40 LOVE History: Martina, Lori & Gigi
Published September 04, 2013 12:00
NEW YORK, NY, USA & LONDON, UK - There's no doubt about it, the 30-somethings are going very, very strong - nowhere has it been more evident than at this year's US Open, with Serena Williams and Li Na already booking their semifinal spots, one of Roberta Vinci and Flavia Pennetta guaranteed to become a semifinalist and Daniela Hantuchova going up against Victoria Azarenka for the other semifinal spot. There will be either three or four 30-somethings in the final four - a statement, really.
And while this could become the new normal on the WTA - only time will tell - it's a statement that has only been made once before in the Open Era, for only one other time have there been three 30-somethings through to the semifinals of a Grand Slam, and it came at Wimbledon all of 19 years ago.
Things were knocked out of orbit very early on at the All-England Club that year as Lori McNeil pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the Open Era, stunning No.1 seed Steffi Graf in the first round - the 30-year-old McNeil didn't stop there either, serve-and-volleying her way all the way to the semifinals.
On the other half of the draw there was another unseeded 30-year-old with a perfect grass court game making her way into the semis - Gigi Fernández, one of the greatest doubles players of all time, upset No.13 seed and former Wimbledon finalist Zina Garrison-Jackson on her own way to the final four.
And then the most timeless 30-something of them all, Martina Navratilova - the No.4 seed - stormed through her section, not dropping a set until the quarterfinals where, facing No.5 seed and future Wimbledon winner Jana Novotna, she went on a roll after losing the first set to advance to the semis, 57 60 61. Navratilova was an amazing 37 years old when she made that run at the All-England Club.
But alas, there was a gatecrasher to the party in the form of the No.3 seed, Conchita Martínez. Just 22 years old at the time, Martínez had become much more known for her clay court game up until then, having reached the quarterfinals or better at Roland Garros in each of the last six years - but this time that clay court game morphed into a lethal grass court game, her knifing slice and pinpoint passing shots getting her past McNeil in the semifinals, 36 62 108, and - after Navratilova beat Fernández in her semifinal match, 64 76(6) - Navratilova in an emotional three set final on Centre Court, 64 36 63.
Navratilova, McNeil and Fernández at Wimbledon in 1994 - the only other time in the Open Era where three (or more) 30-somethings made the semis of a Grand Slam. That time, the 20-something won...