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Champion's Alley: Sylvia Hanika

Champion's Alley: A series looking at the former champions at the WTA Finals. This week, Mark Hodgkinson focuses on 1982 champion Sylvia Hanika

As Sylvia Hanika made her entrance at the Madison Square Garden, to play Martina Navratilova in the final of the 1982 championships, she gave herself a pep-talk. "Whatever you do," the German said to herself, "don't lose 6-love, 6-love."

You can appreciate why Hanika was a little concerned about the possibility of being demolished by Navratilova, as her opponent had walked on court on an undefeated streak of 27 matches. And you can also understand why later, in a post-match telephone call, Hanika's father simply didn't believe what his daughter was telling him. Could this really be true, that Hanika had beaten the great Navratilova to win the biggest title of her tennis life? That is indeed what had happened in New York City, and what made the story all the more remarkable is that Hanika had trailed 1-6, 1-3 before turning the match around and winning 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. For Hanika, this was nothing less than "the happiest day of my whole life". "I still can't believe it," she kept on saying, even after she had had some time to process the result.

But, after a little more thinking time, Hanika was clear on something; she didn't want anyone to suggest that her victory was based on fortune. "It was not a matter of luck - I made good shots and points,"said Hanika, who played some bold, ambitious tennis in the second and third sets. She felt as though she had nothing to lose, and she was right about that, so why not take some big swings and go for winners? She had never played a better match. On the other side of the net, Navratilova noticed a change in her opponent. "She just started hitting winners all over the place," Navratilova said. "What I'm mad about is that I didn't do anything in the final set. I didn't play scared, but I didn't do anything. She ended up coming to the net more than I did."


Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Game, Set and Match: Secret Weapons of the World's Top Tennis Players' (Bloomsbury, May 2015).