January 1998, the Williams sisters haven't even imposed themselves fully on women's tennis and yet they were already thinking of competing with the boys. An eccentric German, near to retirement, was very happy to...

January 1998, the Williams sisters haven't even imposed themselves fully on women's tennis and yet they were already thinking of competing with the boys. An eccentric German, near to retirement, was very happy to prove them wrong on a court in Melbourne.

  “I really think that male and female tennis are very different. Men are just tougher than women. It's like comparing apples and oranges.” In July 2010, Serena Williams put an end to the war of the sexes. The most successful player of the past 20 years even admitted that she “would never stand a chance against a man ranked inside the Top 100”. The American hasn't always seen it this way. When she arrived on the WTA Tour in the late 90s alongside her sister Venus, with her braces and the pearls in her hair, she claimed loud and clear that she was able to beat “any guy in the Top 200.” A man took care of putting the two girls to rights.  

A cigarette at the change of side

Without his double confrontation against the Williams sisters, history would have remembered Karsten Braasch best for his unlikely service, decomposed to the point of caricature, rather than for his best ranking: a 38th place achieved in June 1994. Four years later, at the Australian Open, the German shaved off his trademark moustache and was coming towards the end of his career in perfect anonymity. Braasch was then 31 years old and still smoked a pack of cigarettes per day (which may explain why he hasn't won a five-set match in his life). Already eliminated from both the singles and doubles at the Grand Slam, he was hanging around the office of the ATP when the two Williams sisters asked whether a boy in the Top 200 was available for them to prove what they had been saying for a while. Braasch took on the challenge. After all, he was ranked 203rd in the world. Scheduled on the first Sunday of the Australian Open, the match was postponed due to rain. On the Monday, Serena (who lost against her elder sibling in the 2nd round) was the first to enter court 17 of Melbourne Park. Her opponent was prepared to meet her his way: “I've just had a few cocktails and a round of golf.” Confident, Braasch began with an additional handicap: he only allowed himself one serve. Despite this, the German gave a tennis lesson to the 16 year-old, claiming a one-sided 6-1 victory. Accustomed to fast passing, Serena didn't understand the anachronistic tennis of her opponent. How to return his chopped forehands? How to overpower him? She was unable to find a solution. “It was very hard, I didn’t think it would be so hard,” she sighed after the game. “I hit shots which would have been winners on the WTA Tour, but he caught them easily”. So easily that Braasch lit a cigarette during a change of side.  

" I played like a guy ranked 600th"

Venus then arrived to avenge her kin. At the time, the eldest of the family was established inside the WTA top 20 and seemed better prepared to resist. However, the result would be almost identical - a 6-2 defeat. According to witnesses of these two matches, Braasch almost seemed to hold his punches. The applicant confirmed, with a mocking laugh: “I don't think that they can ever beat a player in the top 500, because today I played like a guy ranked 600th”. Nevertheless, the executioner recognized qualities in both of his unfortunate opponents. “Both played very well and hit the ball really well” he said a few years later to the Guardian. “In the end, it was me who won, but neither they nor I really took this game seriously. It was just a good laugh”. After digesting these defeats, the Williams sisters announced that they were now looking to play against another player, but this time ranked above 350th. With a lot of humour, Braasch asked them to wait a bit, “I told Serena and Venus that the following week, I would lose ATP points from a tournament from the previous season and that I should then not be too far from the 350th place.” However, the revenge match would never happen. The William sisters chose to impose their will among the girls and Karsten Braasch to play golf between puffs.   By Alexandre Pedro