Monday was a monumental day in tennis history with some major events occurring – perhaps most notably the birth of John McEnroe 50 years ago, but as you will see from the below excerpt from my book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, www.tennishistorybook.com), there were many other major events that happened on this day. Also pasted below are events that happened today, February 17, highlighted by Justine Henin’s 41st – and final WTA Tour singles title.
1926 – In one of the most hyped and anticipated matches in the history of the sport, Suzanne Lenglen of France beats American Helen Wills 6-3, 8-6 at Cannes, France in the final of the Carleton tournament – the only career meeting between the two tennis legends. The Associated Press calls the match, “a wonderful match between the greatest women players of the old and new world…which packed the stands with enthusiastic supporters of the two contestants and brought together huge clamoring crowds outside the gates who were unable to get in.” Fans unable to purchase tickets, sit on root tops of neighboring houses to catch a glimpse of the two women’s champions. “From the point of view of tennis, the contest was not what had been expected, but after all, the interest lay in the meeting of Suzanne and Helen, long deferred and at one time thought never to come,” reports the AP. “For weeks, little else had been talked of.”
1959 – John McEnroe, known perhaps more for his fiery temper tantrums as much as his deft touch and artistic serve and volley game that corrals seven major singles titles, is born in Wiesbaden, West Germany. McEnroe bursts onto the scene at Wimbledon in 1977 as an 18-year-old qualifier, reaching the semifinals before losing to future rival Jimmy Connors. After one year at Stanford University in 1978 – where he wins the NCAA singles title – McEnroe embarks on a professional tennis career that nets him 77 singles titles and 78 doubles titles. He wins his first major singles title at the 1979 U.S. Open, defeating fellow New Yorker Vitas Gerulaitis in the final. He goes on to win the next two Open finals – beating Bjorn Borg both times – and again in 1984 for a fourth time over Ivan Lendl. His battle with Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final is regarded as one of the greatest matches of all time and the two legends play a 34-point fourth-set tie-break – McEnroe saving five match points to extend the match into a fifth set. McEnroe, however, is denied the Wimbledon title, falling to Borg 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6. A year later, McEnroe finally breaks through to beat Borg in the 1981 Wimbledon final – his first of three singles titles at the All England Club, also winning in 1983 and 1984. McEnroe’s best season comes in 1984 when he posts an 82-3 won-loss record, but his French Open loss to Ivan Lendl that year, after leading two sets to love, was one of his career biggest disappoints. McEnroe was a loyal supporter of the U.S. Davis Cup team, helping the U.S. to titles in 1978, 1979, 1981, 1982 and 1992.
1992 – Martina Navratilova becomes the all-time singles titles leader in professional tennis, defeating Jana Novotna 7-6 (4), 4-6, 7-5 in the final of the Virginia Slims of Chicago for her 158th career singles crown. Navratilova breaks the tie she previously held with the retired Chris Evert, but is well ahead of Jimmy Connors, the men’s record holder with 109 singles titles. Says Novotna of Navratilova’s achievement, “It’s a credit to Martina for her comeback and her historic match. I don’t think she felt the pressure of the record so much as the pressure I put on her. I was the one who pushed her to the limit.”
1968 – In the longest doubles match of all-time – 6 hours, 20 minutes – Bobby Wilson and Mark Cox of Britain defeat Charlie Pasarell and Ron Holmberg of the United States 26-24, 17-19, 30-28 in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Indoor Championships in Salisbury, Md. The first set lasts 2:05 and the third set lasts 2:35. The match starts at 4:40 in the afternoon and doesn’t finish until 11 pm!
1985 – Martina Navratilova defeats Chris Evert 6-2, 6-4 to win the first ever women’s singles title at the Lipton International Players Championship in Delray Beach, Fla. ”I still have more to do to improve as a player, to show people what I can do,” Navratilova says following the match. ”There is still a long way to go to be the greatest player in the world. I haven’t been playing as well lately. My game is to and I had been giving too much credit to Chris’s passing shots.”
2003 – Playing in his 31st – and ultimately his last – ATP singles final, Marcelo Rios of Chile loses in front of his home crowd to Spain’s David Sanchez 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the championship match at the BellSouth Open in Vina del Mar, Chile.
1992 – MaliVai Washington wins his first ATP singles title, defeating Wayne Ferreira 6-3, 6-2 in Memphis, Tenn. Washington does not lose a set in his five matches en route to the title, including his semifinal win over Jimmy Connors.
1985 – Tim Mayotte wins his first ATP singles title in the first-ever Lipton International Players Championships in Delray Beach, Fla., defeating former Stanford University teammate Scott Davis 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in the final. Mayotte, ranked No. 45, benefits from an overruled call that would have given the No. 27-ranked Davis a crucial service break in the third set, but holds serve and comes back from two-sets to love to win the $112,500 first prize.
2008 – Justine Henin wins her 41st – and final – WTA Tour singles title, defeating Karin Knapp of Italy in the final of the Proximus Diamond Games in Antwerp, Belgium. Three months after the final, the 25-year-old Henin shocks the tennis world by announcing her retirement from the sport, despite ranking No. 1 in the world. Henin’s final tournament victory also occurs in the final staging of the Proximus event in Antwerp after a 10-year run.
2001 – Stanford sophomore Laura Granville sets an NCAA record defeating Vanderbilt’s Julie Ditty 6-4, 6-1 in the USTA/ITA National Women’s Team Indoor Championships in Madison, Wis., for her 58th consecutive victory. Granville breaks the record she shares with Stanford’s Patty Fendick-McCain, who sets the record while at Stanford in 1986-87. Granville’s victory at No. 1 singles helps top-ranked Stanford beat No. 13 Vanderbilt 5-1.
2008 – The Murray brothers from Scotland – Jamie and Andy – are victorious in events held in different continents. Andy wins his fifth career ATP singles title in Marseille, France, defeating Mario Ancic of Croatia 6-3, 6-4 in the final. In Delray Beach, Fla., Jaime Murray wins his fourth career ATP doubles title, pairing with Max Mirnyi of Belarus to defeat Bob and Mike Bryan 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 (Match Tie-Break) in the final of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.
2008 – Eighteen-year-old Kei Nishikori of Japan – ranked No. 244 – becomes only the second player from Japan to win an ATP singles title, defeating James Blake of the United States 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 in the final of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships in Delray Beach, Fla. Nishikori, who comes back from facing triple match point a 3-6 in the final-set tie-break in the semifinals the previous day against Sam Querrey, wins eight matches in nine days to win the title, including three matches in the qualifying tournament. Shuzo Matsuoka was the last – and only other – Japanese player to win an ATP singles title, winning in Seoul, Korea in 1992. Nishikori also becomes the youngest player to win an ATP title since Lleyton Hewitt wins in Adelaide at the age of 16 in 1998. Says Nishikori, “I can’t believe I won this tournament.” Says Blake, “He’s only 18? I’m very impressed.”
2007 – Defending champion Andy Murray defeats Andy Roddick 7-6 (8), 6-4 in the semifinals of the SAP Open in San Jose, Calif., – the second consecutive year that Murray defeats Roddick in the semifinals of the event. Roddick is only able to convert on one of his six break point opportunities during the match. Says Roddick after the match, “I didn’t covert them, so I deserve to lose.”