Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg lead U20 charge at Wimbledon in the Open era


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Boris Becker and Bjorn Borg lead U20 charge at Wimbledon in the Open era

Ten U20 players (those who turn 20 or less in particular season) have won 16 Grand Slam titles in the Open era, from Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros in 1974 to Rafael Nadal at the same event 32 years later. The list includes the other eight legends like John McEnroe, Mats Wilander, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras, Marat Safin and Lleyton Hewitt, with not very likely odds to bring more names soon.

It always took something special out of the young guns to go all the way at Majors and claim the title, with that task requiring focus, physical and mental stamina and that special element that would distance them from the older and more experienced rivals.

Three of those 16 titles for U20 players have come at the cathedral of tennis at Wimbledon, with Bjorn Borg and Boris Becker as the only youngsters who managed to lift the most prestigious tennis crown in this age category, with the German who achieved that in back-to-back years in the mid-'80s.

Besides them, two more players were able to reach the final at Wimbledon in the year they were turning 20 and it will take something special from the upcoming youngsters to repeat such a great run and reach the latter stages at world's greatest event.

In the first 51 years of the Open era, 14 U20 players have reached the quarter-final at Wimbledon and nine of those went on to book the place in the semis, keeping themselves just two triumphs away from tennis glory. In the first eight editions between 1968-1975, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and Vijay Amritraj were the only U20 player in the last eight at Wimbledon and it was Borg who conquered the event in 1976 without losing a set.

A year later, an 18-year-old John McEnroe played in the semi-final on his Wimbledon debut, losing to Jimmy Connors in four sets and showing his full potential for the years to come. The young guns were unable to make an impact at Wimbledon between 1978-1983 and that all changed when the future champion Pat Cash played in the semis in 1984, losing to John McEnroe in straight sets.

John won the opening set with a break in game nine and came from 4-1 down in the second set tie break to secure that part of the match as well before Cash opened a 2-0 lead at the beginning of the third. John got the break back immediately and gained the crucial advantage with another one in game seven to race over the finish line.

Between 1985-2001, Boris Becker was the only U20 semi-finalist at Wimbledon and he drew the most from it, winning back-to-back titles in 1985 and 1986 to become the youngest champion ever at this event! The red-haired German clinched the first title came at the age of 17 years and seven months, standing as the second-youngest Grand Slam champion behind Michael Chang who passed him at Roland Garros four years later.

Boris was ready for all the challenges after winning Queen's a few weeks earlier and toppled Kevin Curren 6-3 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in three hours and 18 minutes in the final to embrace Wimbledon glory at such a young age. Service was the dominant factor on both sides as they fired 115 service winners together in 302 points, with Becker delivering the better numbers behind the initial shot playing with more aggression, creating 14 break points and realizing three, losing serve only once in the entire match.

The main problem for Curren was his first serve, staying below 50% for the entire match and allowing the German to take advantage of that. Despite his age and experience, Kevin was more nervous and lost his serve in the very first service game after three errors and a double fault.

That was all Becker needed to clinch the opener in 35 minutes with four service winners at 5-3, with the second set lasting for almost an hour, as Kevin prevailed in the tie break despite a 3-0 lead for Becker who won the same number of points as the American.

Things looked good for the American after his first and only break of serve in the seventh game of the third set, moving in front before the youngster broke back with a magnificent crosscourt backhand winner to level the score at 4-4 and gain the momentum.

Boris later said that was the key moment, knowing he could win the match after that break of serve. Curren was forced to save one set point in the tenth game and three more in game 12, reaching the tie break where Becker dominated to move a set away from historical success.

Boris broke in the first game of the third set with another return winner, fending off two break points with service winners in the next game to go 2-0 up. In the fifth game, Kevin saved two break chances to stay within one break deficit and another one in game nine that was the match ball actually.

At 5-3, Becker served for the Wimbledon title and showed no sign of nerves, hitting three service winners to wrap up the title and complete one of the best tennis stories ever. A year later, Becker returned to Wimbledon as the defending champion and managed to overcome the pressure and the expectations, defeating great Ivan Lendl 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 in just over two hours.

With Don Budge and Fred Perry in the crowd, and Jean Borotra (champion from 1924 and 1926) representing the trophy, they could have all enjoyed in the German's booming serves, pounding groundstrokes and a great overall package that left Lendl with no answer.

