RG rewind: Stan shines in star-studded 2003 boys' draw

One singles draw was the catalyst for 28 Grand Slam titles

Stan Wawrinka vainqueur junior Roland-Garros 2003 boy's junior champ.© FFT
 - Chris Oddo

When Sunday’s junior competitions begin at RG2023, fans will want to pay close attention: you never know when the next megastar of tennis is going to make their first foray into the world of Grand Slam tennis. 

Take, for instance, 2003. 

That would be the year that Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Andy Murray each made their debut on the terre battue in Paris.

Three legends who would end up raking in a total of 28 Grand Slam singles titles, all in one singles draw? Throw in Gael Monfils, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Marcos Baghdatis and Nicolas Almagro, and hindsight tells us that the 2003 junior boys' singles draw was a veritable who’s who of a great tennis generation.

If only we had known then what we know now. Fans would have crowded into the tribunes to see Djokovic dip his toes into the Grand Slam waters for the very first time.

Djokovic’s first – and only – journey in a Roland-Garros junior draw didn’t last long. He was bounced by former world No.48 Daniel Gimeno-Traver in the third round, after earning his spot in the main draw via qualifying. 

“I qualified for the Roland Garros junior event in 2003, and I think I lost in the third round to Gimeno-Traver, who is the coach of [Roberto] Bautista Agut right now,” Djokovic said earlier this week. “It's kind of an interesting cycle of life, in a way, seeing some familiar faces.” 

Gimeno-Traver, who also owns a tour-level victory over Djokovic, remembers the soon-to-be legend as a developing talent.

"At the time I could see that Novak was a dangerous player, he was barely 16, younger than me, and the chance that I had to beat him was to use my power," he told rolandgarros.com.

In retrospect the Spaniard, who reached the second round of the main draw on three occasions, remembers 2003 as a special year for juniors in Paris.

"Yes, the level of that draw was amazing – so many of them became top players," he said.

Novak Djokovic 2021© Jean-Charles Caslot/FFT

Important foundations

What a difference 20 years makes. Djokovic’s big success has come on the senior circuit, and this year in Paris he is bidding to become the first man to win 23 Grand Slam major singles titles. 

The world-beating Serbian, who stresses that he is always happy to shine a light on the junior tournament, has fond memories of his junior days and the importance they held for him. 

“Grand Slams… are the most important tournaments that you are aiming for as a junior, because that's where you have an opportunity to present yourself to someone that can eventually sponsor you or manage you,” he said. 

“They are very important events not just for results, but recognition and getting your name out there on the stage – you're hoping that someone can approach you and offer the help that is so needed for a lot of the junior guys to make their life a bit easier towards professional tennis.” 

Brian Baker, Stan Wawrinka 2003

An exclusive club

The eventual winner of the boys’ singles title in Paris in 2003 was Wawrinka, who defeated American Brian Baker in the final. 12 years later, the Swiss became just the third man to hold both junior and singles titles in Paris in 2015, when he defeated none other than Djokovic in the final. 

Wawrinka joins Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander on the list, while five women – Mima Jausovec, Hana Mandlikova, Jennifer Capriati, Justine Henin and Simona Halep – have won junior and senior singles titles on the women’s side. 

“It was a long time ago, that's for sure, but it was an amazing experience for me,” Wawrinka said. “It was my first and only Grand Slam as a junior, and I won it here.” 

'Special to be here'

Wawrinka enjoyed being a part of the world’s greatest clay-court fete, watching top professionals play and dreaming that one day he could hoist the Coupe des Mousquetaires.

The three-time Grand Slam champion only played one junior Slam, and he remembers the experience as a formative one.

“For me the whole experience was amazing, to see all the main draw men's matches,” he said. “I was watching a lot of players playing and it was special to be here as a junior.”

Stan Wawrinka and Novak Djokovic before the final at Roland-Garros 2015©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

Ones to watch

Even if success proves fleeting in the juniors, the experience gained can become the impetus for a Grand Slam breakthrough. Poland’s Iga Swiatek played the junior event at Roland-Garros three times, reaching the semi-finals in her last appearance in 2018. Five years later she is a two-time champion in the city of lights, and angling for the title again in 2023.

“For sure, having the experience and playing Grand Slams helped because I felt really overwhelmed during my first years as a junior when I came here and in Wimbledon,” Swiatek said earlier this week. “I had a chance to kind of see what the vibe there is on Grand Slams and how it all works.”

As the draws for this year’s junior events are revealed and play begins on Sunday, consider this your reminder to spend some time watching the boys’ and girls’ events in Paris – you never know when the next legend of the game will be sliding on the Roland-Garros clay for the first time. 

Iga Swiatek, second round, Roland-Garros 2023© Julien Crosnier/FFT