Wimbledon has produced some wonderful Australian highlights over the last 30 years or so.
Ash Barty and Lleyton Hewitt winning the singles titles are the obvious ones that spring to mind. Who will ever forget Pat Rafter’s epic final with Goran Ivanisevic? And recently, Nick Kyrgios’ run to the final also stand out.
But there have similarly been plenty of forgotten Wimbledon heroics. We’re taking a look back at some of the lesser known, or somewhat forgotten Aussie heroics over the last three decades.
Todd Woodbridge 1997 – Semi-Final
One of the disappointing things about Todd Woodbridge’s career, is that he probably doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his singles achievements.
Reaching a career high of 19 in the world, would indicate he was far more than just an extremely accomplished doubles player. Proof of this, is in his 1997 campaign, where not only did he win the doubles event, but made it all the way through to the semi-finals of the singles event, as an unseeded player.
In the opening round, he was drawn against the 5th seeded American, Michael Chang. An epic battle ensued, with Todd pulling through 8-6 in the 5th set. Following on from that, it would be easy to have an emotional letdown, but Todd didn’t allow that, knocking off his next two opponents, Marcos Ondruska of Russia, and Alexander Radulescu of Germany, in straight sets.
Awaiting him in the fourth round, was none other than Australia’s Pat Rafter, who was seeded 12 that year. Todd dropped the first set in a tie-break, but refused to drop his bundle, taking the next three sets, to move into a quarter final match up against German, Nicolas Kiefer.
Again, a first set tie-break, but this time Todd took a 1 set lead, only for Nicolas to level the match. From then on, it was all the Aussie, as he stormed into the final four. Having never gone past the third round previously, it was a stunning run from the then 26 year old.
Unfortunately, there was a guy named Pete Sampras standing in his way. Despite pushing the third set to a tie-break, Todd just wasn’t able to go with ‘Pistol Pete’ that day, and his spectacular run came to an end.
However, to reach the final four of Wimbledon, proved that Todd deserved to be recognized as a genuine top liner on the singles court.
Jelena Dokic 1999 - Quarter Final
In 2000, Jelena Dokic made a run al the way to the semi-final. But it was the year before, in 1999, that some people may forget. In some ways, this was a far greater achievement.
At 16 years of age, Jelena was competing in just her second major of her fledgling career. Obviously, with a ranking well outside 100, she first had to navigate qualifying, which she did in style, not dropping a single set along the way, and beating fellow Aussie Rennae Stubbs in the final round.
Just qualifying as a 16 year old would’ve been a significant accomplishment. Her reward for making it through to the main draw, was a date with the world number 1, Martina Hingis.
In what must rank as one of the most stunning results of all time, Jelena swept aside her heavily fancied opponent, 6-0 6-2. It is still the only time a qualifier has defeated the world number one at Wimbledon. But to do it in such a dominant fashion, was unheard of.
Moving into the second round, Jelena had to win a different way, fighting out an 8-6 deciding set against Slovakian, Katarina Studenikova. The third round displayed to the world that she can also win from behind, dropping the first set to Luxembourg’s Anne Kremer, before winning the next two sets, to storm into the 4th round.
French woman, and 9th seed, Mary Pierce awaited her, but could do no damage against the momentum and confidence of the Aussie teenager. A straight sets win catapulted Jelena into the quarter finals of the biggest tennis tournament in the world.
On paper, taking on American, Alexandra Stevenson, should’ve been an easier assignment, but after losing the first set, it seemed as though her time was up. However, Jelena continued to fight, taking the second set 6-1, before finally succumbing to her opponent 3-6.
No matter how you look at it, Jelena Dokic’s 1999 fortnight at Wimbledon, was one of the great Australian stories, and probably doesn’t get spoken about enough…partly because she did go one further the following year. However, 1999 outranks 2000 for sheer drama and surprise.
Mark Philippoussis 2003 – Runner-Up
Australian tennis had a stellar run at Wimbledon around the turn of the century. In 1999 and 2000, we had Pat Rafter reach the semi-finals. In 2001, he went one better to make the final. In 2002, it was Lleyton’s year to raise the trophy. But somewhat forgotten in all of that, is the 2003 event, when Melbourne boy, Mark Philippoussis, made it all the through to the final Sunday.
Backtracking a little, Mark was hard to stop at Wimbledon. In previous campaigns, he had only been beaten by genuine champions…Sampras in 98 and 99, Agassi in 2000 (all at quarter-final stage), and Richard Krajicek in 2001. So really, all he needed was a little luck of the draw, or one big breakthrough, and a major title was there for him.
So along comes the 2003 edition. While unseeded, he has no trouble dispatching Argentina’s Mariano Zabaleta, and France’s Cyril Saulnier in the opening two rounds. Things become a little trickier as he takes on Czech, Radek Stepanek. Mark manages to overcome him in 4 really tight sets, including two tie-breakers.
