The Spirit & Sadness Of Victory -Laslo Djere: Triumphing In Tragic Circumstances

Tennis is a lonely sport. When a player steps onto the court they are all by themselves. Even the best professional players, who have coaches, trainers and sports psychologists, can only glance helplessly at their entourages once a match begins. Verbal and moral support is kept at a distance. A player is left to rely solely on their wits and skills. They become a lone battler whose only solace is that they are opposed by another lone battler. For those on the pro tennis tour this loneliness often extends beyond the court. Many of those ranked outside the top 100 spend much of their time traveling to tournaments alone, dining alone, living in hotels alone and spending their time in foreign countries alone. Home is a succession of cities they never really get to see. There is little glamor to be found in this life of loneliness. I was reminded of this a few days ago when I once again came across the name of Laslo Djere (Laszlo Gyore). This time, I was astonished to discover that he was the fifth seed at an ATP tournament in Marrakech, Morocco.

Prior to March, Djere had been a young up and coming player slowly on the rise. Then all the sudden he was a seeded player at a tour event. Discovering this, led me to do some research on his meteoric rise. Djere’s ascent in the ranking was due to some fantastic results during the first three months of 2019 which lifted him all the way to #32 in the world. This made him the top ethnic Hungarian tennis player in the world, as he soared past Marton Fuscovics. Unlike Fucsovics, who has been making Hungarian tennis history during the past year, Djere is relatively unknown among those who follow Hungarian tennis. That is because he grew up outside of Hungary in the predominantly ethnic Hungarian town of Senta, located in the northern part of Serbia. This has made Djere something of outlier in his homeland just as he is in Hungary. It is an interesting situation since he is a minority in a nation that is dominated by Serbs. And yet this is not the most remarkable aspect of his tennis career and recent rise. That is because Djere has managed to climb up the tennis rankings in the loneliest possible circumstances. Tragically, neither of Djere’s parents are still alive to see their son’s rapid ascent in the world of men’s professional tennis.

The loneliness of life on the men’s professional tennis tour has been compounded for Laslo Djere. His father died of cancer seven years ago long before his son became a pro. Then only two months ago, the same disease took the life of Djere’s mother. To lose one parent as a young adult is a grievous blow, to lose them both is a tragedy. One can only imagine the grief Djere suffered at the beginning of this year. The loss for him and his sister of that familial support system which is so critical to the security and stability of a family is difficult to comprehend. The fact that a grieving Djere faced this difficult life situation with resolve and courage shows the quality of his character. That he produced the greatest results of his career is even more remarkable. He did this half a world away from his homeland, at two consecutive events in Brazil, turning the first part of 2019 from a personal tragedy to professional triumph. Unfortunately, these victories can mitigate, but never heal his grief.

The Spirit Endures - Laslo Djere

The Spirit Endures – Laslo Djere (Credit: si.robi)

Tempering Optimism  – A Boost of Confidence
In September 2017, Djere first entered the top 100. Then his movement up the rankings stalled. For a year and a half, his ranking hovered between #85 and #110. His results were good enough to maintain a decent ranking. Conversely, they did little to raise hopes of renewed promise. The beginning of Djere’s 2019 tennis campaign was lackluster to say the least. In January and early February, he lost four consecutive matches, including one where he was forced to retire. This was understandable. Djere had his mind on much more important things back home. When he did reengage mentally with the tour, there was nothing that portended favorable results. The best hope was for Djere to get back on his favorite surface, red clay. A swing through South America in February offered him just that opportunity. He showed up in the seaside, carnival loving city of Rio de Janeiro for the first of two tournaments in Brazil. Any optimism Djere might have had was likely tempered when he glanced at the draw.

This was because he had drawn the top seed, Dominic Thiem from Austria. Thiem is a formidable foe for any player on the pro tour, especially on red clay. In 2018, Thiem made his first Grand Slam final on red clay at the French Open. To say Djere was an underdog would be an understatement. No one would have known that by the final score. Djere laid a drubbing on Thiem, beating him easily in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3. It was his first victory over a top ten player and served as a huge confidence boost for the coming rounds. He went on to win his next four matches and the tournament without the loss of a single set. Djere’s performance was extraordinary, both because it was unexpected and utterly dominant. The triumph came with a heavy heart. A hint of sadness seeped through during the trophy presentation when Djere dedicated the victory to his parents who had sacrificed so much for him to succeed. It was obvious that even though his parents were not with him physically, they would always be with him spiritually.

The Heart Of A Champion- Laslo Djere in Rio

The Heart Of A Champion- Laslo Djere in Rio (Credit: Laslo Djure Instagram)

Family Honor  – A Vast Potential
It is not uncommon for a player who manages an astonishing performance one week to suffer a letdown the next. It would not have been surprising to see Djere lose early in Sao Paulo after his title winning run in Rio. Unlike the week before, he was tested early and often. In each of his first three matches, Djere was taken to a third set before he prevailed. He made it all the way to the semifinals. It was a fine showing coming on the heels of a magnificent one. After the two tournaments in Brazil, Djere’s ranking jumped 62 spots, from #94 to #32 in the world. With these successes he kickstarted his career and began to realize his vast potential. Whether he is well on his way to greater things only time will tell. More important than any tournament victories or rise in the ranking is the fact that Djere continues to honor his parent’s faith in his ability. That is because he triumphs over tragedy every time he steps on the court.

The Ascension of Hungary – Marton Fucsovics & The Davis Cup Defeat Of Russia

On Sunday, September 17th the Hungarian Davis Cup team qualified for the 2018 World Group in a stunning upset over a heavily favored Russian team. Boisterous fans urged the home side on to victory. Seeing the cheering throngs left me wondering how many of those same fans were in the southeastern Hungarian city of Szeged in April 2014 when Hungary was mired in the lowest level of Davis Cup play. Likely very few and for good reason. Hungary had not been in World Group play since 1996, years of listless results had led to a downward spiral that found the team relegated to the Europe/Africa Zone III group. Zone III is the netherworld of the Davis Cup. The matches are best of three rather than best of five sets and the ties are decided by the first nation to win two matches. This zone is the preserve of such tennis lightweights as Andorra, Albania and Armenia. It was the latter nation that Hungary faced first on a spring day three years ago in Szeged.

Hungary vs. Russia - a Davis Cup tie to remember

Hungary vs. Russia – a Davis Cup tie to remember

Marton Fucsovics played a vital role for a victorious Hungarian team that triumphed over Armenia, Liechtenstein and Georgia in quick succession without the loss of a single set. In 2015, the Hungarian team completed another trifecta of victories while advancing to Group One. Progress stalled in July 2016 when the Hungarians suffered a defeat at the hands of Slovakia, only to avenge that earlier this year with an upset win over the Slovaks in Bratislava. All of these victories were led by the play of Fucsovics, who was in the process of becoming a one man Davis Cup team. Of course, there were others who contributed as well, specifically Attila Balazs. It would be Fucsovics and Balazs who were picked to play all five ties against Russia in the World Group playoffs this past week.

One Man Gang – Magnificent Marton
Though enjoying home court advantage, the Hungarians still looked overmatched. The Russian team was young, eager and talented. Their oldest player was just 21 years old. All three of Russia’s top players were ranked in the top sixty-one in the world. Conversely, the Hungarians did not have any players in the top 100. What the Hungarians did have on their side was years of experience. They also had Fucsovics who came into the tie having won his 12 of his last 13 Davis Cup matches. He had single handedly put the team on his shoulders in an upset win over Slovakia back in February. Since that time he had slipped into (and back out of) the top 100 for the first time ever. He was playing well coming into the tie, as was his countryman Attila Balazs. Nevertheless, no one thought the Hungarian team capable of beating Russia and for good reason, Hungary had lost to Russia (or the Soviet Union) all six times they faced off in the Davis Cup.

A dynamic doubles duo - Marton Fucsovics & Attila Balazs

A dynamic doubles duo – Marton Fucsovics & Attila Balazs

This time would be different. The Hungarians had several advantages, not only were they playing at home, but they chose to play the tie on slow red clay. Both Fucsovics and Balazs had played the week before on the surface at a challenger in Genoa, Italy. While Andrey Rubelev and Karen Khachanov, Russia’s two top players, had been playing in the United States on hard courts for their last several tournaments. Experience was also a decisive factor in the outcome. The 19-year old Rubelev had never played a Davis Cup match before on red clay. Between the two of them, Fucsovics and Balazs had played three times as many ties The surface advantage coupled with an edge in experience for Hungary can hardly be overstated. They needed all the help they could get to overcome the raw talent of the Russians.  Fucsovics did just this in the first tie. He raced out to a two sets to love lead over the much higher ranked Rubelev. He then hung on to win the fifth set. This victory was crucial because Attila Balazs was unable to eke out a victory over Khachanov. With the match tied at a set apiece, a long and tense third set tiebreaker proved decisive when Khachanov won it 14 – 12. He then easily closed out the match 6-1 in the fourth set.

