David Wheaton

Born: June 2, 1969 in Minneapolis (Minnesota)
Height: 1.93 m
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
A man often seen sporting either caps or headbands adorned with the US flag, Wheaton, with flashing eyes before his serve, stood as one of the most intriguing players born in the late 60s, and the elder statesman in the golden era of American young talents – a generation that shook the tennis world in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He appeared destined for a major final at least, having already reached two major quarterfinals at different venues as a newbie. His journey to the Key Biscayne ’91 final and Wimbledon semifinal the same year, included gripping victories on Centre Courts against Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl and (twice) Andre Agassi, who became one of Wheaton’s most formidable early rivals (despite Wheaton leading 3:1 after Wimbledon ’91, he lost their subsequent five meetings)… Todd Martin, not Wheaton, secured the anticipated results, “stealing” Wheaton’s destiny in their fourth round at Wimbledon ’93, in a match where Wheaton squandered a two-sets-to-one lead and a 3:0 advantage in the fourth set with a double break. This loss on grass – considering Wheaton’s prowess as a big server – seemed improbable. Although both were Top 40 players at the time, this match heralded Martin’s meteoric ascent while signalling Wheaton’s gradual decline. Wheaton had become a victim of his unexpected prior successes, particularly the Compaq Grand Slam Cup in Munich. The tournament, which drastically altered his life, saw Wheaton earning two and a half million dollars in just seven matches (semifinalist in 1990 and champion the following year)!
Wheaton once expressed: “I hope the money won’t change me. I’ve been brought up with a certain set of values and ethics. I don’t think I’m going to change. I’m not a materialistic person.” However, Wheaton later admitted that the astonishing wealth ($3M) earned between December ’90 and December ’91 had indeed altered him. It not only diminished his dedication and motivation to still train rigorously but also distanced him from many good friends as he embraced a life of luxury. His realization came later, acknowledging that wealth did not equate to personal fulfillment or peace. It was two years after the enormous financial success, through embracing Christianity, that Wheaton found lasting hope and joy.
Post his spiritual awakening, Wheaton encountered two average years on the tour. Before it happened, during the 1993 majors, he notably stunned Michael Chang twice (Australian Open and Wimbledon), leading 6:1 in their rivalry before Chang easily won their subsequent four matches. In an attempt to revive his career as a new-born Christian, Wheaton altered his service motion (longer preparation, shorter ball toss), almost reaching the Aussie Open ’95 quarterfinals; his defeat to Andrei Medvedev, losing 8-10 in the 5th set despite holding a breakpoint at 3:1, marked the conclusion of his elite player status.
Injuries plagued his performances – a hip injury in 1994, a right Achilles injury in 1996, an operation to remove a bone spur under his Achilles’ tendon in 1997, and a hurt medial collateral ligament in his elbow in 1998. Reflecting on his career, Wheaton admitted: “My biggest disappointment is looking back and thinking I could have done better if I had a better perspective on life and tennis. At the same time, I learned valuable lessons through the ups and downs of tennis that continue to guide me today.”
Recognized as a big server during his prime, Wheaton’s skill set, particularly his backhand and half-volley, set him apart. Despite his patriotic displays, Wheaton’s impact on the success of the Davis Cup team in the years 1990-92 was none (however, in 1991 he led his country to the Hopman Cup final) – ranked as the fifth young American, he wasn’t appointed to the US ties. His dreamy 1993 representation for the United States resulted in a loss to Mark Woodforde in four sets, contributing to the USA’s 1-4 defeat to Australia at Kooyong on grass.
Noteworthy moments in Wheaton’s career include edging the best player of the 80s, Lendl 5-3 in their rivalry, while finding Pete Sampras, the most dominant player of the following decade, as his toughest opponent. Despite losing all eight official meetings against Sampras, Wheaton remarkably defeated him twice in straight sets within a week in an exhibition event in Atlanta ’91 – first in a ’round-robin’ match, and then in the semifinal. Additionally, Wheaton holds a negative record for the most consecutive sets lost in tie-breaks (six): in 1989, trying to crack the Top 100, he lost 6-7, 6-7 in Bristol, 6-7, 6-7, 6-7 in his Wimbledon debut, and lost 6-7 again at his another appearance (Washington), but the subsequent two sets he quickly won.
Career record: 232–191 [ 193 events ]
Career titles: 3
Highest ranking: No. 12
Best GS results:
Australian Open (quarterfinal 1990)
Wimbledon (semifinal 1991)
US Open (quarterfinal 1990)
Grand Slam Cup champion ’91
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1 Response to David Wheaton

  1. Voo de Mar says:
    Activity: 1986 – 2000

    Five-setters: 7–11 (38%)
    Tie-breaks: 99–94 (51%)
    Deciding 3rd set TB: 8-8 (50%)

    Defeats by retirement: 0
    Walkovers given: 0

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