Todd Woodbridge has become part of the fabric of the Australian Open. As a player the Sydneysider never missed the year’s opening Grand Slam tournament between his debut in 1988 and his last appearance 17 years later. As a broadcaster with Channel Seven in Australia the 46-year-old remains one of the most familiar faces around Melbourne Park.
However, while the Australian Open is his home Grand Slam event, The Championships was where Woodbridge made his greatest mark as a player. Of the 22 Grand Slam titles he won, 10 were at Wimbledon. His nine titles in the gentlemen’s doubles, six of them won alongside Mark Woodforde and three with Jonas Bjorkman, are an all-time record. He also won one mixed doubles title at Wimbledon, alongside Helena Sukova in 1994.
Woodbridge and Woodforde, who from the early days of their partnership were known as “the Woodies”, played together for 11 years and won a total of 61 titles, including 11 at Grand Slam level. Woodbridge, who was more than five years younger than his partner, went on to win a total of 83 doubles titles.
Woodbridge’s love affair with The Championships dates back to his boyhood days growing up in Sydney. “Every year at Wimbledon time I was allowed to get up at 11pm and watch the telly for a couple of hours,” he wrote in his autobiography*.
“I knew all about Wimbledon, knew of the tradition, the great matches and famous upsets. Oh how I wanted to play there! If I could play there just once – forget about winning – it would be absolutely fantastic.”
At the age of 16 Woodbridge made his Wimbledon debut, winning the 1987 boys’ doubles title on No.1 Court alongside Jason Stoltenberg while their fellow Australian, Pat Cash, was winning the gentlemen’s singles title against Ivan Lendl on Centre Court. In the space of three years Woodbridge won seven Grand Slam junior doubles titles, five with Stoltenberg and two with Johan Anderson, including two at The Championships.
In 1988 Woodbridge made his debut in the senior events. He was drawn against Cash, the defending champion, in the opening round, enabling him to make his first appearance on Centre Court. Cash won 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 and Woodbridge also went out in the first round of the doubles, though he was encouraged by how close he and Stoltenberg ran the Canadians Grant Connell and Glenn Michibata, who won the fifth set 8-6.
Woodbridge reached a career-high position of No.19 in the singles world rankings, made the semi-finals at The Championships in 1997 and recorded some fine wins early in his career over opponents like Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors and Michael Chang, but his comparatively weak serve was sometimes exposed in singles. At 5ft 10in tall he could be outpowered by opponents.
However, with his superb volleys, which he modelled on Lew Hoad’s, Woodbridge had an excellent game for doubles. Woodbridge, a right-hander, and Woodforde, a left-hander, were a perfect combination. They both had powerful forehands, but their greatest asset was their ability at the net. At first Woodbridge played on the backhand side, but they soon changed. In their first year together, in 1991, they won four titles.
The Australians were also an intelligent pair who could quickly work out a winning strategy. In the 1996 final at The Championships, for example, they were outmanoeuvred in the first set by Connell and Byron Black, who dominated at the net. However, the Woodies soon realised that the lob would be a productive tactic, especially as Black kept charging forward. Woodbridge and Woodforde won 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.
It was five years after his debut in the senior events that Woodbridge won his first gentlemen’s doubles title alongside Woodforde. They dropped only one set in their six matches and beat Connell and Patrick Galbraith 7-5, 6-3, 7-6(4) in the 1993 final.
They retained their title the following year, beating Connell and Galbraith 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-1 in the final, but only after winning an exceptionally tight quarter-final against the Dutchmen Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis, who became their major rivals.
Another straight-sets victory in the final, this time over Rick Leach and Scott Melville, secured a third successive title, and by beating Black and Connell in the 1996 final the Woodies became the first pair to win the title four years in succession since the abolition of the Challenge Round in 1922.
In 1997 they won the title for the fifth year in a row, beating Eltingh and Haarhuis in the final, to equal the record of successive gentlemen’s doubles titles held since 1901 by the Doherty brothers, who had the advantage of having to win only one match, in the Challenge Round, to defend their titles successfully.
Twelve months later the outright record of successive wins beckoned for the Woodies, but in the final they were beaten 6-2, 4-6, 6-7(3), 7-5, 8-10 by Eltingh and Haarhuis after a tight battle that lasted four hours.
During 2000 the Woodies reached nine finals and won eight of them, including their last in partnership at The Championships. They beat Haarhuis and Sandon Stolle 6-3, 6-4, 6-1 in the final.
After Woodforde’s retirement Woodbridge joined forces with Bjorkman. The Australian and the Swede triumphed at The Championships in 2002, 2003 and 2004, beating Mark Knowles and Daniel Nestor, Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi, and Julian Knowle and Nenad Zimonjic respectively in the finals.
Woodbridge always loved playing at the All England Club, though the one court which he did not favour was No.4 Court. Woodbridge and Woodforde lost to Wayne Ferreira and Piet Norval on that court in the quarter-finals in their first year together. The only other time he played on No.4 Court was in the third round in 2001, when he and Bjorkman lost to the Bryan brothers.
* “Todd Woodbridge – The Remarkable Story of the World’s Greatest Doubles Player”, by Todd Woodbridge with Alan Trengove, was first published in 2005