By winning in Chengdu, a few weeks ago, his first ATP tournament on his 12th appearance on the main circuit, the Russian Karen Khachanov had made quite an impression. It’s however not a record - not at all even : four players have achieved the masterstroke of going home with the trophy after their first qualification for the main draw of a tournament ! Which doesn’t always leads to a glorious career afterwards…
Yahiya Doumbia (Lyon 1988)
The first to have hit the bull’s-eye on his first try, and the one whose triumph seems to be the most impressive looking at the pedigree of the defeated opponents. Coming from a country, Senegal, where the perspectives of turning professional are quite slim, despite being from a family which has always been very involved in tennis (his father is the director of the senegalese federation), Yahiya Doumbia completed his formation in France, at Roland-Garros, before going to university in the United States. Playing almost more often in the BNP Paribas Davis Cup than on the professional circuit, he was already 24 years old when he turned up for the qualifying rounds of the Lyon tennis Grand Prix in 1988. He managed to qualify for a prestigious first round against Andrei Chesnokov, world number 25 and who had played two Grand Slam quarter finals (Roland-Garros 1986 and Australian Open 1988). The end of the story ? The start of a fairytale, which we have previously told in our pages.
Jose Francisco Altur (San Marino 1989)
Yahiya Doumbia’s feat was still in everyone’s minds when Jose Francisco Altur copied it a year and a half later in San Marino. At 21 years old, this Spanish lefty was playing his first complete season on the international circuit, and hadn’t had the chance to win a single satellite tournament, or even play a final. But he was a quick learner : he won his first match at the first Challenger tournament he played in, played his first semi-final in his eighth tournament, and qualified for the main draw on his first try on the professional circuit, in September in San Marino. He was already close from entering the Top 200 (world number 204), and perfectly took advantage of a draw in which he didn’t have to face any member of the Top 100. His opponent with the best ranking ? The American Lawson Duncan, world number 109, defeated in the semi-final (6/4 2/6 6/2). Altur even won his last three matches in three sets, including the final against the Argentine Roberto Azar, world number 159, after coming back from losing the first set (6/7 6/4 6/1). The rest of his career didn’t keep the original promises, and the player went back and forth between the main circuit and the Challenger tournament : briefly among the Top 100 (world number 88 at the start of the year 1990), he played another semi-final in Munich in 1993 (in a much more difficult context as he defeated Petr Korda and Arnaud Boetsch), but didn’t impress in Grand Slam tournaments, where his eleven attempts resulted in eleven defeats in he first round. He then had a bit more success as a coach, mainly with the Russian Igor Andreev, and then, more briefly, with David Ferrer.
Nicolas Lapentti (Bogota 1995)
The only player out of the quatuor for which the early title was a launch pad towards a high-profile career. Nicolas Lapentti had just celebrated his 19th birthday when, in September 1995, he managed to get through the qualifying rounds in Bogota. The Colombian tournament wasn’t the most difficult on the circuit but Lapentti, who was ranked number 258 at the ATP, « over performed » at each round, especially in the quarter final against a promising Chilean, Marcelo Rios, world number 38, who was defeated 6/3 6/4. The only match he played while being the favorite was in fact the final, against the local Miguel Tobon, world number 281, who had been awarded a wild-card, in a duel of poorly ranked players which is always rare at this level of the competition. Like a sign of the qualities of the young Lapentti, neither the evolution of status from outsider to favorite, neither the pressure, or even the support of the hot Colombian crowd for « their » player disturbed him, and he won his first trophy in three sets (2/6 6/1 6/4). The start of a fifteen year journey at the highest level for Lapentti, with four other ATP titles (Indianapolis 1999, Lyon 1999, Kitzbühel 2001, Sankt Pölten 2002), a semi-final played at the Australian Open (1999), a quarter-final in Wimbledon (2002), four semi-finals in Masters 1000 tournaments and a qualification for the Masters at the end of the year 1999 (he was world number 6 at the end of the season). Without forgetting his record as the most capped player in the BNP Paribas Davis Cup with Ecuador, in front of Andrés Gomez. Among the 95 matches played in the competition, an all-time record, another record of matches won in five sets : 13. A tie-break in the fifth set in the Davis Cup ? Not for him.
Santiago Ventura (Casablanca 2004)
At the start of the year 2004, Santiago Ventura was just another Future tournament player, and, three years after turning professional, nothing was announcing a sudden change of status…and especially after his first tournament of the season, where he lost in the first rounf of the Deauville tournament, against the French Jordane Doble, world number 1345 at the time ! The Spaniard was still ranked 316th at the ATP when, during the spring, he managed to go through the qualifying rounds on Casablanca’s clay. And after that…the magic of a draw with no pure specialist of the surface - which he undeniably was : he didn’t lose a single set against Razvan Sabau, 155th at the ATP, Nicolas Mahut, 111th et Ivo Heuberger, 141st, before an incoherent semi final against Christophe Rochus, 133rd (6/1 1/6 6/2). Remained the final, against the player who collected ATP250 tournaments at the time, Dominik Hrbaty, world number 32, and who had already won three titles in 2004 (Adélaide, Auckland, Marseille). There wasn’t any fourth : Ventura won to the surprise of many, 6/3 1/6 6/4. The man from Castillon de la Plana (like Roberto Bautista Agut today) has never had the same success afterwards, even if he became a good Challenger tournaments’ player, and has reached two other semi-finals on the main circuit - still on clay, obviously. Most importantly, he became a confirmed doubles’ player, winning five tournaments between 2005 and 2010. Including Casablanca, his favorite, in 2008.