French Open 2011: The Top 25 Matches of the Last 25 Years
The red dirt at Roland Garros has had the footsteps of countless champions engraved into it. These champions were produced after a number of epic battles that have permanently been registered in the pantheons of the game, along with the minds and hearts of the Parisian crowd.
Here is a chronological list of the 25 most memorable clashes in the last 25 years at Roland Garros:
1986: Chris Evert's Record Seventh Title
Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova went head-to-head 80 times in their equally impressive careers, with Navratilova tipping Evert 43 times. But Evert got the better of Navratilova three out of five times in the French Open.
The duo clashed in three back-to-back finals from 1984-86, with Evert winning the last two. Evert beat Navratilova 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 in the 1986 final to cap her record seventh singles title. She also became the oldest woman (aged 31) to win the French Open.
Their clash in the 1985 final was an epic roller-coaster which saw Evert win 6-3, 6-7, 7-5 in just over three hours.
1988: Half-Century for Navratilova
Martina Navratilova teamed up with Pam Shriver for their 19th Grand Slam at the 1988 French Open. The pair have won 79 titles together.
They faced the German-Czech pair of Claudia Kohde-Kilsch and Helena Sukova in the women’s doubles final and came through 6-2, 7-5 winners.
The victory saw Navratilova bag her record seventh and last French Open doubles title and also her 50th Grand Slam victory.
1989: Lendl Shocked by Chang
Unseeded 17-year-old Michael Chang was up against top seed and three-time winner Ivan Lendl in the fourth round of the 1989 French Open.
Things were smooth sailing for Lendl as he took the first two sets 6-4, 6-4 and broke Chang in the opening game of the third.
But Chang did not fold. He rallied back to win the next two sets 6-3, 6-3 and force a fifth decider set. This was when he started experiencing severe leg cramps.
Not willing to give up at this stage, Chang resorted to novel tactics to break Lendl’s concentration. He served under-arm, stood well inside the base-line to receive Lendl’s serve and took water and banana breaks at the drop of a hat.
The ploy clearly worked as Chang won the fifth set 6-3, producing one of the biggest shocks in the tournament’s history and became an overnight sensation.
1989: Chang Becomes Youngest French Open Champion
Michael Chang clearly hadn’t had enough after beating Ivan Lendl in the fourth round. He reached the final of the tournament, where he was up against German Stefan Edberg.
Chang took the first set comfortably 6-1. But Edberg fought back to take the next two 6-3, 6-4.
Giving up clearly wasn’t in Chang’s nature as he rallied to win the next two 6-4, 6-2 on his way to becoming the youngest Grand Slam champion, aged 17.
He was also the first American to win the French Open since 1955.
1990: Sweet 16 for Monica
Sixteen-year-old Monica Seles won her first grand Slam at the 1990 French Open, where she beat World No.1 Steffi Graf in the final.
She saved four set-points in a first set tie-breaker to eventually win it 8-6. She then took the second set 6-4 on her way to becoming the youngest ever women’s champion at Roland Garros.
1990: Agassi Loses Grand Slam Final Debut to Hair
Andre Agassi, aged 20, reached his first Grand Slam final at the 1990 French Open, where he was up against 30-year-old Andres Gomez.
Agassi lost that final 3-6, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6 because of..wait for it..his hair!
In his 2009 autobiography, Agassi revealed that he had used a wig in the final because he was losing hair. The wig had fallen off the night before the final, and a panic-stricken Agassi had had his brother clamp it together using around 20 pins.
Agassi revealed that he was so scared that the wig would fall off that he was cautious and conscious with his moves throughout the match—an act that would lose him the Slam.
1991: All-American Men's Final
Andre Agassi was to reach a second consecutive French Open final in 1991, where he faced off against another Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy pass-out Jim Courier.
This was the first all-American Grand Slam final since 1954 and sparked off a golden era in American tennis.
The duo battled vicious winds and rain-delays on their way to a three hours, 19 minutes see-saw of an encounter which saw Courier win 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
Both would go on to win multiple Grand Slams.
1992: Seles Completes Hat-Trick
Monica Seles and Steffi Graf met again at the French Open final in 1992. Seles had replaced Graf as the World No. 1 the previous year, which also saw her defend her French Open crown.
It was honours-even after the first two sets. The final set lasted 91 minutes, which saw Graf fend off five match points and long rallies to eventually lose 2-6, 6-3, 8-10.
The pair also met at that year’s Wimbledon final which Graf won 6-2, 6-1.
