From a gold medal for a 16-year-old Jennifer Capriati to Leander Paes’s history-making efforts for India, John Murray picks out six Olympic moments that stunned the tennis world
The seed destroyer
With world No.1 Jim Courier standing in his path, Marc Rosset faced an almighty challenge to reach the quarter-finals at the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games, let alone win a medal. But the unseeded big server from Switzerland clearly paid scant regard to reputation, crushing the American in straight sets. In all, Rosset knocked out five seeds on his way to the most unlikely of gold medals, culminating in a marathon five-set win over Jordi Arrese in the final.
Despite being ranked third in the world, Jennifer Capriati was still a huge outsider in the Olympic women’s singles final in Barcelona in 1992. The reason? Aside from the fact that Capriati was just 16 years and 132 days old, her opponent was Germany’s Steffi Graf, the defending champion and most successful player – man or woman – of the modern era. Yet the American teenager was unfazed by the occasion or the player on the other side of the net, and stunned Graf in three sets to seal the gold.
Leander Paes is regarded as one of the finest doubles players in the game and, even at 43, continues to hold his own against the best in the business. However, the Indian would be the first to admit that his singles game was never in the same class, reaching a career high of no. 73 in 1999. Yet in Atlanta in 1996, Paes tore up the formbook, knocking out three seeds including third-ranked Thomas Enqvist on his way to a surprise bronze medal. It remains India’s only Olympic medal in the sport.
Trouble at home
The finest doubles pairing of the 1990s, Mark Woodforde and Todd Woodbridge were aiming for a glorious swansong in front of their home fans at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. The ‘Woodies’ were overwhelming favourites to defend their Olympic title in their final season together, and everything seemed to be going to script as they advanced to the gold medal decider without losing a set. However, their Canadian opponents Sebastien Lareau and Daniel Nestor had other ideas, winning the final in four sets to spoil the Australian duo’s farewell party.
Of all the surprises at the Games over the years, the story of Nicolas Massu at Athens in 2004 takes some beating. In a star-studded field spearheaded by Roger Federer and Andy Roddick, the unfancied Chilean knocked out Grand Slam winners Gustavo Kuerten and Carlos Moya before coming from two sets to one down against Mardy Fish to win the men’s singles final. And he wasn’t finished there. Not content with one gold medal, Massu teamed up with Fernando Gonzalez to triumph in the men’s doubles and seal his spot in Olympic history.
When Serena Williams took the first set of her quarter-final against Elena Dementieva at Beijing 2008, the stage seemed set for the USA superstar to book her place in the semi-finals on an inevitable march towards Olympic gold. But two thrilling sets later, it was the Russian who was celebrating after a stunning comeback against the favourite for the title. From there, Dementieva was unstoppable, beating compatriots Vera Zvonareva and Dinara Safina as Russia claimed all three places on the podium.