This week, the ATP circuit stops at Houston. In 2004, Tommy Haas left his mark in Texas by winning the tournament while being only ranked at the 349th international spot. Obviously, in tennis’ mythology, he’s not the only David to have defeated Goliath.
1/ Hardware store, Australian Open and cowboy hat
« Edmonson is one of these hippie players who travel in groups. He doesn’t care about elegance and walks on the court wearing red shorts and a cowboy hat », writes Jean-Claude Barclay, quarter-finalist at Roland-Garros in 1963, in Tennis Magazine, speaking about Mark Edmonson. Mustached and always complaining, the Australian was ranked 112th at the ATP when he won the Australian Open in 1976. He holds the record for the player with the lowest ever rank to win a Grand Slam tournament in the Open era. An especially unique feat, considering he had only won one match in a major tournament before that. It was at Wimbledon, the year before. To go to London, he had payed for his trip by working in a hardware store a few weeks earlier. « Last summer, he was living with two friends, remembers Barclay, and the three of them were sleeping in a Volkswagen minivan. »
2/ « Nothing could stop me »
Canadian citizen born in Yugoslavia and residing in the Bahamas : Daniel Nestor likes to cover his tracks, to say the least. On the court, it’s pretty much the same. In 1992, for his first year on the professional circuit, at 19 years of age, he defeated Stefan Edberg in the first round of the BNP Paribas Davis Cup, despite being only ranked 238th. On the carpet court, still accepted on the ATP circuit, he managed to come back after losing the first set, to finally win it under a wild standing ovation from the Vancouver crowd, surprised to see him get to the net so often. In an explosive ending of the match, finished in five sets, he even drove Edberg nuts, as the Swede broke two racquets consecutively. Notably moved, he took the microphone after the match : « Nothing could stop me. » Excellent doubles player afterwards, Nestor remains the record-holder for the player with the lowest rank to ever defeat a world number 1. Crazy !
3/ « I never really signed any autographs »
579th spot at the WTA Race. It was the Indonesian Angélique Widjaja’s ranking when she won the Bali tournament back in 2001. An event for which she was granted a wild-card. At only 16 years-old, that feat gave her a few ideas. « I want to enter the top 20 before I turn 20. » Unfortunately, her best ranking will be a 55th spot, reached in 2003. Even more frustrating, this victory on her home soil will remain her only one on the circuit. Enough to leave her with a few regrets ? « I had the career I deserved, she would confess a few years later. Outside of my country, I never really signed any autographs. »
4/ His ranking ? Non-existent
And what if the most astounding performance in the history of tennis came from Finland ? In 1982, Olli Rahnasto managed to go through two rounds at the Stockholm tournament, consecutively defeating Stan Smith and Steve Danton, respectively world number 12 and finalist at the Australian Open a few weeks earlier. His ranking ? None. Indeed, the young Finn didn’t even have a single ATP point in his pocket when he defeated these two big shots. Not bad for someone who doesn’t even speak english and who had to go through the qualifying draw first. An exploit with no tomorrow, as during the next ten years, he only played a dozen matches on the big circuit.
5/ « Which one of us won the match ? »
In the same vein, a young American walked out of the shadows by winning the 1990 edition of the Boca Raton tournament. Her name ? Jennifer Capriati, 13 years, and 11 months old. Her ranking ? Non-existent, as well. Even before the start of the competition however, everything is organized like a huge commercial fair. More than a hundred journalists from all over the world are there. A TV crew is following her to film a documentary, The Making of a champion, as she hasn’t even played a single professional match, but has already earned 2 millions dollars in sponsoring incomes. And to think that at only 6 years old, Jennifer won a match against a player who was 10 years older than her. As she walked to shake hands with the umpire, she asked him : « Which one of us won the match ? » If Capriati surely grew up too quickly, it’s only at 25 that she started winning, after having faced a lot of personal troubles, three Grand Slam titles before becoming world number 1 in 2001.