Martina Navratilova and Conchita Martinez

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Conchita Martinez‘s victory at Wimbledon. Back then she was an underrated champion. She is now a respected and successful commentator and coach. Let’s go back in time…

By Diane Pucin, INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
POSTED: November 06, 1994

Conchita Martinez seems such a lonely champion. She will walk around the streets of Philadelphia this week, and no one will stop. No one will point. No one will ask for an autograph or try to snap a surreptitious picture.

Martinez will earn polite applause on the tennis court, perhaps. Her game is efficient, but not spectacular, and the crowd will give its emotions to Jennifer Capriati and the start of her public comeback, or to the extroverted Mary Pierce, whose life has been filled with trauma and family misery, or to Gabriela Sabatini, the sweet, smiling woman who is the perpetual and beloved underdog.

The Virginia Slims of Philadelphia tennis tournament will start tomorrow at the Convention Center. Martinez will be the No. 1 seed and the defending champion. She will be the reigning Wimbledon champion. She will be anonymous.

This is always how it’s been for Martinez.

Once she was a frisky 5-year-old in Monzon, Spain, a town of 16,000 people, an hour and a half from Barcelona. Martinez saw her father and her brother play friendly games of tennis, so she asked for a racket, and she got one.

Martinez fell in love. She was talented, too, but there weren’t many people in Monzon who played tennis, so she hit the ball against a wall hour after hour, and the wall always cooperated: The wall always sent the ball back.

This was when tennis was perfect for Martinez, private and quiet. Except people saw Martinez, saw that her forehand was sharp and heavy, seemingly able to chop down trees. Martinez was tagged as promising and told she should go away to Barcelona all week, to a special school, away from her family, her two older brothers, and mother and father.

Martinez did this.

And she was lonely.

And she was determined.

Now she is a champion, a champion who treasures a few close friendships, her music, her motorcycle and her anonymity.

Martinez’s tennis coach is Eric van Harpen, a loud, exuberant man who discovered her when she was 15 years old and persuaded her to move to Switzerland. He prods her, pokes her, screams and yells, and will tell anybody who asks about Martinez’s failings. But van Harpen is also fiercely protective. He is insulted that Martinez isn’t always recognized for her talent and her accomplishments.

At home, in Spain, Martinez is always in the shadow of Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, who plays tennis with a smile and a giggle and who makes friends easily.

Away from home, Martinez is just ignored. She isn’t No. 1 like Steffi Graf, the imperious queen who never smiles, but who is a graceful, unbeatable athlete, so good that she can’t be ignored. Martinez isn’t the elder stateswoman like Martina Navratilova, and doesn’t have the troubles of Capriati or Pierce. Martinez is just the person who always seems to be in the semifinals.

“For sure, she is overlooked,” van Harpen said. “For sure, she doesn’t like this. Even in Spain. She is not the people’s darling. It is bad luck a little that Conchita is behind Arantxa, but Conchita should deserve more recognition for what she has accomplished.”

Martinez is a Wimbledon champion, for goodness’ sakes. That should guarantee a certain dollop of fame. But it was Martinez’s destiny to win her first Grand Slam tournament at the Wimbledon that will go down in history as belonging to Navratilova. Navratilova, a nine-time champion, made a fabulous run to the final. Thirty-eight years old and on the verge of retirement, she played three taut sets with Martinez. Then Navratilova lost and cried and plucked a piece of grass to keep forever, and Martinez was in the background again, just a prop with a big trophy.

“It would be nice at Wimbledon, I think, if the crowds had cheered maybe a little more for the winner and a little less for Navratilova,” van Harpen said.

Martinez wouldn’t say that. The people at Wimbledon treated her very well, Martinez said, and Wimbledon was very wonderful, even for that nervous moment when Martinez had to curtsy in front of Princess Di before the match.

Martinez beat Navratilova, and that wasn’t the popular result. This did not result in immediate fame or any more fortune: no endorsements, none. That’s what Martinez said, and she didn’t sound angry or disappointed. This is normal.

It bothers van Harpen. But about this, van Harpen can do nothing. About Martinez owning only this one Grand Slam title so far, even though she is 22 years old and a pro for almost seven years, about that, van Harpen would like to do something.

Van Harpen thinks Martinez could be the best, better than Graf or Sanchez, who are ranked Nos. 1 and 2. He posed this question:

“What would be easier, for Graf to get the topspin backhand that she needs, and has been working on forever, which Conchita has? Or for Arantxa to get the forehand like Conchita? Or for Conchita to get the legs that Steffi and Arantxa have?”

This is the answer van Harpen wants. He wants Martinez to get the legs. He means by this that he wants Martinez to get in shape. Van Harpen thinks Martinez could be much fitter, and that, if she got much fitter, she would be No. 1.

When van Harpen first saw Martinez as a kid, he took a breath of shock. He saw a little, untrained girl who could think out a match, play the angles, plan the points. He taught this little girl a one-handed backhand, and he helped the little girl keep pummeling the other little girls with the heavy forehand. Now he wants the little girl to grow up and be No. 1.

