Who are the youngest Grand Slam champions?May 31, 2016
You might not care to listen to Nick Kyrgios's remarks including how he saw himself in this sport ten years from now. He doesn't fancy playing tennis at 30, he said. If he was around the tour two decades earlier, then his comment would be normal. But look at the latest ATP singles rankings. Eight players in the Top 20 are 30 years old or older. As for the doubles rankings, Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France is the only twentysomething player in the elite group.
Those who are not following tennis will be surprised, as younger athletes usually dominate the field. There are many factors behind the high number of veterans who are active in the tour. Racket will be the most obvious reason, as it's hard to tell if Roger Federer can manage to keep up with his younger opponents when they use a wooden racket. Some players have their own team, which keep their body free from injuries. Last but not least, it's all about planning. (Whether or not Federer's withdrawal from the French Open can help him dominate the grass court season is anyone's guess.) There's greater risk of getting injured, more than once. The number of tournaments is higher compared to two or three decades ago. Money talks, but this is another matter.
Kyrgios is 21 years of age, with one singles career title under his belt. He's currently in the Top 20, which is impressive enough. Not a few will point out the tennis prodigies of past, but only a handful will dispute the fact that the last ten years (or so) is the Golden Age in men's tennis. Young minds can be fickle, so there's a possibility that the native of Canberra can change his mind (in a year or two). This brings us to the million-dollar question: Who are the youngest champions? It will be quite a list, so let's narrow it down to five. In random order:
Martina Hingis. The Swiss Miss was 15 years of age when she won the 1996 Wimbledon women's doubles finals with Helena SukovÃ¡. It was an Open Era record. She beat Natasha Zvereva of Belarus in Melbourne six months later. It was her first Grand Slam singles titles. She became the youngest winner of the Australian Open. Hingis went on to dominate the 1997 WTA Tour, breaking records along the way. (It won't be the oldest award.) Injury forced her to retire at the sport at 22. She made a comeback, twice. She reclaimed the top spot in doubles (with Sania Mirza).
Michael Chang. The son of Taiwanese immigrants belonged to an elite group of American tennis players who dominated the ATP Tour during the 1990s. However, most tennis fans would remember Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi. Chang was the 15th seed at the 1989 French Open, and he wasn't even considered a dark horse. But his come-from-behind victory over Ivan Lendl in the fourth round made observers think twice. Tony Trabert was the last American to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires, which happened 34 years ago. But the French Open would be the most unpredictable tennis tournament. Chang battled cramps, even defied the odds. He was 17 years old, making him the youngest male player to lift a major trophy. It's a record that remains standing.
Boris Becker. The 1985 Wimbledon Championships wasn't Becker's first appearance in the most prestigious tennis tournament in the world. It would be the year before. (He was a qualifier, where he reached the third round.) He was unseeded in the 99th edition of the Wimbledon Championships, but his booming serve would take him all the way to the finals. Apart from his third-round match with Joakim NystrÃ¶m, where he won the fifth set at 9-7, Becker wasn't really challenged at all. In fact, he was too good during the latter rounds. He became the youngest male player to win a Grand Slam tournament, a record that he would hold for four years.
Monica Seles. The semifinals of the 1990 French Open featured Monica Seles, a 16 year old, and Jennifer Capriati, who turned 14 last March. Seles, who then represented Yugoslavia, won the match easily. She would beat Steffi Graf for her first major crown. She had 8 Grand Slam singles titles by the time she was 19 years of age. Only Graf would win that many, prompting many fans to assess their performance. Alas, Seles was stabbed by a deranged Graf fan in Hamburg prior to the 1993 French Open. She wasn't the same anymore.
Tracy Austin. The Californian teenager with pigtails would deserve a special mention. She was 16 years and 8 months old when she beat Chris Evert in the finals of the 1979 US Open. She would win one more (in 1981), but it happened during the time when Evert and Navratilova dominated the women's tour. There was no rivalry like theirs, but Austin managed to reach the top of the WTA rankings (in 1980) and win 30 singles titles. It was no surprise that she was the youngest player to be inducted the International Tennis Hall of Fame (at the age of 29).
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