© Ella Ling

Maria Sharapova - Australian Open

The unlikely Wimbledon champions


A grand slam winner is by definition a champion, but perhaps some are more champion than others. Here’s the third part in our slightly cruel but well-meaning look back at the “most unlikely” grand slam champions of the Open era.

The unlikely Wimbledon champions.

The men:

Goran Ivanisevic (2001)
The Croat had lost in the first round of the preceding five grand slams and when he was upended in the first round at Queen’s Club to world No 194 Cristiano Caratti, the Croat looked a spent force. But as a three-time losing finalist, Wimbledon gave him a wildcard and the rest is 150-1 history, culminating in one of the most emotional victories ever seen.

Richard Krajicek (1996)
Twelve months beforehand, Krajicek had gone out in round one at Wimbledon to American journeyman Bryan Shelton. His star was beginning to rise by the time the 1996 Championship came round but with Pete Sampras in his pomp, few looked beyond the three-time reigning champion. Serving bombs, Krajicek blasted Sampras off the court in the quarters and went on to win his only grand slam title.

Boris Becker (1985)
“If he plays like that, he could win Wimbledon,” said Johan Kriek after a 17-year-old Becker beat him in the final at Queen’s. Few others believed it was possible but from relative obscurity, the big-serving German stormed to victory to become the first unseeded champion in the Open Era.

The women:

Maria Sharapova (2004)
The Russian was tipped for the top in her early teens as a Nick Bollettieri pupil but at 17, she was still hugely raw. But that summer she played as if in a trance, slashing winners left right and sometimes centre, beating Lindsay Davenport in the semis and then stunning Serena Williams in the final.

Jana Novotna (1998)
Anyone who watched the Czech capitulate against Steffi Graf in the 1993 final, having led 4-1 in the third and with a point for 5-1, would have surely written her off as a serial choker. But five years later, Novotna was back and this time her luck was in. Her opponent was France’s Natalie Tauziat, who was out of her depth, and Novotna duly held her nerve.

Conchita Martinez (1994)
When Steffi Graf went out to Lori McNeil in the first round, the women’s field was open but few thought a Spanish clay-courter would be the one to take the title. Martinez had actually reached the semis in 1993 but with nine-times champion Martina Navratilova facing her in the final, nothing was expected of her. And yet she outplayed a legend to become still the only Spaniard to win the women’s crown.