However, in the 4th round, he’s up against Andre Agassi again. The second seed. Two years prior, he had been comprehensively beaten in straight sets. But this time was to be different. He takes the opener 6-3, and while things look promising, a guy like Agassi isn’t going to roll over. In fact, he comes back hard, taking a two sets to one lead, with a 6-2 7-6 scoreline.
Under the pump, Mark comes again, and hits back to draw level, winning the 4th 6-3. From there, he won’t be denied, going on to take the final set 6 games to 4, and storm his way back into the quarter-finals.
On paper, his quarter-final against Alexander Popp, of Germany, should’ve been straight forward. However, the German had other ideas, going up two sets to love, before Mark dug deep, to level the match, and take a nail-biting decider, 8-6. Into the semis.
France’s Sebastian Grosjean, the 13th seed, had the potential to be a danger match, especially after such a long quarter-final, but Mark came through relatively unscathed in straight sets, to book a date with Roger Federer, for all the marbles.
The straight sets loss doesn’t tell the full story, with two really tight tie-break sets.
Unfortunately, Mark yet again came up against one of the all time greats on grass, and couldn’t quite get it done. While disappointed, Mark would have nothing to be ashamed of in his Wimbledon career, especially in 2003.
Lleyton Hewitt 2009 – Quarter-final
We all know about Lleyton Hewitt at Wimbledon. The 2002 Champion has played dozens of high quality matches at Wimbledon, and is widely celebrated for his fighting spirit, and never-say-die attitude. Following his breakthrough triumph, Lleyton shockingly, got bundled out in the first round, the following year.
However, from then on, was a model of consistency for the next few years, reaching a QF, SF, QF, before a couple of 4th round results in 2007 and 2008.
So we arrive to 2009, where Lleyton goes into the event unseeded for the first time in 10 years, and expectations are somewhat tempered.
But Lleyton has other plans. He’s got American Robby Ginepri in round 1, and proceeds to demolish him 6-4 6-1 6-1. However, unprotected by a seeding, Lleyton was drawn against Juan Martin del Potro in round 2.
To add some context to this, del Potro had reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open, and the semi-finals of the French Open already in 2009. And just two months later, would hoist up the US Open trophy. He was hot.
But this is Lleyton at Wimbledon. In what must rank as one of his best matches, he dismantled the big hitting Argentinian in straight sets, 6-3 7-5 7-5. The draw had now opened up.
Philipp Petzschner of Germany was next in the firing line, and despite a couple of close sets, Lleyton fought through 7-5 7-6 6-3. Into the fourth round, where the wily Czech, and 23rd seed, Radek Stepanek awaited.
Stepanek is a class above, and storms through the first two sets 6-4 6-2. But yet again, Lleyton just refuses to throw in the towel, and lifts his game to a new level, to rip through the last three sets 6-1 6-2 6-2. He had yet again, found his way into a Wimbledon quarter-final.
Next up…American, and 5th seed, Andy Roddick.
In what can only be described as a typical Lleyton match, Roddick took the first set, before Hewitt scrapped his way to level the match with a 10-8 tie-break. Roddick wins the third 7-6, but we all know Lleyton is never done, and again, levels the match. Eventually, Roddick’s firepower is too much, and he takes the 5th set 6-4, ending Lleyton’s campaign. Roddick would eventually go on to lose an epic final 16-14 in the 5th, against Roger Federer.
Who knows what would’ve happened, had Lleyton got through.
Jarmila Groth 2010 4th round
Having never won more than 1 match in her previous 3 Wimbledon appearances, and with a ranking just inside 100, Jarmila Groth lined up at Wimbledon 2010, with what were fairly mild expectations, at least from the outside.
In her first round, she came up against a tricky Czech opponent, Renata Voracova, who was ranked around 10 places higher. Jarmila was able to see off that challenge in straight sets, 6-4 6-3. Jarmila was subsequently drawn to play American, Melanie Oudin, who had just snuck into the seedings, and was fancied to end the Aussie’s Wimbledon tilt.
But Jarmila had other ideas, taking her down with the exact same scoreline as her first round, 6-4 6-3. Germany’s Angelique Kerber was waiting in the 3rd round, and although she was yet to break through with any big results, Angelique was still ranked 40 spots higher, and on an upward trajectory, so there would be no disgrace in going out to her.
Jarmila wouldn’t be denied though, and her big hitting groundstrokes saw off the challenge, again in straight sets. She was now into the second week, and a match up with the Queen of Wimbledon during that era, Venus Williams.
With Venus running late on to the court, Jarmila had every right to be a little edgy before the match even began. But instead, she came out swinging, taking it right up to Williams. It was only a loose game at the end of the first set, which saw her go behind 4-6.
