Some would call it a great accomplishment, while others might say it was an aberration, whatever the case Balázs Taróczy was once the Hungarian King of Holland. Not a king in the monarchical sense of the word, but in a sporting sense. Taróczy was the King of the Dutch Open Tennis Championships (also known as Hilversum) an event he dominated from 1976 through 1983. He won the singles championships six times and the doubles five times. At a glance, Taróczy’s record at the tournament was excellent, but would not seem to be worthy of special notice. The Dutch Open was always a mid-level tournament ignored by top ten players. It was not as though Taróczy was giant slaying Bjorn Borg, Guillermo Vilas or Ivan Lendl during his halcyon years at Hilversum. He was taking down lighter weights, along with a few top twenty players along the way.
Taróczy’s feat at Hilversum is astonishing because he was able to dominate at the tournament for years. He won six of his thirteen singles titles during his career there. Only the very best players have managed to win the same tournament that many times. Taróczy forte was not singles. He was a much more accomplished doubles player, one of the best in the world for years. In tandem with his Swiss partner Heinz Gunthardt, he won Grand Slam titles at the French Open and Wimbledon. Those titles put his name in the history books forever, after all Grand Slam tournaments are the crème de la crème of men’s professional tennis. Nevertheless, his Dutch Open record merits a closer look. There has never been anything like Taróczy success at Hilversum – or a similar type of tournament – from a good, but not great tennis player.
The Few & The Forgotten – Magyar Kings of the Court
Hungarian male tennis stars are few and forgotten. The Magyars have only produced one Grand Slam singles tournament winner, József Asbóth, who took the French Open title in 1947. Asbóth the son of railway workers, eventually migrated to the west in order to escape the Iron Curtain. The only commemorations of Asbóth that exist today are a street named after him in the western Hungarian city of Szombathely, where he was born. There is also a plaque in his honor that can be found in Budapest’s 11th district. His name will never be mentioned in the same breath as say Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, though he has as many French Open singles titles as the two combined. The best name for a Hungarian professional tennis player has to be Attila Savolt. The name sounds fierce and aggressive. It is a pity that Savolt’s tennis was less than stellar. He topped out with a world ranking of 68 in 2002. His winning percentage on the main tour was a woeful 39%, but at least his name was memorable.
Taróczy is by far the greatest Hungarian tennis player of the modern era (since 1968). He won 39 titles, two-thirds of which were in doubles. His favorite surface was the red clay he had grown up on. It is not surprising that he won all of his singles titles on dirt. Of course his affinity for red clay was one of the main reasons he did so well at the Dutch Open. What were the other reasons? No one really has answer. In a February 2010 blog post for Tennis Magazine, journalist Peter Bodo – an ethnic Hungarian born in Austria – gave his thoughts, “Taróczy is a long-time friend of mine; some of you may remember him as the prematurely balding Hungarian stylist with the sweeping, sweet, one-handed slice backhand and heavy serve…he collected almost half of those (singles titles) at one tournament – Hilversum, where he won at six times. What was the secret? Got me. Got him, too. He just liked it there, and after he won the title he was always welcomed back like a conquering hero.”
A Conquest Of Consistency – Catching Fire
Taróczy was definitely the king of Hilversum, the likes of which was never seen before or after his years at the tournament. Strange as it may seem, Taroczy’s multiple conquests at Hilversum had a less than agreeable start. In 1976, during his first match, he lost the first set to Martin Robinson, a Brit who never cracked the top 100. He then caught fire, relinquishing only two games over the final two sets. He did not lose another set until the final, when he came back from a two set deficit to win the championship. The next year he lost in the first round to the 174th ranked John Marks by the wild score of 0-6, 6-4, 9-7. He would not lose again until six years later.
Taróczy not only won the next four singles titles in succession, but the doubles titles in each of those years as well. In the first of those years, 1978, he destroyed Corrado Barazzuti, the number 9 ranked player in the world at the time, allowing the Italian a mere five games over three sets in the semifinals. In the final he defeated the greatest Dutch player of all time, Tom Okker. In 1979 he lost five sets, but still managed to win the tournament. In 1980 he lost no sets and only 27 games in five matches. In 1981 he defeated lifelong doubles partner Gunthardt in the final, coming from a set down to win his 20th match in a row at Hilversum. In 1982 he won his 5th title in a row there. It was an incredible run. Finally in 1983 Taróczy was defeated, but not before he made it all the way to the final. He carried a 29 match win streak into the final against Tomas Smid. The Czechoslovak was too strong, as he took Taróczy down in straight sets. The 1983 final would be the last singles match Taróczy would play at Hilversum.
Among the Greats – Taróczy’s Achievement In Retrospect
Balázs Taróczy finished his career at the Dutch Open with the astounding record of 34 – 2 (94.4%). The trophy could have retired to its rightful place, in the clutches of Taróczy’s hands where it was held aloft for so many successive summers. Possible explanations for his uncanny success at the tournament include comfort, confidence, streakiness and surface. He was certainly in his element on those balmy July days at Hilversum. It was a case of a sportsman rising to the occasion year after year after year after year after year after year, one long run-on title. His feat has rarely been surpassed. The list of tennis players who have won the same event at least six times are, Rafael Nadal, Guillermo Vilas, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, Novak Djokovic and Balazs Taróczy. Taróczy’s incredible record at the Dutch Open places him among the greats and ranks as one of the most improbable tennis achievements ever.