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December 13, 1982: The day Johan Kriek achieved an unprecedented double at Australian Open

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate an important moment in tennis history. On this day, Johan Kriek won the Australian Open for the second time in one year.. and he beat the same player, Steve Denton

Johan Kriek, On This Day Johan Kriek, On This Day

What exactly happened on that day?

On this day, December 13 in 1982, Johan Kriek achieved a unique and bizarre feat: he won the Australian Open twice in the same calendar year. Kriek had won the 1981 Australian Open title that ended on January 3, 1982, by defeating Steve Denton (6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4); and he beat Denton again in the Australian Open final a second time (6-3, 6-3, 6-2) in December to become the first and only player to claim the same Grand Slam title twice in less than 12 months, facing the same opponent in both finals.

The players: Johan Kriek and Steve Denton

  • Johan Kriek: The South African-born American who became the Australian Open champion

Johan Kriek was born in South Africa in 1958 and became a naturalised US citizen in August 1982. His very aggressive game made him a dangerous opponent, mainly on fast surfaces. He turned pro in 1978, and the following year, claimed his first title in Sarasota by defeating Rick Meyer in the final (7-6, 6-2).

In 1980, he obtained his breakthrough Grand Slam result at the US Open, reaching the semi-finals and taking a two-sets-to-love lead against Bjorn Borg before eventually collapsing (4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1). In 1981, he reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon (lost to John McEnroe, 6-1, 7-5, 6-1), but at the end of the season, he became the first South African to ever claim a Grand Slam title, defeating Steve Denton in the Australian Open final.

A month later, in Memphis, he managed to beat McEnroe (6-3, 3-6, 6-4) to claim his fifth title, but the American left-hander defeated him again in the Wimbledon quarter-finals (4-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3). At the start of the 1982 Australian Open, he was ranked No 12 in the world.

  • Steve Denton: The big-serving American with an unusual service motion

Steve Denton, an American born in 1956, was considered to have the most powerful serve of his time. In 1982, he served more aces than anyone else on the tour and claimed to have fired 12 consecutive aces in a doubles match in Stockholm. He used a unique motion, which involved taking two steps forward prior to striking the ball. It would later be forbidden by the rules.

A late bloomer, after having played college tennis for the University of Texas, he reached his first final at the 1981 Australian Open, defeated by Kriek. The following year, he reached the fourth round at Wimbledon (lost to Gene Mayer, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4), and at the US Open, he clinched the doubles title alongside Kevin Curren. At the start of the 1982 Australian Open, he was ranked No 13 in the world.

The place: The Australian Open in Melbourne

Unlike the other Grand Slams, the Australian Open (first known as the Australasian Championships and, later, the Australian Championships) had moved several locations through the years.

In fact, the event switched cities virtually every year before it settled in Melbourne in 1972, and no less than five Australian cities had hosted the event at least three times: Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. The event was held on grass at the Kooyong Stadium in a posh suburb of Melbourne. Its position on the calendar had changed several times as well, between early December and January, going from being the first Grand Slam of the season to being the last.

Until 1982, many of the top men and women players skipped the Australian Open, because of the long travel, inconvenient dates (around Christmas and New Year’s Day) and the low prize money. But in 1983, the tournament had attracted three top players: Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Mats Wilander.

The facts: Johan Kriek wins in straight sets

Although they only held the 12th and 13th position on the ATP rankings, Johan Kriek and Steve Denton were the top seeds and favourites at the 1982 Australian Open, especially after meeting in the 1981 final.  

In a tournament plagued by rain delays, which forced the men’s third and fourth rounds to be played in a best-of-three format – both players survived five-set scares in the semi-finals. Kriek struggled to overcome Paul McNamee (7-6, 7-6, 4-6, 3-6, 7-5) while Denton was severely challenged by Hank Pfister (6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6). 

On December 13, the final was rather one-sided, as Kriek defeated Denton in straight sets (6-3, 6-3, 6-2) to become the only man in tennis history to win the same Grand Slam tournament twice in one calendar year.

What next? Kriek in the top 5, Denton in the record books

From 1983 onwards, the top players would start attending the Australian Open, and Johan Kriek would be defeated in 1983, 1984 and 1985 by Mats Wilander (once in the semi-finals, twice in the quarter-finals). Reaching his highest ranking of world No 5 in 1985, Kriek would also reach the final four at Roland-Garros in 1986 defeating Guillermo Vilas (3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6) before falling to Ivan Lendl (6-2, 6-1, 6-0). 

Steve Denton would never go past the third round of a Grand Slam tournament again. Despite six finals reached throughout his career, he would never claim a single title, and his best ranking would remain world No 12 in 1983. In 1984, Denton would set a service speed record of 138 mph (222 kmh) that would stand for 13 years, broken in 1997 by Mark Philippoussis with a 142 mph (229 kmh serve).

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