Brilliance In Budapest – Overcoming The Odds…And Fatigue
Both the victorious Fucsovics and the defeated Balazs looked like to be physically exhausted after the first day. Fatigue was an issue since both men were slated to play every match in the tie. If Hungary lost the doubles, it was likely that a 1 – 2 deficit would be too much to overcome. Fucsovics and Balazs did not let the situation come to that. They played a splendid match, returning serve much better than their Russian foes to win in straight sets. The victory gave Hungary two chances to win the tie on the third and final day. Their best opportunity would come in the fourth rubber as Fucsovics faced Karen Khachanov. Though Khachanov was the highest ranked player on either team at #32, he had struggled in Davis Cup play, with a less than stellar 2-3 record in singles. This, along with Fucsovics form, was enough to give the Hungarians a realistic chance of an improbable victory.

The moment of glory - Marton Fucsovics celebrates winning the final point for Hungary

The moment of glory – Marton Fucsovics celebrates winning the final point for Hungary

Fucsovics did the best thing he possibly could by starting the match strong, winning the first set 7-5. Uniquely, he won more points on his second serve than his first. He also returned well enough to gain four break points, two of which he converted. His fast start whipped the crowd into a frenzy which was only matched by the biting, windy conditions that beset the Kopazsi Dam facility in Budapest. Fucsovics continued to play at the highest level as he took the next two sets and match. Hungary was finally  through to the World Group. Twenty-one years of futility and frustration evaporated in a matter of moments. The Hungarians had done the unexpected and in the process put their nation back on the international tennis map. Can they continue their winning ways in the 2018 World Group? It is improbable, but not impossible. Led by the rise of Marton Fucsovics as a Davis Cup stalwart, Hungary’s play since 2014 has exceeded all expectations. Whether or not their ascension continues largely depends on the play of Fucsovics.

The Personal Record Keeper Of Marton Fucsovics – Confessions Of Fanaticism: A Discovery Of Glory

Many years ago, I recall reading an article in Tennis Magazine that mentioned a hopelessly eccentric tennis fanatic who claimed to be the personal record keeper of Marian Vajda. Vajda was a good, but not great professional tennis player from Czechoslovakia who won a couple of second tier clay court tournaments on the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour. The fact that any person saw fit to call themselves Vajda’s “personal record keeper” was bizarre in the extreme.  I often wondered just what kind of person would give themselves such a title. I imagined some lost soul who had latched onto Vajda’s tennis career as something they could use to channel a tendency toward obsessiveness. There was something endearing about such a person, the kind of true believer who lives and dies by Vajda’s results in obscure tournaments such as the Bari Open. The article began a secret ambition for me that I too might one day find refuge in an obscure tennis obsession. When I decided to follow Hungarian men’s tennis players that dream began to materialize, albeit a rather harsh one filled with many more losses than wins. Then quite suddenly, over the past few months I finally found glory in the play of Marton Fucsovics.

Marton Fucsovics reigned supreme at the Ilkley Challenger - earning him direct entry to Wimbledon

Marton Fucsovics reigned supreme at the Ilkley Challenger – earning him direct entry to Wimbledon

A Fickle Disorder –The Perils Of Promise
I must confess that my support of Marton Fucsovics and his climb in the ATP rankings has been somewhat of a fickle disorder this year. Fucsovics, the top ranked Hungarian men’s professional tennis player, is the great hope of long suffering fans of Hungarian tennis. In early February, Fucsovics sported flashes of the promise he had shown long ago when he won the 2010 Wimbledon Junior Championships. After turning pro, Fucsovics’ highest ranking had been #135, which he reached during the fall of 2014. Since that time he has been stuck in neutral, good enough to play consistently at the challenger level, but from from becoming an Tp World Tour stalwart. Then in February, Fucsovics caught fire by first leading Hungary to a road upset over a heavily favored Slovakia in Bratislava, then charging all the way to the final of a challenger in Budapest. Hope sprang anew. I was almost ready to anoint Fucsovics heir to the legacy of Balacs Taroczy.

That was until Fucsovics proved himself to be more worthy of comparisons to Attila Savolt, in other words someone with a strange name and a not so top 100 game. He tried and failed to qualify for several ATP world tour events. He mixed in acceptable losses to tour regulars such as Fernando Verdasco and Benoit Paire with more depressing defeats against the likes of Alexander Bublik, Filip Krajinovic and Stefano Napolitano. Fucsovics was well on his way once again to tennis oblivion. When he showed up to play at a challenger in Vicenza, Italy at the end of May Fucsovics had lost 11 of his past 19 matches. That was when a funny thing happened on the way to obscurity, Fucsovics suddenly began playing the best tennis of his career. He won two challengers – matching his career total – in the space of just three weeks. It was an amazing transformation, the unexpected nature of which made it all the more surprising.

