One-Slam Wonders: Martin Verkerk’s ‘little bit of joke’ run at 2003 French Open
Martin Verkerk scripted one of the most remarkable tennis stories of 2003 as he went from an unseeded underdog to a Grand Slam finalist at the French Open.
Juan Carlos Ferrero lifted the Roland Garros title that year, but it was the lanky Dutchman who captured the imagination of the public.
To put Verkerk’s campaign into perspective, he played two Grand Slam matches before the 2003 French Open and lost them both. After that tournament, he appeared in another six Grand Slams and won only four matches with his next-best display a third-round defeat at Paris in 2004.
But for a fortnight in 2003, Verkerk had the time of his life.
At the start of the tournament, he was a rank outsider and wasn’t even given a biography page in the ATP media guide.
After a straight-set win over Zeljko Krajan in the first round, he had his work cut out against Luis Horna as the Peruvian took him to five sets before he won 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 while the 29th ranked Vince Spadea was beaten 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.
Verkerk was starting to make a name for himself in his first main draw appearance at Roland Garros, and his expressive nature and on-court antics that featured a bit of hopping and skipping certainly helped.
Next up was Rainer Schüttler, who himself was a surprise package at the Australian Open a few months earlier as he finished runner-up to Andre Agassi.
But the German was brushed aside 6-3, 6-3, 7-5 as Verkerk set up a clash against fourth seed and former champion Carlos Moya.
This was surely the end of the road for the Dutchman, right?
Wrong! The 24-year-old came through a marathon match that lasted nearly four hours, winning 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 8-6.
“It’s amazing, I don’t know how it happened,” he said after the match and yet better was still to come.
Guillermo Coria, who had beaten Andre Agassi in the last four, was his semi-final opponent and it was a feisty affair, but that was all down to the Argentine, who was lucky not to have been disqualified.
The seventh seed lost the opening set and threw his racket in frustration and it inadvertently hit a ball girl.
Coria apologised and the chair umpire decided to only give him a warning, but he couldn’t turn his fortunes around as Verkerk won 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 7-6 (7-0) to reach the French Open final at the first time of asking.
“I’m really emotional about it,” he said. “I don’t know what happened. To be a finalist at Roland Garros is a dream for me. I made it, and it’s unbelievable.”
He added: “This is all a little bit of a joke. I worked really, really hard and they say ‘If you work hard, it comes one day.’ This was the day.”
Unfortunately for Verkerk, it turned into a lopsided final as third seed Ferrero routed him 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 with one of the few highlights during the match being a streaker running onto the court.
“He was too good for me, and the better player won,” a philosophical Verkerk said after the final. “His level was unbelievably good. I had no chance.”
Verkerk, though, did walk away with a runners-up cheque of $491,000, which was more than double his previous career earnings.
He added: “It has been an amazing week for me. It’s more than a dream. To be in the final of a Grand Slam, there are no words for that.”
Roger Federer sends his fans into a frenzy with Twitter post ahead of his return to action
Roger Federer fans are counting down to his return to action in Doha next week and his tweet teasing his return instantly became a big hit.
Iga Swiatek’s perfect week as she claims her second WTA title
Iga Swiatek won her second career WTA title with victory over Belinda Bencic in the final of the Adelaide International.
Jamie Murray says quarantine threat on tour means players must be ready to adapt
The doubles specialist plans to travel to tournaments in Mexico and Miami next month without knowing what to expect on arrival.
Battle of the Brits event is back and this time with spectators
The Battle of the Brits events were a huge success during the Covid-19 crisis and now they are set to return with spectators.
The only way is up for Naomi Osaka as she looks to replicate hard-court success on clay and grass
Oli Jefford on the world being Naomi Osaka’s oyster.
Britain’s strength in depth in doubles highlights quality of structure
British tennis may be wondering who can replace Andy Murray, but they have a very different story to tell in the doubles arena.
Rafael Nadal pulls out of his next event due to ‘ongoing’ back problem
Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from the ABN…
Lleyton Hewitt to be inducted into International Tennis Hall Of Fame
Former world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt is the latest player who will be inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Five of the best men’s matches at the Australian Open featuring Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Rafael Nadal, and more
The matches that made us sit up and take note.
Five of the best women’s matches at Australian Open featuring Naomi Osaka vs Garbine Muguruza, and more
Five of the best women’s singles matches at the 2021 Aus Open.