French Open 2012: Ranking the Top 25 Men During the Open Era
The French Open gives players a chance to use an entirely different set of skills to win a grand slam. Longer points require players to be more patient and it places a bigger emphasis on point construction and less of serve and volley.
Some of tennis' greatest players never won the French Open title; Pete Sampras, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors never won the French, and Novak Djokovic is still looking for his first title on the Red Clay. That being said, to be mentioned as one of the best players in the history of the French Open requires a special player.
Honorable Mention: Adriano Panatta
Pannata is the only player to ever defeat Bjorn Borg at the French Open. He did it twice.
He rode his upset of Borg in the 1976 quarterfinals to win his only Grand Slam title. Pannata also reached the 1975 French Open semifinals, losing to Borg in four sets.
25) Manuel Orantes
Although he never won a title in Paris, Orantes advanced to the quarterfinals four times there. He took a two-set lead over Bjorn Borg in the 1974 final before Borg captured the title. He also made a semifinal appearance in 1972.
24) Gaston Gaudio
Like most South Americans, Clay is Gaudio’s best surface. His only title came during a surprising run to the title in 2004. He never made it past the fourth round in another Grand Slam, but he did have a respectable 22-9 record at the French.
23) Alex Corretja
Corretja could be deemed a clay court specialist. Thirty-six of his 61 career Grand Slam victories occurred at the French. From 1998-2002, Corretja reached five straight French Open quarterfinals. He lost twice in the finals and reached another semifinal in that span. Corretja finished his career 36-13 in the French.
22) Andres Gomez
Gomez reached three French Open quarterfinals in the mid-1980s before capturing the title in 1990. Gomez defeated future French Open champions Thomas Muster in the semifinals and Andre Agassi in the final.
21) Robin Soderling
Soderling shocked the ATP Tour with quarterfinal upsets of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in 2009 and 2010. He would eventually lose in the final to Federer and then Nadal in those same years. He was ousted by Nadal again in the quarterfinals in 2011.
Soderling has a 19-8 career record at the French.
20) Jimmy Connors
Connors had eight trips to the quarterfinals and four semifinal appearances at Roland Garros, but he was never able to capture the title.
His career came in the middle of the United States going from 1955 until 1989 without an American winning the French Open. Connors had a very respectable 40-13 record at the French Open.
19) Yevgeny Kafelnikov
Kafelnikov had success at all four of the Grand Slams. He advanced to his first career Grand Slam Semifinal at Roland Garros in 1995 and followed that up with the first of his two career Grand Slam titles a year later in Paris. He finished with a 31-10 French Open record in his career.
18) Novak Djokovic
Although the French is the only Slam that Djokovic hasn’t won, his record at Roland Garros is still exemplary. He has advanced to the quarterfinals in six of the last seven years, including three semifinal appearances. Djokovic has a 25-7 career record at the French Open. In all three semi appearances, the Joker lost to Nadal or Federer. At just 25, the odds are that Djokovic will complete the career slam at some point in his career. Only Laver, Agassi, Nadal and Federer have accomplished that in the open era
17) Michael Chang
When Chang won the French Open in 1989 at the age of 17, big things were expected from him throughout his career. Chang did reach three other Grand Slam finals, but would never win another title. Chang lost the 1995 French Open title match to Thomas Muster in straight sets.
It is the 1989 run that most people remember his career by. Suffering from cramps, Chang overcame a two-set deficit to win in the fourth round. He came back from two sets to one down to win in the final against Stefan Edberg.
In addition to his finals appearances in 1989 and 95, Chang made quarterfinal appearances in Paris in 1990 and 91.
16) Ilie Nastase
Nastase won one of his two career Grand Slam titles at the French Open in 1973.
He won the title without dropping a set. Borg and Nadal are the only other players to accomplish this feat in the open era.
Nastase’s 33-13 record at the French Open was his second best at a Grand Slam. His five quarterfinal appearances in Paris were the most of any in his career at a Grand Slam.
15) Thomas Muster
Although Muster’s nickname was the King of Clay, he won his only French Open title in 1995 and he advanced past the fourth round only three times. Muster advanced to the semifinals in 1990 and the quarters in 1998. Despite that, his competitive nature always made him a very difficult matchup at Roland Garros. Forty of his 44 career singles victories came on Clay.
His career record in the French Open was 32-13.
14) Yannick Noah
Noah was the last Frenchman to win in Paris and the last black player to win a grand slam. Noah won the title in 1983 in straight sets over Mats Wilander. Noah’s 40 career wins at Roland Garros tie Jim Courier for eighth all time. He finished his career with a 40-12 career record in his homeland grand slam.
13) Sergi Bruguera
Thirty-two of Bruguera’s 56 career Grand Slam wins came on the red clay of Roland Garros. He won back to back titles in 1993 and 1994. He defeated two-time defending champion and world's No. 2 Jim Courier to capture his first title.
12) Andre Agassi
Agassi’s earliest successes in a Grand Slam came in Paris. He earned his first victory at a Grand Slam, his first semifinal and final appearances on the Red Clay. He finished his career 51-16 in the French Open.
Although he had early success at the French, he didn’t win his first title until 1999. Agassi came from two sets down to complete the career grand slam. He was only the second player in the open era that accomplished that. Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have since accomplished that feat.
