- 27 Feb 2021
What happened exactly on that day?
On this day, February 27, 2005, in Scottsdale, Wayne Arthurs, aged 33, became the oldest player to win his first ATP title. To achieve that feat, the Australian lefty, ranked world No 99 at the time, outserved Mario Ancic, from Croatia, in the final (7-5, 6-3). It would remain the only title of his career.
The guys involved
Wayne Arthurs, born in 1971, was the son of a former Irish Davis Cup player, who later moved to Australia. Left-handed, Arthurs relied mostly on one of the deadliest serves of his time. In his first years on the tour, he had the best results in doubles, but in singles, his career took off only in 1999, when he made his way out of the qualifications unto the fourth round at Wimbledon. Before losing to Agassi (6-7, 7-6, 6-1, 6-4), the lefty had held his serve for 111 consecutive games! The same year, he upset world No 2, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, in a Davis Cup tie held on grass (6-2, 6-7, 6-2, 6-0). He managed to reach the fourth round in tree other Grand Slam tournaments: the US Open in 2000 (defeated by Thomas Johansson, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-4), the 2001 French Open (lost to Roger Federer, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2), and Wimbledon in 2002 (lost to David Nalbandian, 6-4, 7-6, 2-6, 7-6). In 2002, he reached his first final on the Tour, in Nottingham, where he was defeated by Jonas Bjorkman, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2. His career-high ranking was world No 44, in 2001. In February 2005, he was world No 99.
Croatian Mario Ancic, nicknamed “Super Mario”, was born in 1984. A very promising player, he obtained great results as a junior, reaching the final of the 2000 Wimbledon boy’s event at the age of 16. He made himself known to the general public two year later, at the All England Club, when, invited into the main draw, he defeated world No 9, Roger Federer, in the first round (6-3, 7-6, 6-3). In 2003, shortly after he entered the top 100, he reached the Australian Open fourth round, defeated by Juan Carlos Ferrero (6-0, 6-3, 6-2). It took him eighteen month to break into the top 50, in July 2004, after he made his way into the semi-finals at Wimbledon, where he beat the local favourite, Tim Henman (7-6, 6-4, 6-2), before being finally defeated by Andy Roddick ((6-4, 4-6, 7-5, 7-5). He started 2005 by reaching the third round at the Australian Open (defeated by the future champion, Marat Safin, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4). He entered the draw in Scottsdale as world No 29.
The Scottsdale Open was established in 1986. Held at the end of February or in early March, it was a prestigious hard-court event, won by three former world No 1 players: Jim Courier (1995), Lleyton Hewitt (2000, 2003), and, above all, Andre Agassi, who held the record of the four titles won in Arizona (1993, 1994, 1998, 2002).
The two players who faced each other in the final of the 2005 Tennis Channel Open, in Scottsdale, had opposite profiles. On one hand, Mario Ancic, the rising star, aged 20, who had already reached the Wimbledon semi-finals and earned himself the nickname of “Super Mario”. On the other hand, Wayne Arthurs, the late bloomer, who, at 33 years old, had never made his way into the quarter-finals of a major event and had only reached one final on the Tour. The Croatian was right-handed, the Australian was left-handed. The only thing these two players shared was an aggressive game relying on a deadly serve: while Arthurs’ serve had been named “the best in the world” by several top players such as Andre Agassi, Ancic had also been nicknamed “Baby Goran”, in reference to Goran Ivanisevic.
The entire week, the Australian had been serving better than ever. But in the final, not only did he outserve his young opponent, but he made a difference by delivering a great performance at return.
“His serve is unbelievably difficult but he surprised me how well he returned today,” Ancic said. “I knew he was serving big and I would have a tough time, but the way he returned was really impressive. I didn’t expect that.”
Aged 33, Arthurs prevailed in two sets, 7-5, 6-3, becoming the oldest player to win a first ATP title. To achieve that feat, the left-hander held his serve 62 consecutive times during the tournament, having been broken only in the first set of his first-round match against Taylor Dent (3-6, 6-3, 7-6).
“I felt I couldn’t miss my serve no matter how hard I hit it,” said Arthurs. “I knew I had to do that because he’s a great returner and I didn’t let him get into any of my service games at all, except one when I made a couple of easy volleying errors. Apart from that, it’s probably one of the best serving displays I’ve ever had.”
Wayne Arthurs would never reach another final on the Tour. He would retire from professional tennis in 2007.
A few months later, Mario Ancic would claim his first title, in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, defeating Michael Llodra in the final (7-5, 6-4). He would have his peak year in 2006, claiming two titles and finishing runner-up three times, while reaching the quarter-finals at both Roland-Garros and Wimbledon (defeated each time by Roger Federer, whom he would never beat a second time). Struck by mononucleosis in 2007, he would never manage to play another full year on the Tour and he would retire in 2011.