“Of course, I want it,” Martinez said. She sounded angry for a moment when asked if she, really, truly, wants to be No. 1. “Of course, I do,” she said. “I am working with a trainer. I want to be No. 1, but it’s not so easy.”

It is not easy. And even if she does become No. 1, will that make Martinez popular? Will she be on Letterman, like Arantxa and Steffi and Martina? Will she be on magazine covers or in television commercials or billboards?

These are questions to be asked, but it is too late. Martinez must go. She has talked enough, and the phone clicks before you can even say thank you.

A lot of changes at Roland Garros this year: a new stadium entrance, a new Place des Mousquetaires and a new 5,000 seat court, Court Simonne Mathieu … but still no roof, we’ll have to wait at least till next year. I’m eager to discover all these new features in a few weeks time!
In the mean time, check out our Roland Garros guides, relieve some of the biggest defeats and triumphs of the past, and of course share your pictures, videos and stories!

Roland Garros visitor’s guide:

A trip down memory lane:

1956: First time at Roland Garros for Rod Laver

1960-1969:
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

1970-1979:
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
Roland Garros 1978 in pictures

1980-1989:
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

1990-1999:
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

2000-2009:
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

2010-2018:
A look back at Roland Garros 2011
A look back at Roland Garros 2014
A look back at Roland Garros 2015
3 days at Roland Garros 2017: Rafa, Andy, Petra and more
Day 2 at Roland Garros 2018: Djokovic, Nadal and Wozniacki

Pictures and Recaps:

Fashion and gear:

Polls:

Who will win Roland Garros 2019?

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Dominic Thiem Roland Garros outfit

It’s that time of the year again, Roland Garros is just around the corner! Rafa Nadal will go for the undecima, a mind-blowing 11th Roland Garros title, while Simona Halep will be looking to finally win her maiden Grand Slam title.
Check out our Roland Garros guides, relieve some of the biggest defeats and triumphs of the past, and of course share your pictures, videos and stories!

Roland Garros visitor’s guide:

A trip down memory lane:

1956: First time at Roland Garros for Rod Laver

1960-1969:
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

1970-1979:
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
Roland Garros 1978 in pictures

1980-1989:
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

1990-1999:
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

2000-2009:
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

2010-2017:
A look back at Roland Garros 2011
A look back at Roland Garros 2014
A look back at Roland Garros 2015
3 days at Roland Garros 2017: Rafa, Andy, Petra and more

Pictures and Recaps:

Fashion and gear:

Polls:

Who will win Roland Garros 2018?

  • Rafael Nadal (79%, 15 Votes)
  • Someone else (11%, 2 Votes)
  • Sascha Zverev (11%, 2 Votes)
  • Grigor Dimitrov (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Marin Cilic (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Juan Martin del Potro (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Dominic Thiem (0%, 0 Votes)
  • John Isner (0%, 0 Votes)
  • David Goffin (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Pablo Carreno Busta (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Kevin Anderson (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 19

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Who will win Roland Garros 2018?

  • Simona Halep (35%, 6 Votes)
  • Elina Svitolina (24%, 4 Votes)
  • Someone else (18%, 3 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (6%, 1 Votes)
  • Caroline Garcia (6%, 1 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (6%, 1 Votes)
  • Jelena Ostapenko (6%, 1 Votes)
  • Karolina Pliskova (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Caroline Wozniacki (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Sloane Stephens (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 17

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Andy Murray, Wimbledon 2015

Three weeks after the victories of Jelena Ostapenko and Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros, all players have their eyes turned to the grass courts of Wimbledon. With the absences of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, the women’s draw is once again wide open, while Roger Federer is the big favorite for the title in the men’s draw.
Follow our coverage on Tennis Buzz and leave us a comment if you want to share your pictures and stories.

Fan’s guide:

A trip down memory lane:

Wimbledon memories: Mrs Blanche Bingley Hillyard
Wimbledon memories: Charlotte Cooper Sterry
Wimbledon memories: Dora Boothby

1960-1969:
Portrait of Wimbledon champion Ann Jones
Wimbledon 1969: Laver’s getting beat by an Indian
Rod Laver – John Newcombe Wimbledon 1969

1970-1979:
Around the grounds at Wimbledon in 1971
Wimbledon 1975: Ashe vs Connors
1976: Bjorn Borg first Wimbledon title
Portrait of 5-time Wimbledon champion Bjorn Borg
Wimbledon 1976: Chris Evert defeats Evonne Goolagong
Portrait of Virginia Wade, winner in 1977
Wimbledon 1978 in pictures
1978: First Wimbledon title for Martina Navratilova
1978: Bjorn Borg defeats Jimmy Connors
Wimbledon 1979: Passing on the record

1980-1989:

1981: First Wimbledon title for McEnroe
1982: Jimmy Connors defeats John McEnroe
1984: John McEnroe defeats Jimmy Connors
1985: Boris Becker, the man on the moon
1986: Boris Becker defeats Ivan Lendl, wins second Wimbledon title
Portrait of 3-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker
Wimbledon 1987 SF Cash defeats Connors
Wimbledon 1987 Cash defeats Lendl
Tennis culture: Wimbledon victory climb
Wimbledon 1988: An era ends as Graf beats Navratilova
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg a deserving new champion

