"Look, if you don't use that opportunity, it might never happen again."@KYevgeni recalls his historic Roland Garros win in 1996.— Tennis Channel (@TennisChannel) July 15, 2019
Kafelnikov will join Li Na and Mary Pierce to be inducted into the @tennishallofame this week in Newport. pic.twitter.com/Mvc9RsMAOb
Between singles and doubles during his time on the ATP Tour, Yevgeny Kafelnikov won nearly 1000 matches—capturing multiple Grand Slams in both disciplines during the 1990s and 2000s.
A throwback of sorts, Kafelnikov routinely contested dozens of matches in both categories on a yearly basis with versatility being among his strongest traits: The first Russian to win one of the four majors captured three or more singles titles on every surface, including carpet.
This weekend, Kafelnikov joins Mary Pierce and Li Na in the International Tennis Hall of Fame in Newport, RI. Here’s a look at some of the accomplishments that have led to his enshrinement among the legends of the sport.
In 1995, Kafelnikov reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at the French Open before Thomas Muster—in the midst of one of the greatest clay-court stretches in history—stopped his charge. A year later, with a title in Prague and a semifinal showing at the Masters event in Hamburg that spring under his belt, a 22-year-old Kafelnikov advanced to the semifinals in Paris once again, but faced an entirely different opponent: an inspired Pete Sampras, who battled through multiple five-setters on his worst surface. The Russian halted the American’s run to reach the final against another former Wimbledon champion, Michael Stich. Kafelnikov’s stronger baseline game carried him through to his first major championship, and he would go on to add the men’s doubles title with Daniel Vacek, too—making him the last man to this point to win both events at a Slam.
The Dual Threat
When Kafelnikov completed that singles-doubles sweep in Paris, it was the second time in a few weeks that he completed that feat as he and Vacek won the title in Prague. The French Open was the 11th doubles title for the Russian, and his 10th in singles. Routinely playing deep into the draws of both events—unusual at that time for such an elite singles player—Kafelnikov would go on to win 27 doubles tournaments, reaching as high as No. 4 in the world. He captured four Grand Slams—three with Vacek and one with Paul Haarhuis—and seven Masters titles, five of them with Wayne Ferrerira.
Having reached the Australian Open quarterfinals in 1995 and ’96, Kafelnikov missed the next two editions of the year’s first major. He made the most of his return to the tournament in 1999: Seeded 10th, Kafelnikov came through an upset-ravaged event to win his second Grand Slam singles title, defeating unseeded Swede Thomas Enqvist in the final. A year later, Kafelnikov—seeded second this time—nearly defended his title, but lost to world No. 1 Andre Agassi in four sets in the championship match.
He’s Number 1
Going into the 1999 edition of the Italian Open with two titles under his belt already that season, Kafelnikov found himself sitting atop the ATP Tour rankings, becoming the first Russian—male or female—to ascend to the lead spot in the standings. He managed to hold on to that loftiest of positions for a total of six weeks.
From his first appearance at the Australian Open to his final-round showing in 2000, Kafelnikov amassed a record of 22 wins against only four losses, showing that he knew what it took to succeed Down Under. It was only natural, then, that he would be considered among the favorites at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, living up to that by winning the Gold Medal in five sets over Tommy Haas. Two years later, he added to his legacy as one of Russia’s best athletes in international competition by helping the nation win the prestigious Davis Cup for the first time, defeating France in the final.
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