At age 1, Gustavo Fernández, born in Río Tercero, Córdoba, was permanently paralyzed from the waist down after falling out of a chair. At age 25, he’s now ranked the No. 1 wheelchair tennis player in the world.
As the world’s eyes were fixed on the men’s singles Novak Djokovic vs. Roger Federer legendary, five-set nail-biter of a final, an Argentine was busy making history just a few courts down. In the final match of the Wimbledon wheelchair men’s singles on July 14th, Fernández came from behind to beat the tournament’s Japanese top seed, Shingo Kunieda, 4-6 6-3 6-2.
The Wimbledon title follows two major titles Fernández has earned this year alone at the Australian and French Open, leaving him with a total of five Grand Slam titles throughout his career. This win edges him above Kunieda in worldwide rankings, marking a return to the No. 1 status he last held two years ago, in July 2017.
“I couldn’t have dreamed of it, it’s so, so difficult to compete here. Only my team knows how hard I’ve worked for this. It means so much to me, it’s difficult to express in words,” the cordobés said with great emotion right after the match.
The game was especially meaningful for Fernández, since he narrowly missed the Wimbledon title for the past two years, losing in the final match in both 2017 and 2018. His first Wimbledon win was thus not only an honor but a well-earned revancha.
To go down in history as a Grand Slam champion – the winner of the four major international tournaments in a single calendar year – Fernández will have to win the U.S. Open coming up in the fall.
Only five tennis players, both male and female, have ever managed to earn this achievement, making it one of the most coveted and prestigious distinctions in tennis. The legendary five are Don Budge (1938), Maureen Connolly (1953), Rod Laver (1962 and 1969), Margaret Court (1970), and Steffi Graf (1988). (Graf also won the Gold Medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, giving her the only ‘Golden Slam’ in history.) No one has ever earned the Grand Slam in wheelchair tennis, likely because the opportunity only became available recently in 2016, when Wimbledon – justly – added the category.
This year has been one of wins for Fernández, or El Lobito as he is called, both on and off court, with no injuries or health problems to report. His family was in the stands (his parents, Gustavo and Nancy, his girlfriend Florencia, and his brother Juan Manuel), cheering him on with tearful pride.
Photo courtesy of Inside the Games