The Barcelona Godo is to clay what the Queen's is to grass: a mythical tournament, with its unexpected winners. Top 5.

The Barcelona Godo is to clay what the Queen's is to grass: a mythical tournament, where only the non-extensible infrastructures of the host club prevented the promotion to Masters 1000. Since 1953, it rewarded the greatest names in the clay game: Trabert, Santana, Emerson, Nastase, Borg, Lendl, Wilander, Muster, Nadal... And then, amidst all these French Open winners, a handful of winners a little more… Exotic. Top 5.

 

Neale Fraser (1959)

A giant... On grass. Twice winner of the US Open, Wimbledon champion and triple finalist at the Australian Open, each time on grass, Neale Fraser, pure representative of the serve-and-volley school, has however been conspicuous by his discretion in singles on clay courts. Two notable performances under his belt: a final in Rome in 1959, and above all a triumph in Barcelona that same year. In the semi-finals, the Australian lefty had a lot of trouble to get rid of a young local player, Manolo Santana (8/6 6/4 6/1 10/12). He obviously didn't start favourite in the final against Roy Emerson. But the match wasn't going to be played on clay: it was raining cats-and-dogs over Barcelona, and the organizers had to retreat indoor at the municipal sports arena on... wooden floor. And there, on a fast surface, Neale Fraser could play as equals with his compatriot: he played his usual attacking game and won in four sets. This triumph of a grass-lover on Catalan ground was so unexpected that the newspaper El Mundo Deportivo mixed up the spelling of his first name and ran as a headline on the following day “Nearl Fraser, winner.”

 

Thierry Tulasne (1985)

Thierry Tulasne clearly was a clay lover. Maybe one of the best examples that French tennis ever produced. But the crown won in Barcelona in 1985 shines with more brilliance than any of the other title obtained in Bologna, Palermo or Bastad. First, because none of these tournaments has the reputation of the Godo. Then because after eliminating Anders Järryd and Henri Leconte, Tulasne took the liberty of defeating Mats Wilander in the final in five sets, coming back from an initial 6/0 to give another to the Swede in the final stretch (6 0/6 / 2 3/6 6/4 6/0). He thus deprived Wilander, triple defending champion, of a then unprecedented quadruple in the history of the tournament, and that only Rafael Nadal managed to achieve in the future. No wonder that Tulasne considers this performance as "the most beautiful of my victories. I won a major tournament by beating the guy who was probably the No. 1 at the time on clay, and I won in five sets when he was precisely known to be 'indestructible'. Really one of the greatest moment of my career. »

 

Richard Krajicek (1994)

The 1996 Wimbledon champion, amongst the most brilliant attackers of his generation, has won only one title on clay in his career. But what a title! When he landed in Barcelona in April 1994 "Kraji" was far from looking like a potential winner: he was playing his first tournament of the year, back after a double tendinitis, one on each knee, his biggest weakness. But on the courts, he impressed everybody: the typical crocodile from the baseline (Fabrice Santoro, who will only become "Magic Fab" a few years later, at the cost of a complete revolution of his game), old glory at the end of their career (Andrei Chesnokov) and especially the reigning Roland Garros champion, Sergi Bruguera, bullied in the quarterfinals (7/5 6/3). On the Sunday, another Spaniard, Carlos Costa, paid the price of this thunderous return. The Flying Dutchman made landfall, and he was the first surprised: "When I decided to come here, it was just to test my knees and my physical condition. I wasn’t expecting much." He added: "I should get injured more often!

 

Todd Martin (1998)

Todd Martin hasn't won any Grand Slam tournament (two finals: 1994 Australian Open and 1999 US Open) and not even a Masters 1000 (final in Canada in 1993, another in the Grand Slam Cup in 1995) but he has two prestigious trophies if any amongst the eight to his name: the Queen's (in 1994) and, more surprisingly, Barcelona. When he arrived there in 1998, the mimicry of Krajicek four years earlier was obvious: he also missed a whole half season due to an injury... And he also endured aa weather close to a heat wave to inflame the Catalan table. "The playing conditions were great for an attacker” he remembers, “it was warmer than usual and the ball was super fast. I felt that each service or volley could pierce the guy on the bottom line!" Carlos Costa went to hell again, just like Thomas Muster, and in the final, Alberto Berasategui was the only one to take a set to Martin all week. Before him, we had to go back forty-one years back to find an American in the prize list (Herbert Flam, 1957). And since then? Todd Martin is still waiting for his successor.

 

Kei Nishikori (2014)

Odd vintage that this 2014 Godo: Rafael Nadal disappeared in the quarterfinals against Nicolas Almagro, who had never defeated him... and didn't survived this feat since he lost after injuring his foot, against Santiago Giraldo. As for David Ferrer, cursed of the Catalan prize list - four finals and as many defeats against Nadal - he wasn’t even able to take advantage of the opening since he was swept under the carpet against Teimuraz Gabashvili. Opportunistic, Kei Nishikori jumped at the chance to (re) discover his talents on clay that he would subsequently confirm in Madrid: "I was good on clay courts when I was little, until I turned 14”, he said. “I won a lot of tournaments in Europe. After it became more complicated and I now have better sensations on hard courts, but in any case I have no reason to be afraid to play on clay." To the point that he crushed all the top seeds of his half of the table, Marin Cilic and Ernests Gulbis included and swallowed unexpectedly Giraldo in the final. First Japanese to lift a trophy on European clay, he ended at the same time eleven years of Spanish domination in the prize list.

 

By Guillaume Willecoq