In 1997, Martina Hingis was dominating women’s Tennis unlike anyone before her. The injury to Steffi Graf and Monica Seles’ lack of consistency after recovering from a horror stabbing incident in 1993 meant women’s Tennis was in flux. Martina Hingis created history when she won the 1997 Australian Open at the age of 16 years and three months. She had become the youngest-ever Grand Slam winner in the 20th century. In addition, she won even the doubles title with Natasha Zvereva.
Heading into the French Open, Hingis had won 40 matches on the trot and looking to dominate Roland Garros. However, in the opening rounds, she struggled. After breezing through in the first round, she faced a tough second round with Gloria Pizzichini. Hingis got the better of Anna Kournikova in the third round. But, in the fourth round, Barbara Paulus beat Hingis 6-0 in the second set but she bounced back to win the match. In the quarterfinals, she demolished Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. In the semis, she lost the opening set to Seles but bounced back to win the match and enter the final.
The tournament saw Steffi Graf lose in the quarterfinals to Amanda Coetzer in straight sets. It was the second time that Graf had lost to Coetzer in 1997, having lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open. At the other end, Iva Majoli also had a similar journey as compared to Hingis.
After straight sets wins in the first two rounds, Iva Majoli had a tough match against Ann Grossman. However, her big moment came in the fourth round when she bounced back from a set down to beat Lindsay Davenport. In the quarterfinal and semifinal, Majoli faced tough three-set encounters.
In the quarters, she got the better of Ruxandra Dragomir of Romania in three tough sets. Coetzer, who defeated Graf, could not break Iva Majoli’s resistance as she won in three tough sets. Heading into the final, no one gave Majoli a chance. With three consecutive three-set games, it was felt Majoli would be heavily fatigued against Hingis.
However, there was some consolation for Majoli. The Croatian had won their first encounter in Tokyo but Hingis won the next two. This would be the first time that Hingis would meet Majoli on clay.
In the final, it was the clash between the 16-year-old and 19-year-old in Roland Garros. It was the Croatian who set the early trend. Playing aggressively from the baseline, Majoli caught Hingis totally offguard.
Majoli broke once in the first set and twice in the second as she never allowed Hingis to come back. The Croatian, seeded No.9, won the match in straight sets to become the lowest seed to win at Roland Garros in the Open Era at that time. Her 6-4,6-2 win made her the first Croatian Tennis player to win any Grand Slam. It would be four years later that Goran Ivanisevic would script his Wimbledon fairytale.
After the match, Majoli revealed that the reason why she performed so well. It was because she had kept her boyfriend locked in his hotel room. The reason being that she was nervous about her performance. But, after winning, she said the pressure was actually more on Hingis. “I just felt there was more pressure on Martina than on me today, because she’s number one. She’s the one who had to win today. I was the one who, if I lost, would have had a great tournament,” Majoli said.
Hingis would overcome the disappointment and made 1997 her golden year. In Wimbledon, she became the youngest to win the tournament after Lottie Dod in 1887. Hingis won the US Open in the same year. In 1998 and 1999, she would win the Australian Open to achieve the hat-trick. In 1999, she entered the French Open final where she would square off against Graf.
Before the final, she made a remark on Amelie Mauresmo which did not go down well with fans. She said, “Mauresmo is half a man”. Hingis also suggested that tennis had evolved into a faster more athletic game than the era in which Graf had dominated. In addition, her tantrums on court were not appealing to the French public.
In the final, the Parisian crowd turned on Hingis and booed her constantly. Graf won the match and it was her 22nd Grand Slam title. Hingis left the court in tears as the 18-year old suffered mental disintegration. Hingis would never win the French Open while Graf retired in August 1999. Majoli, on the other hand, did not get much success after the French Open. After the win, she lost six consecutive matches to Hingis and her form dipped. In 2006, she married and bid adieu to Tennis. Majoli featured in a TV show called Dancing with the Stars in Croatia.