Michael Appleton was the very first champion of our tournament forty years ago. The British former tennis player and now coach of his daughter Emily, who is the No. 1 British junior player, reminisces in the following lines of his memorable triumph in Mexico City, where he would beat in the SF, Ivan Lendl who will in the next decades win eight Grand Slam titles.
Jeremy Dier (UK) and I arrived on a very delayed Aeromexico flight from Miami that landed at 3 a.m. at Mexico City Airport. We were lucky to have the telephone number of Jaime Muller, the Tournament Director, and we woke him up after collecting our bags at 4 a.m.!!
As ever, the fantastic Mexican welcome started right there! We were collected from the airport and taken to our housing. “Welcome to Mexico City”, Jaime said to us…it was close on 5 a.m. by then!!
Over the next couple of days, we tried hard to get used to playing in the high altitude. I remember so well the balls flying through the air… we were playing a totally different game to the game at the cold temperatures and sea level altitude of Queens Club where we’d been practicing ahead of the event on the famous Queen’s Club wooden ‘boards’ the week before.
The tournament started and I was seeded 4 and was due to play Jorge Salas from Mexico in R1. I had also been drawn in the same half of the draw as the great Ivan Lendl the number 1 ranked junior in the world! Tough times to come for the big Mikey! But I was the top ranked British Junior player (U18) at the time and a very competitive player!
Game by game, set by set, and match by match, Jeremy and I began to get used to the high altitude and conditions and I’ll always remember our lovely hosts giving us a double breakfast each day for that extra energy we needed in our matches! I beat Salas 6-0 6-2 and moved on to play a Venezuelan and then an Israeli before facing the mighty Lendl in the semi-finals! Lendl had already overcome my doubles partner Jeremy Dier in the quarter final stages so this was time for revenge from ‘Team UK’!
Lendl made a BIG tactical mistake; he tried to serve and volley on the fast cement courts and hadn’t worked out that I had a really GOOD return of serve. He also didn’t alter his playing strategy and I won the match in straight sets 6-4 6-3! So into the final I went against an American called Scott Bondurant who had beaten fellow US teammate Blaine Willenborg.
The final was a wonderful reception with flags, umpire, linesmen and ball girls (I really liked one of the ball girls too and I called her ‘Muscles’!). An Incredible moment for me which I will never forget! An hour and a half later and I was ‘The Champ’ of Mexico City… I beat Bondurant 6-4 6-3 (the same score I beat Lendl) and was presented with the wonderful Silver trophy that I still have at my home today!
Jeremy Dier and I lost to Bondurant and Willenborg in the final of the doubles. It was a really close match 4-6 6-1 7-5. We’d beaten Lendl and his partner Miroslav Lacek in the SFs 7-5 6-3 and were probably favourites to win against the top seeded Americans but didn’t quite do it! Still, it was a great match!!
Several years later, I met up with Lendl at the Wimbledon Championships. He had become the World’s No.1 player. I asked him whether he’d ever returned to Mexico City and he responded in his typical Ivan Lendl humor and said “after losing to you Mike, I’ve never returned to Mexico City”!!!
What a great tournament this was, what a lovely welcome we all received…and how honored I am to be the first ever winner of this fantastic Grade A world junior championship in Mexico City!
Thank you Mexico for welcoming me.
Thank you for remembering me! Mexico City will remain part of my life for ever!
Michael Appleton, November 12, 2017
Photo: Michael Appleton exhibiting a winning form at 58 years old, forty years after winning the first edition of our tournament in 1977.