1990-1999:
Portrait of 2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg
Wimbledon 1990: Becker vs Edberg
1990: Martina Navratilova’s historic 9th Wimbledon title
Wimbledon 1991: the first Middle Sunday
1991: Michael Stich defeats Boris Becker
1992: first Grand Slam for Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi: thanks to Wimbledon I realized my dreams
1993: Pete Sampras defeats Jim Courier
1994: Pete Sampras defeats Goran Ivanisevic
1995: Tim Henman disqualified!
Wimbledon 1996: singing in the rain
1996: Richard Krajicek upsets Pete Sampras
Wimbledon 1996: a winning streak
1997: Pete Sampras defeats Cédric Pioline

2000-2009:
2000 Wimbledon SF: Pat Rafter defeats Andre Agassi
Wimbledon 2000: did dad call the shots?
2000 Wimbledon Final: Pete Sampras defeats Pat Rafter
2001 Wimbledon 4th round: Federer defeats Sampras
Wimbledon 2001 People’s Final: Ivanisevic vs Rafter

2010-2016:
Wimbledon 2010: Rafael Nadal defeats Tomas Berdych
Wimbledon 2012: Roger Federer defeats Andy Murray
Andy Murray’s road to the Wimbledon 2013 final
Wimbledon 2013: Andy Murray, 77 years after Fred Perry
Wimbledon 2014 coverage
Wimbledon 2015 coverage
Wimbledon 2016 coverage

Discuss:

What if Edberg had coached Henman?

Fashion and gear:

Polls:

Who will win Wimbledon 2017?

View Results

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Who will win Wimbledon 2017?

  • Venus Williams (19%, 4 Votes)
  • Karolina Pliskova (19%, 4 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (14%, 3 Votes)
  • Johanna Konta (14%, 3 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (14%, 3 Votes)
  • Someone else (10%, 2 Votes)
  • Svetlana Kuznetsova (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (5%, 1 Votes)
  • Dominika Cibulkova (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Elina Svitolina (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Caroline Wozniacki (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 21

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Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King, Wimbledon 1979

Extract from Tennis’s strangest matches by Peter Seddon:

Saturday 7 July 1979 is a date that still sits proudly in the record books for the legendary Californian Billie Jean King, for it was the day she clinched her twentieth Wimbledon title, a feat which even the most recent legend of the ladies’ game, Martina Navratilova, has been unable to match despite repeated ‘final’ efforts to advance beyond 19. [Navratilova since then equalled King’s record of 20 Wimbledon titles in 2003]
Ironically enough it was the then 22-year old Navratilova who helped King clinch the record that day when they paired to win the ladies’ doubles against Betty Stove and Wendy Turnbull in a 5-7 6-3 6-2 victory.

Remarkable as the feat was, the match would struggle to gain admission to the gallery of strangeness but for the events off-court which surrounded it. From there we enter the world of the positively spooky.
It was another Californian, Elizabeth ‘Bunny’ Ryan, whose record 19 Wimbledon titles King had been trying to pass ever since she equalled it with her singles win over Evonne Goolagong in 1975. But try as she might the record eluded her as she drew a blank in 1976, 1977 and 1978, and at age 35 it seemed it might never happen.

Elizabeth Ryan had looked on rather quizzically as each attempt failed. This gutsy grand old lady of the court, once a veritable Amazon but then well into her eighties, had confined to friends that she hoped to take the record to her grave. It was that sort of winning attitude (and a rather good regular partner by the name of Suzanne Lenglen) that had brought her the record, all comprising double wins, between 1914 and 1934. But it was Lenglen too who generally baulked her in the singles, earning miss Ryan, with her robust approach and famous forehand chop, the title of ‘the best player never to win a Wimbledon singles’.

As each year passed, Miss Elizabeth Montague Ryan, born 1892, became quietly convinced that she would never be surpassed. Living in London she was sprightly enough to get to Wimbledon, her spiritual home, whenever she fancied. She was there on Friday 6 July just 24 hours before her record fell, but she wasn’t there the next day to see Billie Jean make history.

The headline in the Guardian simply read ‘A CHAMPION CHAMPION TO THE END’. For, while walking around the grounds of the All England Club during her Friday visit, the 87-year old champion collapsed from a heart attack and died in the ambulance before reaching hospital. She had first fallen ill watching the antics of McEnroe and Fleming during the men’s doubles final, although there was nothing in their rather modern behaviour to establish cause and effect.

In the Guardian obituary David Gray, secretary of the International Tennis Federation, captured the mood succinctly: ‘Miss Ryan died,’ he wrote ‘as she had played – determined not to be beaten.’
Her niece Miss Elizabeth Partridge, meanwhile, gave a gutsy reaction:

‘I’m glad she didn’t live to see Mrs King’s win. It’s good that it’s happened this way. It’s much better for my aunt that way.’

There is never a good time to call it a day but Elizabeth Ryan’s sense of timing was certainly uncanny as the record ‘passed on’ in the strangest way possible.