When we talk about men’s tennis, multiple Grand Slam winners like Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and more come to mind. Men, who defined eras with their sustained success across the different Grand Slam tournaments.
While discussing the qualities, strengths and weaknesses of said champions, a different category of Grand Slam winners is often overlooked. I’m talking about the ones who were only able to win a single Grand Slam title in their careers. Some were mavericks, while some were underdogs who clawed their way to the top. Some, unfortunately, had careers cut short by a string of injuries.
These Grand Slam winners might have only a single title to their name, but they sure were memorable.
Lleyton Hewitt might be the last Australian man to win a Grand Slam singles title, with his triumph at Wimbledon in 2001. To know who the last Aussie to win his home Grand Slam, you have to go to 1976 when Mark Edmondson took the title.
Edmondson winning the Norman Brooks Challenge Cup in 1976 was a shocking result as he was ranked 212th at the time. In fact, he was only able to qualify for the 64-man draw due to a player pulling out. Talk about sheer luck.
From then onwards, Edmondson rode his luck all the way. So much so that his first straight set win came in the quarter-finals against 13th seed Dan Crealy.
That itself was considered a fairy-tale run for Edmondson. The mustachioed Aussie, however, had other plans.
Edmondson left the audiences flabbergasted in the semi-finals as he triumphed in four sets over the top seed, the great Ken Rosewall.
In the final, Edmondson was up against another tennis legend, John Newcombe, who was also the second seed. The players traded the first two sets with “Newk” taking the first.
Edmondson’s fortunes, however, shone again with the game being stopped in the third set due to weather conditions. It gave Edmondson the rest he required against a grueling opponent like Newcombe. Edmondson took the third set in a tiebreaker and then duly dispatched Newcombe in the fifth set, 6-1, to win the championship.
That tournament was the only singles title that Edmondson won. His best finish apart from the 1976 Australian Open triumph was reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon in 1982 and the Australian Open in 1981.
Till date, Edmondson remains the lowest-ranked winner of a Grand Slam since the ATP rankings came into being in 1973.
The clay courts, before the rise of Rafael Nadal, were notorious for giving different winners. They were especially a happy hunting ground for the Spanish and South American contingent. Gustavo Kuerten, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Sergi Bruguera, all achieved their greatest success in the French Open.
The 2004 French Open saw another South American enter into Grand Slam royalty. Gaston Gaudio, who was unseeded for the tournament, surprised the tennis world by winning the title.
Before the 2004 triumph, Gaudio’s most notable career point was him winning the 2002 Barcelona Open, over Albert Costa.
Gaudio entered the 2004 tournament, ranked 44th in the world. He charted his way to the quarter-finals with some difficulty. His most notable win up till that point was a five-setter against 13th seed Jiri Novak.
Gaudio defeated 12th seed Hewitt in the quarter-finals in straight sets. He then met compatriot David Nalbandian in the semi-finals with Gaudio again registering a shock straight set win.
The 2004 French Open final became an all-Argentine affair once third seed Guilermo Coria defeated Tim Henman in the semi-final. Both Argentines produced a classic Roland Garros final, with Gaudio literally coming back from the dead.
Gaudio was down two sets but leg cramps to his fellow Argentine gave him a breakthrough. He then tied the match winning the next two sets, which led to a titanic fifth set. Coria had a match point when he was 6-5 up, but Gaudio saved it and then went on to win the set, 8-6 to capture his only Grand Slam title.
Gaudio’s title win over Coria was memorable considering the latter was billed as the world’s best clay court player then. Also, Gaudio made history by becoming the first man to save match points in a Grand Slam final in the Open Era.
Gaudio could not match the success in the years that followed. His most notable accomplishment after that was becoming World No. 5 in 2005 and reaching the semi-finals of the ATP Finals in 2005.
Wimbledon wins are always emotional. Whether it’s Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray; shedding tears at the All England Tennis Club is a common occurrence.
The most memorable and emotional win, however, belongs to Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.
In the 90s, Ivanisevic had built a reputation as an explosive server who could beat the best on his day. One of his most famous wins was over Pete Sampras in the 1992 Wimbledon final where the Croat outlasted the American great in four sets. In the final, despite being heavily favored, Ivanisevic lost to a certain Andre Agassi.
The Croat would reach another two Wimbledon finals but fell to Sampras in them. By 2001, he was ranked No. 125 and was in the twilight of his career.
Ivanisevic’s ranking was not enough to guarantee him an automatic spot in the tournament. His past status, however, was enough to get him a wild-card entry.
The wild-card would then go on to capture the tennis world’s fancy as he scripted an unlikely path to the finals. Ivanisevic overcame stalwarts like Carlos Moya and Marat Safin as well as a then up-and-coming Andy Roddick to reach the semi-finals against home favorite, Tim Henman.
The Croat defeated Henman in a rain-delayed five-setter to reach the finals for a fourth time. Up against him was Patrick Rafter, a former US Open champion and Wimbledon runner-up in 2000.
The Croat and the Aussie played out a hard slugfest with the match lasting over three hours. The two serve and volley specialists traded the first four sets with each other. The fifth set turned out to be a nail-biter with Ivanisevic finally triumphing over Rafter 9-7 to take home the title.
Ivanisevic went down to the ground, overcome by emotions, before scaling the wall to celebrate with his team.
Till date, Ivanisevic remains the lowest-ranked and only wildcard to win the Wimbledon Gentleman’s singles title.