Boris served 15 aces and 106 overall in the tournament, firing 39 service winners overall to take the rhythm out of the Czech and keep him under pressure without a big margin for errors. Ivan gave everything he had while chasing the first grass Major, winning just nine points less than Boris (94-85) and losing the edge in the pivotal moments as his psychological weakness cost him dearly just like many times in the past.

They both created nine break points and Becker converting five in comparison to Lendl's two breaks, forging the crucial difference that determined the winner. The Czech started in the stronger fashion, creating three break points in the very first return game and scoring a break in game five for a 3-2 lead.

Still, the German responded in very next game to break back and level the score, winning the first set after one more break in game ten. This brings us back to the mind games and psychology, as Lendl just wasn't able to keep his level in the deciding moments.

He missed a break chance in the fifth game of the second set, only to lose his serve at 3-4 which was enough for Boris to take the set 6-3 and build a huge 2-0 advantage. Lendl was powerless on the return in this part of the match, winning only six points in Becker's game which wasn't enough for a more serious challenge.

The third set brought the biggest struggle and Lendl created a 4-1 gap to give himself a healthy lead before the rest of the set. His advantage was a short-lived one, though, with the youngster climbing his way back into the set, leveling the score at 4-4 to erase the deficit and build the momentum.

In the crucial tenth game, Lendl had a 40-0 lead and three set points on the return that could have changed the things into his favor completely. Still, an 18-year-old stayed calm and saved all three in no time, leveling the score at 5-5 and gaining more confidence before the crucial part of the set.

Ivan couldn't leave those squandered chances behind him and got broken in game 11, allowing Boris to serve for the title. Becker made a nice hold to win the set 7-5 and defend the crown won last year, entering Wimbledon record books for the second straight season.

The crowd had the opportunity to watch an excellent encounter, with both players rushing to the net more than 150 times in total and winning a similar number of points on it. They made only 26 unforced errors in the entire clash and Becker proved to be stronger and determined player when it mattered the most to become the last U20 champion at Wimbledon.

Four years later, Goran Ivanisevic became the fourth-youngest Wimbledon semi-finalist after winning five matches against the rivals from outside the top-50, facing our previous hero Boris Becker in the battle for the final.

The German prevailed 4-6, 7-6, 6-0, 7-6 and Goran certainly had his chances, converting only two out of ten break points, serving for the second set at 6-5 and also leading 3-0 in the tie break before losing seven of the next eight points.

The youngster won just nine points in set number three but made a solid recovery after that, leading 5-4 in the fourth set tie break before Boris claimed the last three points to book the place in the final. The following decade was not that good for the upcoming stars at Wimbledon, with Nicolas Kiefer as the only U20 player in the quarter-final in 1997, with all that changing in 2001 when Roger Federer stunned the defending champion Pete Sampras in five sets to reach his first quarter-final at Wimbledon before losing to Tim Henman in a very tight match.

A year later, David Nalbandian made a surprising result to reach the final where Lleyton Hewitt ousted him 6-1, 6-3, 6-2 in the title match that nobody expected, losing serve eight times from 20 chances given to the Aussie.

David was the first South American player in the Wimbledon final in the Open era and this was his ATP debut on grass, winning six matches but standing no chance against the world no. 1 who controlled the pace from start to finish.

David was also the first U20 Wimbledon finalist in 16 years and we had another one in 2006 (Mario Ancic lost in the semis in 2004) when Rafael Nadal lost to Roger Federer 6-0, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3 after a great battle in sets two and three.

Rafa led 5-3 in the second set before Roger turned the things around and the Spaniard could have only grabbed one set in his biggest result on the green surface in a career so far, only a few weeks after turning 20. The match lasted just under three hours and Roger had the upper hand almost all the time, playing against just three break points and stealing rival's serve on six occasions.

Rafa recovered after a terrible opening set but it wasn't enough for more than one set, missing a chance to win his third Grand Slam crown and join Borg and Becker on the exclusive list. In 2011, Bernard Tomic became the youngest Wimbledon quarter-finalist since Boris Becker in 1986 and the last U20 player in the quarters was his compatriot Nick Kyrgios in 2014 when he stunned Rafael Nadal in the fourth round before losing to Milos Raonic.

Nick lost in the fourth round in his last U20 season in 2015 and Alexander Zverev and Stefanos Tsitsipas followed that result in 2017 and 2018, with Felix Auger-Aliassime standing as the most prominent U20 player in the draw ahead of the 2019 edition that starts on Monday.