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.

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

Loading ... Loading ...

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

Loading ... Loading ...
Novak Djokovic Wimbledon 2016 outfit

The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club:

Wimbledon guided tour – part 1
Wimbledon guided tour – part 2
Wimbledon Centre Court roof
Court 3 : a new Show Court at Wimbledon
Waiting in the Queue to Wimbledon
Wimbledon Museum: The Queue exhibition
The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum: Player Memorabilia

A trip down memory lane:

Wimbledon ‘s biggest upsets
Wimbledon memories: Mrs Blanche Bingley Hillyard
Wimbledon memories: Charlotte Cooper Sterry
Wimbledon memories: Dora Boothby
Portrait of Wimbledon champion Ann Jones
Wimbledon 1969: Laver’s getting beat by an Indian
Rod Laver – John Newcombe Wimbledon 1969
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
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 1988: An era ends as Graf beats Navratilova
Wimbledon 1988: Edberg a deserving new champion
Portrait of 2-time Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg
Wimbledon 1990: Becker vs Edberg
1990: Martina Navatilova’s historic 9th Wimbledon title
Wimbledon 1991: the first Middle Sunday
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 Wimbledon SF: Pat Rafter defeats Andre Agassi
2000 Wimbledon Final: Pete Sampras defeats Pat Rafter
2001 Wimbledon 4th round: Federer defeats Sampras
Wimbledon 2010: Rafael Nadal defeats Tomas Berdych
The Spirit of Wimbledon: a 4-part documentary by Rolex retracing Wimbledon history
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

Fashion and gear:

Polls:

Who will win Wimbledon 2016?

  • Novak Djokovic (53%, 50 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (21%, 20 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (17%, 16 Votes)
  • Dominic Thiem (5%, 5 Votes)
  • Kei Nishikori (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Stan Wawrinka (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Milos Raonic (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Richard Gasquet (0%, 0 Votes)
  • David Goffin (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Someone else (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 95

Loading ... Loading ...

Who will win Wimbledon 2016?

  • Serena Williams (33%, 8 Votes)
  • Garbine Muguruza (33%, 8 Votes)
  • Victoria Azarenka (17%, 4 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (8%, 2 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Someone else (4%, 1 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Roberta Vinci (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Belinda Bencic (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Venus Williams (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Timea Bacsinszky (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 24

Loading ... Loading ...
Sampras and Ivanisevic, Wimbledon 94

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“During the grass-court season, Todd Martin won two tiebreakers to beat me in the final at Queen’s Club, and I moved on to Wimbledon to defend my hard-earned title. I lost just one set, to Todd, as I served and volleyed my way to the final opposite Goran Ivanisevic.

I had my hands full with Goran, as I would on grass during my entire career. A great deal of Goran’s juice at Wimbledon came from being a left-hander. That natural edge made his first serve even better and more effective than mine; I really believe it was. When Goran’s serve was on, it was pretty much unreturnable on grass. He was the only guy I played regularly who made me feel like I was at his mercy. I never felt that against that other Wimbledon icon, Boris Becker.

But my second serve was better than Goran’s, and the key to beating him for me always was getting hold of and punishing his second serve. Goran put tremendous pressure on my service games, because he usually held so easily. I felt that if I played one shaky service game against him and was broken, the set was gone. Very few people were able to make me feel that way, once I’d figured out the grass game. That was very tough, mentally. Goran’s serve also gave him a huge advantage as a returner – he could afford to take huge, wild cuts with his return. If he happened to tag two of those in a row, I was down love-30 – and from there anything could happen.

The final was incredibly fast tennis, played on a hot day, with balls flying all over the place at warp speed. It was a gunfight, both of us dodging bullets we could barely see, hoping to connect with a semiluck return here, or tease out an error there. That kind of tennis calls for a firm hand and intense focus. I proved slighly more steady in the crapshoot tiebreakers, and after I won two of them, Goran folded up. I won 7-6 7-6 6-0.

The match marked the high point in the growing debate about grass-court tennis. A growing chorus of critics charged that Wimbledon tennis had degenerated into a serving contest between two giants who almost couldn’t lose serve, but couldn’t break each other, either. Goran and I personified the trend, never mind that neither of us was the biggest guy around. Our big serves and our desire to end points quickly added up to a perfect storm of Wimbledon controversy.
Tennis at Wimbledon, some pundits said, was in danger of becoming irrelevant, because ongoing technologies had produced more powerful rackets that buried the needle on the power meter deep in the red. Even the tabloids got into it, running pictures of prominent politicians and others in the Royal Box sleeping soundly. Ostensibly, that had something to do with the way the game was being played.”