Taking Advantage – Rising To The Challenger
Fucsovics had only played a single match at Vicenza prior to the 2017 tournament.  In that lone appearance he had lost in the first round. This time he took advantage of a fortuitous draw where he faced two qualifiers and a wild card entry in his first three matches. He did not face anyone ranked above him until the final. His opponent in that match was also an ethnic Hungarian who is a Serbian national, the up and coming Laslo Djere. The match was a close run affair with Djere taking the first set in a tiebreak. In the second set, Fucsovics barely held on to force another tiebreak. He then saved two match points before finally winning the set. This effectively broke Djere’s will. Fucsovics was then able to run away with the third set. He was a champion on the challenger circuit for the first time since 2013.

The next week Fucsovics was forced to abruptly change his strategy as he transitioned to grass courts. At the ATP World Tour level Stuttgart event he qualified for the main draw, where he lost in the first round. He then traveled to Ilkley in Great Britain. Fusovics had never played a challenger tournament on grass before this event. The first time turned out to be a charm for Fucsovics. In his first round match he defeated the tournament’s number one seed, Victor Estrella. This meant he took over Estrella’s draw. Fucsovics soon hit his stride, winning his final three matches of the tournament without the loss of a set. It was his second challenger title in a span of just fourteen days. His ranking soared to an all-time high of #107. Better yet, his victory at Ilkley earned him a spot in the main draw of Wimbledon.

Fucsovics won the 2010 Wimbledon Junior Singles Title - a harbinger of greater things to come

Fucsovics won the 2010 Wimbledon Junior Singles Title – a harbinger of greater things to come

The Journey To Become A Journeyman – Leaping From The Fringes
Fucsovics’ sudden success seemingly came out of nowhere. He is 25 years old and has been toiling away in the minor leagues of the tour for seven years now. His rise was unforeseen, but with the two challenger titles he has given his followers new hope. How far can he go? A few wins at Wimbledon or another good result at a challenger event would put Fucsovics into the top 100, making him the first Hungarian since what seems like time immemorial to achieve that benchmark.  His leap from the fringes of challenger level events to rising journeyman has been sudden and improbable, the fall as Fucsovics well knows can happen just as fast. No one has been more surprised by his recent results than the handful of fanatics who closely follow Fucsovics results. Outside of his family, friends and coach, I just might be the lone Fucsovics acolyte on earth. If this Hungarian hero of mine keeps up his winning ways I just might have to anoint myself as the personal record keeper of Marton Fucsovics. If someone could do it for Marian Vajda, then I can certainly do it for Marton Fucsovics.

In All Fairness –A Victory For Sportsmanship: Istvan Gulyas & The 1966 French Open Final

Istvan Gulyas won twenty titles during a long tennis career that spanned both the amateur and professional eras, but it was the one title match he did not win which Gulyas will be most remembered for. Prior to the 1966 French Open Istvan Gulyas had played in eleven consecutive French Opens and never made it past the third round. His career record at Roland Garros of 8-11 included four first round losses and three losses by walkover due to injury. Few players have had such a long and uneventful record in a Grand Slam tournament where they eventually found success. Gulyas’ run to the final in 1966 turned out to be a microcosm of his career, unexpected success that came later than usual.

In 1966 the 34 year old Hungarian was set to face Australian Tony Roche in the French Open final. The only problem was that Roche had badly injured his ankle in a doubles match the day before he was to play the singles final. The dire prognosis from a doctor gave little hope that Roche’s ankle would heal in time for the Saturday singles final. The only way he might be able to play was if the final could be moved to Sunday. Such a change could only take place if Gulyas would agree to it. The answer was never in doubt.

István Gulyás - Hungary's best tennis player during the 1960s

István Gulyás – Hungary’s best tennis player during the 1960s (Credit Harry Pot/Anefo – Nationaal Archief)

Behind An Iron Curtain – Hidden Talent
Gulyas was born in Pecs, a full decade before Hungary was changed irreparably by its involvement in the Second World War. The resulting political changes following the war led to a communist-totalitarian state which affected Gulyas’ career. The hard line Stalinist government that ruled Hungary allowed few of its citizens, including sportsmen, to travel abroad. It was only in the mid-1950’s when more moderate leadership came to power that opportunities for athletes to travel west of the Iron Curtain became available. The upshot was that Gulyas did not play at a Grand Slam event until 1955 when he was 24 years old. It took him several years after that to make a mark in international tennis. Perhaps the difficulty he experienced in getting to play internationally helped Gulyas form an attitude that took the breaks of the game in stride. To his fellow competitors he was known as a gentleman, never questioning a call and accepting what happened on the court without argument. This did not mean he was stoic, far from it. Gulyas talked to himself incessantly during matches. Whenever he hit a bad shot Gulyas would apparently apologize to himself with the phrase “Pardon Vishey.” His opponents were not quite sure what this meant and they were unlikely to find out since he did not speak English.

