Tennis Prose



Remembering Rika Hiraki’s One Grand Slam Title

By Scoop Malinowski

Rika Hiraki is a name most tennis observers may not remember. But the Japanese woman won a Grand Slam title in 1997 at Roland Garros with Mahesh Bhupathi. It was a thrilling, historic win. In Hiraki’s career she never got passed the third round of any Grand Slam in any draw but she and the Indian caught fire in Paris in 1997.

Seeded 16th, the pair had a bye in the first round and lost their first set together 26 vs Australian Kristine Kunce and American Scott Davis. They ended up prevailing 26 62 97.

In the third round Hiraki and Bhupathi survived another dramatic match, edging the no. 6 seeds David Adams and Alexandra Fusai 36 76 (9-7) 64.

In the quarterfinals was the 9th seeds Anna Kournikova and Mark Knowles but Hiraki and Bhupathi had found their groove and court chemistry and won 75 60.

“Bhuparaki” (my nickname) kept getting better together as the tournament progressed. In the semis they crushed the 4 seed tandem of Cyric Suk and Helena Sukova 64 64. And in the final they dominated the no. 1 seeds Patrick Galbraith and Lisa Raymond 64 61.

This would be the first Grand Slam of the 24 year old Bhupathi’s career and the first Grand Slam title in the history of Indian tennis. Bhupathi would eventually win 12 total Grand Slams.

The diminutive 5-foot-2 Hiraki was 25 years old when she won Roland Garros. She competed in Grand Slams from 1991-2000 and 1997 Roland Garros was the only time she got passed the third round. Her best ranking was 72 in singles and 26 in doubles (she won six WTA doubles titles).

Hiraki and Bhupathi played 1997 Wimbledon together and beat Venus Williams and Cristo van Rensburg 67 63 62 in the first round and Filippo Messori and Flora Perfetti in second round 36 75 63. Then in third round they lost to 5th seed Rick Leach and Manon Bollegraf 36 75 46. Suk and Sukova won the title that year.

At US Open Hiraki and Bhupathi lost first round to Katrina Adams and Andrew Florent 46 62 26.

They changed partners for 1998 Australian Open. Hiraki played with David Roditi and they lost first round to alternates Wayne Arthurs and Louise Pleming 64 36 57. Bhupathi reached the semis with Caroline Vis where they lost to Suk and Sukova 26 63 67.

But the now 52 year old Riki Hiraki did something that many great tennis players never did – Marcelo Rios, James Blake, Tomas Berdych, David Ferrer, David Nalbandian, etc… Rika Hiraki won a Grand Slam title.

Hiraki remembers her magical tennis miracle in the spring of 1997…

“Thank you very much for the article and remembering my results from 25 years ago. My victory of the French Open 1997 is still sounds like a dream to me. Because at that time, almost all the Grand Slams were won by top five ranked players for few years. Most of the players who participated Grand Slams thought none of us would win the title if you were not top five. So that when I arrived at Birmingham tournament site next day, next tournament right after the French Open, all the players who were warming up on courts stopped their practice and came up to me immediately and congratulated me saying “you won the Grand Slam for us!” Mahesh won many Grand Slams after the French Open but it was his first mixed doubles tournament and victory. There were many little stories and coincidences for us each time during the tournament. Maybe because we were not like top players like other Grand Slam winners. It was a great memory and great experience for me and I really appreciate all the people.”

· · ·

Comments are closed.



Find it!

Copyright 2010
To top