The second set was much of the same, with Jarmila having multiple chances to grab hold of the match against the 5 time champion. But alas, it wasn’t to be, and Jarmila bowed out 4-6 6-7, but can absolutely hold her head high during the 2010 campaign. (If you’d like to hear more about the Williams match in detail, Jarmila discusses it in our Match of My Career podcast).
Bernard Tomic 2011 QF
This does get mentioned regularly, so it may not exactly be a forgotten Wimbledon tilt, but it’s definitely worth re-visiting.
In 2010, at just 17 years old, Queenslander, Bernard Tomic made his first appearance at the All-England Club, bowing out in the first round to Mardy Fish. The following year, it’s fair to say there were no huge expectations on him, other than perhaps gaining some more experience at the top level, and hopefully winning a match or two.
Drawn in round one against the 29th seeded Russian, Nikolai Davydenko, Bernard wouldn’t have started favourite, despite Davydenko’s poor record on the natural surface. But Bernard played as if he was favoured player, defeating him in straight sets, to record his first main draw win at Wimbledon, and set up a round 2 berth against another Russian, Igor Andreev.
Things weren’t going to plan, as Bernard found himself down 2 sets to love. Although he may not have a reputation as one of the great fighters and scrappers on court, back then, Bernard showed plenty of guts and determination to claw back, and take out the next 3 sets to record a 4-6 5-7 6-3 6-4 6-1 victory, and set up an intriguing clash with 5th seeded Swede, Robin Soderling, who had been to at least the 4th round in 8 of the previous 9 majors.
But Bernard was on a roll. Teenage confidence was sky high, and his big serving, and accurate ball striking gave the Swede all sorts of trouble, as he blew him off the court in 3 dominant sets, 6-1 6-4 7-5. The hype was real.
Belgian Xavier Malisse was the next hurdle to overcome in round 4, and on paper, although he was an accomplished player, Tomic must’ve fancied his chances. And it turned out, he had every reason to, again, demolishing a more credentialed opponent in straight sets, to book a quarter final against 2nd seeded Novak Djokovic.
No one really expected Bernard to trouble Novak, and once the first set had been taken by the Serbian, 6-2, things were going to plan. However, Bernard wasn’t quite done with yet, and shocked everyone, by levelling at 1 set all, with a 6-3 second set. From there, Novak stepped up a gear, and was able to outlast his younger opponent 6-3 7-5, and continue towards his first Wimbledon title.
An extraordinary run from young Bernard, and we all hoped a sign of things to come. While it didn’t quite materialize, it’s a fortnight he won’t forget for the rest of his life.
Jason Kubler 2022 - 4th Round
This one is probably still pretty fresh in the memory bank, as it was only last year. But with Nick Kyrgios going all the way to the final, it’s easy for Jason’s achievement to go under the radar.
Jason has had well documented injury issues, and for the previous few years, was consistently ranked in the 200’s. By the time Wimbledon 2022 rolled around, he had worked his way up to 99 in the world. However, his ranking at the time of cut-off for entry, meant he would have to play qualifying to make it into the main draw. Jason had only once in his career, made it out of Wimbledon qualifying, back in 2018, where he exited in the first round of main draw.
In 2022 however, Jason got through his first two qualifying matches, in 3 tight sets, against Turkish player, Cem Ilkel, and Argentinian, Thiago Agustin Tirante. In his final round, he faced, Swede, Elias Ymer, and in a best of 5 set clash, dominated, to make it through in straight sets, booking a berth in the main event.
His reward was to face up to local hero, and 28th seed, Dan Evans. A tough first round assignment, but Jason had his eye in, and with three matches under the belt, swept him aside in 3 dominant sets. His first ever main draw win at Wimbledon. From there, he took on Austrian Dennis Novak, and again, failed to drop a set, comfortably seeing himself through to the third round, for a meeting with American, Jack Sock.
Sock had been a top ten player 5 years earlier, but had since fallen in the rankings to a similar position Jason found himself in. This was, on paper at least, always going to be a tough encounter, and it turned out to be exactly that. Jason took the first set, but Sock fought back to reel off the next two, leaving Jason scrambling to stay alive. Jason prevailed in a fourth set tie-break, before showing plenty of composure, winning the deciding set, and entering the second week of Wimbledon, seemingly out of nowhere.
Unfortunately, he came up against a red hot Taylor Fritz, who was on course to the top ten. Fritz put an end to Jason’s run, in straight sets. But for a guy who battled so much injury, and had to fight through qualifying, to make it through to the 4th round was a stellar effort. The one downside, was that he earned no points for his efforts, meaning his ranking stayed around 100, instead of jumping up into the 50’s or 60’s.
Let’s hope 2023 brings us more Aussie heroics to talk about for decades to come.