24 May, 2011

"Hana's Five Greatest Wins at the French Open" by Tripp from Georgia

Because Hana Mandlikova was known as a serve and volley player people sometimes forget what a great clay court player she was. Of course she grew up on red clay in the former Czechoslovakia so it’s not a surprise that she knew her way around a dusty red clay court.

Hana’s first big wins as a professional tennis player were mostly on clay. She won the Italian and French junior titles in 1978 on h
er to becoming the first top ranked junior girl player. The first two tournaments titles that she won as a pro came on clay courts in Milan and Madrid that same year. In 1979 she would also capture the Austrian Open played in Kitzbuhel.

Many Fed Cup tournaments involving Hana were also played on clay. Hana led Czechoslovakia to titles in 1983 in Zurich and in 1984 at Sao Paulo each bein
g played on slow red clay. Her three set win over that year’s Wimbledon runner up and former French Open runner up Andrea Jaeger in Zurich was her brightest moment of the season and one of her biggest clay court victories.

But the French Open was where Hana’s clay court prowess frequently was put on display. She finished with a 39-11 mark aris as Paris was the grand slam event that she most frequently played. From 1980 through 1986 Hana only failed to make her seeding once in 1985 losing in the quarterfinals. Winning the 1981 French title is surely one of the
cornerstones of her career and a testament to her all court game.

On the eve of this year’s French Open, and in looking back at Hana’s French Open history, I decided that I would pick the five wins that I thought were her biggest at this event. There are surely other wins that could be considered as this is purely subjective.

1979 4th Round d. Sue Barker (6) 7-6, 2-6, 6-1

Hana’s 1979 win over Sue Barker was significant because Sue was the 6th seed that year and had been a top 10 regular for several years on the tour. She also was the 1976 French Open champion. Sue was a very good clay court player that used her big forehand to great effect on the slow surface. But on this day Hana served notice that she was to be a future French champion.

1981 SF d. Chris Evert (1) 7-5, 6-4

On her way to the 1981 French Open title, Hana pulled off a rare and stunning defeat of Chris Evert on clay. In fact, this was only Chris’ second loss ever in Paris. The only previous loss that she suffered was to Margaret Court in the 1973 final. This was also Chris’ first defeat on clay since Tracy Austin defeated her at the 1979 Italian Open. Hana used her strong serve, flat forehand, and abrupt changes of pace off of her backhand side to keep Chris off balance. Although Hana used her athletic net game to great effect she also outgunned Chris from the baseline. Considering the opponent and the event this is possibly Hana’s greatest ever singles match victory. Chris would retire having lost to only five players ever in Paris. Hana would go on to defeat Sylvia Hanika for the title.


1982 QF d. Tracy Austin (3) 7-6, 6-7, 6-2

Surely one of the most satisfying victories of Hana’s career was her first win over Tracy in Paris. Of their previous seven meetings, all but two of them went to three sets and one of Hana’s straight sets defeats was a 7-6, 7-6 verdict. Many times Hana had taken sets from Tracy and looked as if she was going to defeat the former world’s number one. But it was not until this day that Hana came through. Using the same kind of tactics that she had used to defeat Chris the year before, Hana used slices, topspins, and hard flat drives mixed in with occasional forays to the net to beat Tracy 7-6 in the first set. She then built a 5-2 lead in the second set and looked set to serve the match out. But to Tracy’s credit she broke back and eventually took the set. However Hana didn’t let the opportunity slip away this time as she used some big serves, delicate drop shots, and well placed volleys to put Tracy away.

1983 d. Andrea Temesvari (10) 6-2, 6-1

As the new fresh face on the scene that spring, the newly dubbed “topspin princess” was making her first big move on the pro tour. Earlier in the year Andrea had pushed Martina on clay at the Hilton Head event taking the top ranked player to three hard fought sets. Hana entered the tournament struggling and with her ranking dropping like a rock after repeated injuries and time away from the tour. Andrea was a popular dark horse pick to score a big upset in this tournament and was all but expected to win this match. But Hana had other ideas as she swept aside that year’s Italian Open champ and eventual two time U.S. Clay Courts champ. When Hana ended the match on a strong forehand up the line she clinched both fists in victory having been satisfied that she proved her critics wrong.

1986 d. Steffi Graf (3) 2-6, 7-6, 6-1

In the spring of 1986 Steffi was riding a long winning streak that included wins over Martina, Chris, and Hana having won three consecutive tournaments. As she ripped through her side of the draw some weren’t wondering IF Steffi would win this tournament but in how big of a romp. At first, Hana could not find her range and even though she was hitting the ball well she was missing by inches. The match seemed firmly in Steffi’s grasp when she had match point at 5-3 in the second. But when she hit a forehand long the crowd sensed that if Hana could break she would be back in the match. With the crowd behind her, Hana broke Steffi and began the long road back with big serves and big forehands that went right into Steffi’s forehand causing her to hit late and open up spraying the ball wide and long repeatedly. Once the second set was in hand Hana took charge of the third set early and ran away with it in a romp hitting dazzling forehand winners in powerful baseline exchanges and extracting errors from Steffi’s feared forehand. The win served as a reminder that Hana was still a formidable force on the tour.

Those are my picks as Hana’s five biggest wins at the French Open. I only wish that Hana could’ve held on for wins in 1983 vs. Chris and 1984 vs. Martina. Those were two great matches in which Hana fought the top two toe to toe and nearly won but couldn’t quite pull it off. Had Hana been able to defeat Chris in 1983, she might’ve gone on to a second French title. But it wasn’t meant to be. Still, we have some great memories of many wins for Hana on these historic clay courts.

Feel free to share your memories of these and other great matches involving Hana in Paris.



Thank you so much Tripp for your BEAUTIFUL contribution looking back Hana's achievements in clay history. I'm soooo happy that you're still madly in love with Hana's tennis as much I am, maybe more than I am. I think you have to tell us more about her tennis, how you feel, how you're pleased, how you're depressed (laugh). Tell us more!!! If you do tell us more, the space of the blog is all for you. I'm not kidding. It's more than anything that we still can share Hana's precious memories even after 20 years since her retirement. It's not the story of long time ago, its like ... woa! "yesterday, "and yesterday stays forever with Hana's freaks!  Tripp, you're doing a great job. And Hana, you know what? We're still in love with you and your tennis, and missing you bleeding much(^^)/ There's no one like you who grabbed our hearts and never let them go.


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