Thanks to these supposedly typical German characteristics, it took quite a long time for her to become internationally popular, rather like Michael Schumacher in Formula 1, who always comes across as so brusque – as though all he’s missing is the spiked helmet. Steffi was too determined for some people’s liking – too correct, too cool, too ‘Made in Germany’. Her sign is Gemini. Perfection is in her nature. That’s how she did her job. On the other hand, she’s an extremely sensitive and compassionate person. This shows every now and then, but for a long time she didn’t really live out her emotions. The most important thing for her was tennis success, and that’s why she worked like a machine. It was much the same in my case, but from time to time other things mattered to me. She probably told herself: To hell with my feelings, what I want now is to win Wimbledon for the eight time.
The tax scandals concerning her father, the court case and his imprisonment took their toll on Steffi. I believe this also changed her way of dealing with her feelings. Steffi cried, and the people at home in front of the television cried with her. At last, something came from the heart, and the nation took her into its embrace.
We’ve been comrades in arms over the years. We didn’t have to explain to each other about the pressure we were both under. We’ve always been in the same boat, from Brühl and Leimen to Wimbledon and back.
As a woman she fascinated me. It wasn’t the infantile falling-in-love of a teenager that made me want to get to know Steffi better. It was a deep feeling of affection, an unexpressed understanding between like-minded people who shared the same fate. And, naturally, I was curious about her too: where did she get the power, the motivation, the inspiration that made her so successful? What had she got that I hadn’t? And we all know that success is sexy – not to mention Steffi’s legs! The Steffi I got to know was an exciting person, not in the least shallow, with a sombre side and a lively side. These weren’t visible in the tennis player. Early on, she moved to Florida, and took an appartment in the heart of New York’s SoHo. Black has always been her favorite colour, and she’s always had a weakness for expensive clothes. According to media reports, she had a relationship with Mick Hucknall of Simply Red. These things don’t really fit the image of the Tennis Duchess (Graf means Duke) from Brühl, and Steffi was clever enough to keep this side of her life from the public. I didn’t succeed in this endeavour, but then maybe I didn’t want to.[…]
A little later I called Steffi. She was relaxed and happy. I congratulated her on her career and on making this decision at the right moment. We both knew what retiring felt like. I had no idea of her new love, Andre Agassi; she didn’t mention him at all. But I wasn’t surprised when I did learn of it. I knew that Agassi had had a crush on Steffi for some time, but first he had to get over the break-up with Brooke Shields, and Steffi had to get used tothe end of her career. Now they are tennis’ dream couple. Their son Jaden Gil is already seen by the British bookies as a potential Wimbledon winner. Maybe he’ll play Elias in the final one day.
Steffi’s last Grand Slam win: Graf defeats Hingis 4-6 7-5 6-2
A must see match, not really for the quality of the match, but for all the drama. I remember watching this match on TV way back in 99. Never seen such a crazy match before.
Hingis, was the clear favorite to win the title: at only 19, the then world number 1 was seeking the only Grand Slam still missing to her collection. Graf, 29, was playing her first Grand Slam final since her victory against rival Monica Seles at the 96 US Open.
Everything started well for the Swiss Miss, leading 6-4 2-0, but the drama started and a single point completely changed the course of the match. Hingis disputed a line call and went round the net to Steffi’s side to show the ball mark.
From then on, the crowd was rooting for Graf, booing Hingis. Hingis served for the match at 5-4 but Steffi broke and won the set 7-5. Graf took the control of the match.
Trailing 5-2 in the third and serving to stay in the match, Hingis faced double match point. She hit an underarmed serve, argued again with the umpire. Graf finally converted her third match point.
But the drama wasn’t over: Hingis left the court at the end of the match, but came back, crying in the arms of her mother.
No question, the chair umpire was bad, but Hingis behaviour was really disrespectful as she acted like a spoiled kid. I really wonder how Graf could remain so calm and focused after all that Hingis’ whining and arguing.
Graf reached the finals at Wimbledon a month later (lost to Lindsay Davenport), and retired a few weeks later:
I have done everything I wanted to do in tennis. I feel I have nothing left to accomplish. The weeks following Wimbledon weren’t easy for me. I was not having fun anymore. After Wimbledon, for the first time in my career, I didn’t feel like going to a tournament. My motivation wasn’t what it was in the past.
Graf turned professional in 1982, when she was 13 years and four months old. She won her first tournament in April 1986, beating Chris Evert in Hilton Head. She won 107 singles titles, 22 Grand Slams (7 Wimbledon, 6 French Open, 5 US Open, and four singles titles at the Australian Open).
She was ranked World No. 1 for 186 consecutive weeks (from August 1987 to March 1991, still the record in the women’s game) and a record total 377 weeks overall.
This French Open final was also the beginning of the end for Hingis: she was ousted by Jelena Dokic in the first round at Wimbledon in one of the biggest upsets in tennis history. She bounced back to reach the finals at the 99 US Open and at the 2000, 2001 and 2002 Australian Open but didn’t win any other major. In 2003 she announced her retirement from tennis, she returned to the tour in 2006 and retired definitely after testing positive for cocaine during Wimbledon in 2007.