Success internationally did not arrive for Gulyas until he completed a degree in architecture from the Budapest University of Technology in 1957.After that he set about building a top level tennis career. His first major international success came in 1958 when he won a tournament in Beaulieu, France. He also won titles in multiple years at events behind the Iron Curtain including the International Champioships of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. He continued to play well in France winning several titles there in the early and mid-1960’s. Then in 1966, at the ripe old tennis age of 34 he produced his strongest results yet in the lead-up to the French Open, winning titles in Menton, Aix-En-Provence and Nice. Raising the level of his game, Gulyas arrived at the French Open playing some of the best tennis of his career. He entered the tournament dangerous, but still unseeded. Much would depend upon whom Gulyas faced in the draw. Fortunately Gulyas would play only one seeded player before the semis.

Istvan Gulyas - 1966 French Open finalist

Istvan Gulyas – 1966 French Open finalist

Final Decision  – The Unlikeliest Of Outcomes
His first round opponent, an Australian named Bob Howe, had been playing and losing at Roland Garros for just as many years as Gulyas. Howe had an even worse record of 6-10 at the tournament. He offered tepid resistance as Gulyas won in straight sets. In his second round matchup against the Ecuadorean Miguel Olvera, Gulyas surrendered only six games. This victory setup a meeting with 12th seeded Thomaz Koch of Brazil. Koch preferred hard courts and grass over red clay. He had defeated the Hungarian in the 4th round of the U.S. Open three years earlier, but Gulyas had returned the favor at Roland Garros the next year.  Once again, the surface favored Gulyas who defeated the Brazilian in four tough sets. In the Round of 16, Gulyas was lucky to avoid the hard serving Aussie John Newcombe who had been upset by the American Clark Graebner. Gulyas had never played Graebner before. They split the first two sets, but Gulyas was able to wear Graebner down, surrendering only two games in the fourth set.

With this win Gulyas was through to his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. His opponent was Ken Fletcher of Australia. Fletcher had upset two time French Open champion and fourth seed Nicola Pietrangeli in the third round. Gulyas showed few signs of nerves as he won easily in straight sets. His toughest test yet came in the semifinals against South Africa’s Cliff Drysdale. Drysdale won two of the first three sets, but the third set had gone all the way to 9-7. Unlike Gulyas who had easily won his previous match, Drysdale had survived a close four set battle against Fred Stolle. The South African began to tire while Gulyas raised the level of his game to win the final two sets 6-2, 6-3. Gulyas had shocked the tennis world by making the final. Now he had the choice of whether or not to allow Roche an extra day of recovery for his ankle. If Gulyas decided the final should be played on Saturday as scheduled than Roche would have to forfeit and the Hungarian would be the French Open champion. He chose otherwise. In an act of first class sportsmanship Gulyas said the final could be played a day later, allowing Roche enough recovery time to play.

Tony Roche & Istvan Gulyas - a victory for sportsmanship

Tony Roche & Istvan Gulyas – a victory for sportsmanship

Ultimate Respect – An Unexpected Success
The final turned out to be not much of a match. Roche, who had to get pain killing injections just to play the final, dominated in a resounding victory 6-1, 6-4, 7-5. It would be the only Grand Slam singles title of Roche’s career. It was also the only Grand Slam singles final of Gulyas’ career. It was a strange ending to a remarkable run. Gulyas was lauded for his decision. He was the recipient of the UNESCO International Fair Play Award in 1967. Years later Roche would say, “I won this final I shouldn’t have played. But it was only through the generosity of Istvan, which was something very special. I couldn’t imagine a similar scenario playing out in today’s game.” Istvan Gulyas may not have won the 1966 French Open title, but through his act of sportsmanship he earned the ultimate respect of his opponent and tennis fans forever.

The Hungarian King Of Holland – Balázs Taróczy: Tennis’ Ultimate Aberration

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.

Balázs Taróczy

Balázs Taróczy – in action on his favorite surface of red clay

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.”

Balázs Taróczy at Hilversum in 1981

The Hungarian King Of Holland – Balázs Taróczy at Hilversum in 1981 (Credit: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo)

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.

Balázs Taróczy - always close to the clay

Balázs Taróczy – always close to the clay

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.