There’s one thing tennis players can’t really practice: personality. Whether they were great champions or amazing fighters, so many kinds of players have given the game their own personal touch that’s left us wanting more. In no particular order, let’s look back at Part I of the faces and voices we would love to see back on court.
1. Kim Clijsters
In a combo of history-making and heart-melting moves, Kim Clijsters returned from (initial) retirement in 2009 as a mom and won the US Open, just her third tournament back on tour. Yes, she was the first world No. 1 as a mother (since records were kept) and the first mother to win a Grand Slam since Evonne Goolagong won Wimbledon in 1980, but her charm and kindness on and off court has elevated her reputation beyond her impressive 41 WTA titles and four majors. In short: Kim is the best. Witness the awesomeness yourself in her last return from retirement, stepping in to face Andrea Petkovic for an exhibition set when finalist Carla Suarez-Navarro was forced to withdraw in February of this year.
It’s like she never left.
It’s not all about the headband. But it’s kind of all about the headband. Bjorn Borg rocketed to success as a teenager, with his awesome results and unorthodox strokes pushing tennis popularity to a new level along the way. One of few to hit a two-handed backhand at the time, Borg’s endurance and power earned him 11 Grand Slam titles. His slick Swedish styles and stoic “Ice Man” demeanour were just the headband on the cake.
Long hair, don’t care amirite?
Being touted as the Greatest of All Time by peers, fans and experts is awesome enough, but Steffi Graf next-levels all her amazing accomplishments by being super cool, too. She handled marriage proposals just as well as she handled opponents to win her 22 (!!!) Grand Slam titles. We miss Graf’s precision and power on court, along with the opportunity to use the fantastic nickname “Fraulein Forehand.”
Was Marat Safin the last true bad boy of tennis? A graveyard of smashed racquets might agree. Safin lost his temper a lot but he also had the skills to back up his outbursts and pile up the wins, beating hometown guys for both of his Grand Slam titles – American Pete Sampras at the US Open and Aussie Lleyton Hewitt at the Australian Open. At least his mood swings went both ways – the Russian seemed to appreciate the “award” he got from the ATP for his impressive tally of annihilated equipment.
There’s also this gem – watch until the end.
Reaching a career-high of No. 3 in the world, Elena Dementieva isn’t the most accomplished player we miss, but she was one of the toughest. Dementieva battled a, let’s say, inconsistent, serve for most of her career and suffered some brutal losses during her time as a top 10 player, probably most unhappily in the 2004 French Open final. It was her first major final, and the first all-Russian Grand Slam final, and Dementieva double faulted 10 times en route to a 6-1, 6-2 loss to Anastasia Myskina. She assessed the situation succinctly: “I just don’t know how to serve.”
Candor, appreciated. Through ups and downs, Dementieva was able to score some big wins, notably defeating Serena Williams in Toronto in 2009 and backing that up by beating Maria Sharapova in the final.
If JMac was not on this list you’d be all “You cannot be serious”, I know. Former world No. 1 and winner of seven Grand Slam titles, pretty much everything about McEnroe (other than his volleying skills) flew in the face of traditional tennis etiquette… in the best way possible.
Conundrum: Would McEnroe be as awesome now that Hawkeye exists??? Probably best not to think about it, just relive the rebellious rage that JMac unleashed on the world for our enjoyment.
— We’ll be back with another Part II of our favourites soon.