11) Jan Kodes
Kodes won two of his three career slams at the French. He won back-to-back titles in 1970 and 1971. He followed that up with quarterfinal appearances in 1972 and 1973. His other Grand Slam title came in a severely depleted draw at Wimbledon in 1973.
10) Mats Wilander
Wilander shocked the tennis world in 1982 when he captured the first of his three titles at Roland Garros. Wilander beat four ranked players along the way for his first Grand Slam title in just his third career entry in a slam. Wilander won the title at 17 years old. He was the youngest male Grand Slam title winner at the time. His 47-9 career record at Roland Garros was his best at any of the slams.
9) Jim Courier
Courier’s greatest success at the Grand Slam’s came on the red clay of Roland Garros. Courier finished his career in Paris 40-9 and won twice. He had a four-year run from 1991-94 of advancing to at least the semifinals.
8) Ken Rosewall
If it wasn't for playing as a professional for 11 years, Rosewall would probably rank much higher on this list.
Rosewall won French Open titles as an amateur in 1953 and after the traditional Grand Slams were open to professionals in 1968. He also won the French professional title eight times before the Open Era. He lost to Rod Laver in the finals in 1969. Rosewall finished his career with a 24-3 record on the red clay.
7) Guillermo Vilas
If not for Bjorn Borg’s dominance at Roland Garros in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Vilas would be in the conversation for the greatest player in the French Open during the Open Era.
Vilas won the French Open title in 1977 and advanced to the finals there in 1978 and 1982. He finished his career with a 56-17 record in Paris. Those 56 wins are the most at any of the majors. He holds five records on clay.
6) Gustavo Kuerten
Gustavo Kuerten used his dominance on the red clay of Roland Garros to become the world’s top ranked player. Thirty-six of Guga’s 65 career grand slam victories occurred at the French Open. He finished 36-8 in 11 career appearances with three titles.
When Kuerten captured the 1997 French Open, his No. 66 ranking made him the third-lowest ranked Grand Slam singles champion ever. He won his last two French titles in 2000 and 2001. He rode the 2000 title to becoming the first South American to finish the year as ATP’s top ranked player. Kuerten led the ATP in prize money in 2000 and 2001.
5) Ivan Lendl
Sports Illustrated once dubbed Lendl as “The Champion Nobody Cares About” after he won the US Open. His career achievements have often been lost among the greats in tennis. He dominated the sport from 1980-92, reaching at least the quarterfinals of the Grand Slam an astounding 35 times.
He won three French Opens in four years between 1984-87. Lendl’s career record on the red clay was 53-12. His streak of four straight appearances in the final in that same time span is matched only by Roger Federer, Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal. The latter two are widely considered the two greatest clay court players ever. Lendl’s three titles tie him for third all time with Wilander and Kuerten behind only Rafael Nadal and Bjorn Borg.
4) Roger Federer
Considered the greatest player of all time, Federer’s accomplishments at the other three Grand Slam’s overshadow his amazing achievements in Paris. In his last seven appearances at Roland Garros, Federer has advanced to at least the quarterfinals. He won the title in 2009 defeating Robin Soderling after the Swede knocked out four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal in the semifinal. That win gave Federer a career Grand Slam and his 14th Grand Slam title tying him with Pete Sampras for first all time. In this same time span, Federer finished runner-up to Nadal four times and lost once in the quarters and once in the semis.
Federer also advanced to the 2001 quarterfinals before losing to eventual runner-up Alex Corretja. He has a career record of 49-12 in Paris.
3) Rod Laver
Forty-three years later, Rod Laver remains the only male to capture the Grand Slam. Laver did twice. His first came in 1962 before the Open Era and he captured it again in 1969, a year after the Grand Slams were declared open to professionals.
Laver won only two of his record-setting 11 Grand Slam titles at the French. He finished his career with a 25-6 record, two titles, three finals appearances and four trips to the semifinals on the red clay of Roland Garros.
It’s staggering to the think of the records that Laver would have set had he not missed five full seasons playing in the Grand Slams before it was open to professionals.
2) Bjorn Borg
If not for Borg's early retirement at the age of 25, it could be argued that he is the greatest player ever.
He finished his career with an astounding 141-16 at Grand Slam events. He is the only player ever to accomplish winning the French Open and Wimbledon three years in a row. Borg’s six French Open titles are tied for the most with Rafael Nadal. Only Pete Sampras’ seven Wimbledon titles are higher at a Grand Slam.
Borg won in his last four appearances on the red clay and finished his career there 49-2.
1) Rafael Nadal
The greatest clay court player of the Open Era, Nadal has won six of the last seven French Open titles, including four in a row from 2005-08.
His career record at the French Open is 46-1. His lone loss was to Robin Soderling in the 2009 quarterfinals. It was revealed later that season that Nadal has suffered from a knee injury that forced him to miss significant time later that summer. Nadal was unable to defend his Wimbledon title because of the injury.
He won the Clay Grand Slam in 2010. He won titles in Rome, Barcelona, Monte Carlo and at the French Open. Although he slipped to No. 3 in the rankings earlier this season and has since returned to No. 2, Nadal is still the overwhelming favorite to capture his seventh French Open title.