25-year rewind: Majoli stuns Hingis to reign in Paris

 - Dan Imhoff

Croatian trailblazer looks back on ending world No.1's unbeaten run for most famous win

Martina Hingis et Iva Majoli © FFT

Coco Gauff would do well to cast an eye back 25 years as she attempts to snap the world-beating Iga Swiatek’s 34-match winning streak on Saturday.

Rank underdog teenager Iva Majoli faced a similarly daunting prospect when she toppled an undefeated world No.1 for her first Grand Slam title on Court Philippe-Chatrier in 1997.

While Majoli was considered a precocious talent at the time, the 19-year-old was completely in Martina Hingis’ shadow.

The fearless Swiss superstar had become the youngest Grand Slam champion at January’s Australian Open and had not lost a match all season, winning 35 straight, dating back to her Sydney title run.

While still only 16, she was an odds-on favourite to claim her second consecutive major, having quashed the hopes of former champions Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and Monica Seles back-to-back.

Few gave Majoli any chance with all the hype reserved for the world’s top 3 – an elite trio of Slam champions, Hingis, Steffi Graf and Seles.

Iva Majoli and Martina Hingis, Roland-Garros 1997, final©

The ninth seed had warned she would never surrender ahead of her biggest moment and she took the match to the Swiss teenager, prevailing 6-4, 6-2 to become the lowest-seeded player and the first from Croatia to win a major title in the Open Era.

Majoli returned to Paris this week to team up with good friend and former rival Mary Pierce in the Legends’ Doubles and admitted the thrill of stepping back onto the site of her most famous triumph never diminished.

“It was an incredible two weeks, definitely the best day of my life after giving birth to my daughter,” Majoli told rolandgarros.com. “

Just coming back, it makes the memory alive and it makes you feel special every time you return.”

Majoli’s run included a stunning fourth-round upset of No.5 seed Lindsay Davenport, in which she rebounded from a set and 0-4 down.

Iva Majoli, Roland-Garros 1997, final© FFT

The Zagreb-born teenager had already reached the quarter-finals at Roland-Garros the previous two years, but broke new ground with her three-set triumph over unseeded Romanian Ruxandra Dragomir.

South African Amanda Coetzer had defeated world No.2 Graf for the second straight major to ensure there would be a first-time Grand Slam finalist.

But on the eve of the semi-final – the pair’s biggest showdown – a virus left Majoli sweating, sneezing and coughing.

Pushing through the illness, the teenager narrowly edged the 11th seed 7-5 in the deciding set.

Racked with nerves, Majoli was surprised at how quickly she settled in her first major final.

“I was sick for two days. I was like, OK whatever happens, happens. Martina hadn't lost a match that year. She was 37-0 (including two Hopman Cup wins),” Majoli said.

“I really had nothing to lose. I just went on the court and said ‘just give it all you have’.”

Iva Majoli, Roland Garros 1997, trophy shoot© FFT

A milestone 100th anniversary of Roland-Garros only fed into the debutante’s pre-match anxiety and the first balls struck were a worrying sign.

“The first five minutes of the warm-up I think I miss-hit every single ball and thought if it continues this way, it will be a quick match,” Majoli said. “But somehow I put myself together and told myself just to watch the ball. I played the match of my life.

“I loved to play Martina. I loved the way she played. I liked her style, so I think that helped a bit too.”

The now 44-year-old has continued her involvement with Croatian women’s tennis since her retirement.

Former world No.19 Donna Vekic paid tribute to her compatriot during her run through the Roland-Garros qualifying draw.

“It's the best achievement from women's tennis in Croatia. Hopefully I can match her one day. She's a legend, she's a good friend,” Vekic said.

Donna Vekic, 3e tour, qualifications, Roland-Garros 2022©Rémy Chautard / FFT

“People don't give her enough credit in Croatia. People don't realise how tough it is to be a top tennis player, to win a Grand Slam.

“So I think in Croatia they don't appreciate enough, but she's always been very present throughout my career and I've definitely been very appreciative of that.”

Hingis claimed three of the four majors in 1997 but famously ended her career without a Roland-Garros singles trophy.

Majoli only reached two subsequent major quarter-finals, but her groundbreaking triumph served as a timely reminder – never discount a hungry teenager as small fry against the might of a world-beater.