Who are the youngest tennis players to win a Grand Slam? Coco Gauff, Rafael Nadal...
Coco Gauff goes into the French Open final against Iga Swiatek at the age of 18, by which time Martina Hingis had already won five singles Grand Slams.
Talk at Grand Slam tournaments often focuses on the so-called Next Gen of male tennis players, the young bucks who have for years been expected to put Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer out to pasture. As Alex Zverez noted before his semi-final against Nadal on Friday, he is no longer 21 and feels equipped to win a slam. Had he not suffered a terrible ankle roll in the second set on Friday, he may well have done so at Roland Garros. Nadal is the ultimate competitor but is carrying a chronic foot injury and had been through the ringer against Djokovic in a late-night session, giving his younger opponent more recovery time. Had Zverez not slipped… who knows? What is certain is that in the women’s game, the Next Gen has already arrived. On Saturday, 18-year-old Coco Gauff will take on world number one Iga Swiatek in the French Open final. The Pole is already a WTA Tour veteran at the age of 21 and the defending champion is on a winning streak of 34 consecutive games, placing her level with Serena Williams’ best and one short of the 21st century record held by Venus Williams.
Swiatek steps up to replace Barty
After Ash Barty decided to retire in the afterglow of Wimbledon and Australian Open triumphs the summit of the WTA was open for takers and Swiatek stepped up in style. Such is the number one’s dominance that Martina Navratilova’s all-time record of 74 straight wins isn’t out of the question, although she will fist have to navigate the grass-court season. As a junior champions at Wimbledon in 2018 though, her all-court credentials are pretty solid.
Saturday’s match-up will be Swiatek’s second Grand Slam final since she burst onto the Tour in 2020, winning a French Open she started as the world 54, and Gauff’s first, making the American the youngest major finalist since 2004. The American’s previous best performance at a slam were fourth-round appearances at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. Swiatek goes into the game the heavy favourite, but Gauff has the all-round game, athleticism and hustling ability from the baseline to cause the Pole problems, something to which she has become largely unaccustomed in Paris, the loss of a set to another precocious talent, Zheng Qinwen, aside.
Hingis the trail-blazer
If Gauff wins on Saturday, she will join a long list of women’s singles players to land a Grand Slam in their teens, but she is still considerably older than arguably the greatest player in history to wield a racket in that age range, Martina Hingis. The Swiss won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open in 1997 at the age of 16 and added two more titles in Melbourne over the next two years to take her tally to five Grand Slams shortly after 18th birthday, at almost exactly the same age Gauff is now.
As well as being the youngest Grand Slam singles champion since Lottie Dod won Wimbledon in 1887, Hingis is the youngest Grand Slam champion in history (singles and doubles) after partnering Helena Sukova to the doubles title at Wimbledon in 1996 at the age of 15 years and nine months, pipping Dod, who was 15 and 285 days when she won Wimbledon for the first time, by a few days.
The top three of youngest male champions in history were all active in the 1980s. Michael Chang holds the overall record, the American winning the 1989 French Open at the age of 17 and three months, a tournament memorable for his bizarre victory over world number one Ivan Lendl, when the youngster moon-balled, served underarm and generally did everything possible to put the unflappable Lendl off his game. Chang is closely followed by Boris Becker, who swept to the Wimbledon title in 1985 at 17 years and seven months, and Mats Wilander, who won at Roland Garros in 1982 at 17 years and nine months.
Of the current Big Three, Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2003 at the age of 21, Djokovic scored his first success at the 2008 Australian Open at 20 and Nadal swashbuckled his way to the first of his 13 French Open triumphs a few days after his 19th birthday in 2005, becoming the first male player to win a slam as a teenager since Pete Sampras at the US Open in 1990.