- The Washington Times - Monday, January 28, 2002

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Maybe this was fitting. In a tournament that set records for early exits by top stars, Thomas Johansson wound up as one unlikely Grand Slam champion.
The 26-year-old Swede was supposed to be a bit player at the Australian Open. Instead, he walked away with the title.
Johansson, seeded 16th, beat the more established Marat Safin 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (4) yesterday in a final that lasted nearly 3 hours.
"These two weeks have been the best two weeks of my life," he said. "Today was just a dream come true. It was unbelievable. I don't have the words to say how happy I am."
How unexpected was Johansson's triumph?
In 24 previous Grand Slam tournaments, he never had advanced beyond the quarterfinals (1998, 2000 U.S. Opens).
He came into the Australian Open with a total of six career titles since turning pro in 1994.
In his final warmup event before the Australian Open, at Sydney, Johansson lost in the first round to Julien Boutter, who's not even ranked in the top 50.
The women offered far fewer surprises, with defending champion and No. 1 Jennifer Capriati meeting Martina Hingis in the final for the second straight year.
Capriati rebounded from 0-4 in the second set, saved a record four match points and then saw Hingis wilt in the 95-degree heat of the final set. Capriati won 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-2 Saturday.
She has won three of the last five Grand Slams tournaments. Hingis, meanwhile, has lost three straight Australian finals after winning three titles in a row. She has not won a major since the 1999 Australian Open.
Johansson made a point last week of acknowledging that he's not the most dynamic personality in the game.
"Look at me, I'm not that interesting," he said after his quarterfinal win over countryman Jonas Bjorkman. "If you color your hair red and you act a little bit different, then you're interesting."
Johansson finished 2001 ranked 18th making him Sweden's top player after winning two tournaments. Still, he knew he wasn't about to draw crowds.
"I'm playing tennis pretty good," he said. "But as a person I'm not really fancy."
And so, all in all, Johansson was an all-too-appropriate champion of the 2002 Australian Open.
This was a tournament in which the top five seeded men were eliminated halfway through the second round, something that had never happened before at a Grand Slam event.
Johansson faced only two seeded players No. 21 Younes El Aynaoui and No. 26 Jiri Novak on his way to the final.
In Johansson's half of the draw, No. 2 Gustavo Kuerten lost in the first round, No. 4 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and No. 5 Sebastien Grosjean lost in the second round, and No. 6 Tim Henman lost in the fourth round.
The field was further depleted with No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, weakened by chicken pox, losing in the first round and defending champion Andre Agassi dropping out on the eve of the tournament with a wrist injury.
But none of that matters to Johansson. He did what he had to, and the title belongs to him after outlasting 2000 U.S. Open champion Safin, the ninth-seeded Russian.
"You cannot compare anything to this," said Johansson, who started playing tennis at age 5 in his hometown of Linkoping, 2 hours from Stockholm. "You've seen it on TV. But I never knew I was going to stand there at the court today."
Johansson became the first Swede to win the Australian Open since Mats Wilander in 1988.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide