The Roar
The Roar


Australian tennis needs another Andrew Ilie

22nd January, 2009
3962 Reads

Australia's Andrew Ille rips off his shirt after defeating Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain by 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-2, at the Australian Open Tennis Championship in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2001. AP Photo/Trevor Collens

Do you remember Andrew Ille, the pint-sized Romanian-born tennis player with no sponsor, no expectations (from the media at least), who would rip his shirt off to celebrate a famous win?

His extravagant shots, coupled with his vivacious on-court mannerisms, made him a crowd favourite.

You knew that an Andrew Ilie match would never be boring. It was all-or nothing.

Ilie didn’t have the skills of a top-player. He didn’t have the extreme top-spin or a big serve, but he had power in his groundstrokes. The power to hit winners past any opponent.

The ‘nothing to lose’ philosophy gave him several unanticipated results.

His first big win came against Richard Krajicek in the 1995 French Open. At the time Ilie was ranked 256 in the world versus Krajicek 15. The tough five-set triumph gave him belief that he was good enough to compete with the best.

Over the years he humbled Jason Stoltenberg, Jonas Bjorkman, Wayne Ferreira, Jiri Novak, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Mikhail Youzhny.

These results rocketed his ranking from the high 200s to 38 in the world.


Players today ranked outside the top-200 could do a lot worse than copy the Ilie model of ultra-aggression.

How many come up against a superior opponent – on paper – and just try and keep the ball in play, only to be wiped off the court?

Clearly you’re not going to win a Grand Slam by using the Ilie method. But for Aussie qualifiers struggling to make ends meet, it might just win them a few matches and some fans along the way.

It was great to watch him play because you knew he wouldn’t change. He would never go into his shell if he was on the verge of victory or playing an opponent he should beat.

If you want a cricket analogy, his style was more Twenty20 than Test Match.

As much as we love seeing Lleyton Hewitt scrap out a win in a five-setter, there is something appealing about an aggressive player. I think that’s why we have adopted Marcos Baghdatis, Fernando Gonzalez, and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga over the years.

That’s why I was so impressed with Bernard Tomic in his opening round. As a 16-year-old qualifier you could excuse him for being a little nervous. But he went for his shots and beat the experienced Storace.

Unfortunately, he lost to Gilles Muller the other night after a promising first set. He didn’t seem to attack on his backhand side, like in round one. But then again, Muller was a tougher opponent.


Tomic wasn’t helped by poor scheduling that saw the match start after 10pm, meaning most of the crowd had left once Jelena Dokic won.

Do the organisers think these things through?

Surely Tomic deserved a full crowd for his first-time on centre court. The kind of crowd that pumped him up on Margaret Court Arena – just like Andrew Ilie received on Melbourne Park’s back courts time and time again.