1993: Spanish Dominance Begins
Spaniard Sergi Brugera got the better of Jim Courier 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 in a marathon five-setter in soaring temperatures at Roland Garros in the 1993 final.
His win was to spark off an era of Spanish dominance at Roland Garros that hasn’t ended to the day.
12 of the past 18 French Open finals have featured at least one Spanish player, with 10 of those finals having been won by a Spaniard.
Brugera also won the 1994 edition, beating fellow-countryman Alberto Berasategui in four sets.
1996: Sampras' Best Stint at Roland Garros
The French Open is the one Grand Slam that always eluded former World No. 1 Pete Sampras. His tally of 14 Grand Slams does not include a single Coupe des Mousquetaires.
Sampras was involved in a five-set quarterfinal marathon with (surprise, surprise!) Jim Courier after dropping the first two sets. Sampras served 28 aces in the match to eventually win 6-7(4), 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.
Sampras was to lose in the semifinal to eventual winner Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
1996: Steffi Outlasts Sanchez Vicario
Steffi Graf won her fifth French Open title on a humid day at Roland Garros which witnessed the longest women’s final in the tournament’s history—lasting three hours, three minutes and, obviously, three sets.
Steffi came through a 6-3, 6-7(4-7), 10-8 winner against Arantxa Sanchez Vicario and rated the match as one of the finest she has played.
The pair had earlier met in the 1995 Wimbledon final—another three-setter—which Graf won 4-6, 6-1, 7-5.
1999: Hingis Breaks Down Against Graf
This match is truly one of the most memorable French Open finals, and for all the wrong reasons.
Sixteen-year-old Martina Hingis squared off against Steffi Graf, who hadn’t won a Grand Slam since the 1996 U.S. Open.
Hingis, the favourite, was one set up and just three points from winning the second when Steffi turned the game around after a magnificent 32-stroke rally, which she eventually nicked with a graceful top-spin backhand.
Steffi took control from here on, as Hingis got overwhelmed and started disputing line-calls. She even crossed over the net (a strict no-no) to prove her point, which saw her get a penalty and was subject to constant boos from the Parisian crowd.
Hingis collapsed under the pressure and even resorted to serving under-hand in the final set, which was met by louder boos.
Graf took the match and tournament 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Hingis broke down after the match and her mother had to convince her to go and receive her runner-up trophy.
1999: Agassi Finally Wins It
Andre Agassi finally won his coveted Roland Garros title in 1999 after producing a scintillating 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 comeback against Andrei Medvedev.
In doing so, he became only the fifth man to complete a Career Grand Slam and the first to do it on three different surfaces.
No prizes for guessing the secret behind his success this time around (refer to picture)!
2000: Mary Pierce Frenches It Up
Surviving some nervous moments and missed chances, Mary Pierce became the first Frenchwoman to win at Roland Garros since 1967, when she beat fifth seed Conchita Martinez 6-2, 7-5 in the final.
Pierce was backed by a 15,000-strong vociferous crowd as she served for victory on her third championship point. She received the winner’s trophy from former champion Martina Navratilova.
Pierce had beaten World No. 3 Monica Seles and World No. 1 Martina Hingis earlier in the tournament.
Pierce also won the doubles title alongside Hingis.
2000: Kuerten Gets 11th-Time Lucky
Gustavo Kuerten survived a late surge from Magnus Norman to win his second French Open title in 2000.
After squandering 10 match-points to the Swede, Kuerten finally closed the match after Norman hit a forehand just inches wide to give the Brazilian a hard-fought 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (8-6) victory after three hours and 44 minutes.
2001: Capriati Denies Clijsters
Jennifer Capriati bounced back to beat 18-year-old Belgian teenager and 12th seed Kim Clijsters 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 in the 2001 French Open women’s final.
Clijsters was within two points of the championship four times in the match, but Capriati managed to battle back to win the two-hour, 21-minute marathon.
The gruelling third set was the longest third set of any French Open women’s final and also the longest third set in any Grand Slam final in the Open Era.
2001: Kuerten Loves Roland Garros
Gustavo Kuerten’s love-affair with Roland Garros continued in 2001 as he rallied past Alex Corretja 6-7(3), 7-5, 6-2, 6-0 in the men’s final.
Doing so, he joined an elite group of men who have won three or more French Open titles.
Kuerten showed his love for the venue by drawing a heart into the clay with his racket and collapsing into it after the match.
He also donned a t-shirt with “I Heart Roland Garros” during the prize distribution.
2002: The Williams Show
The 2002 French Open women’s final belonged to the Williams sisters, as they met in only their second Grand Slam final.
Their first meeting was at the U.S. Open final a few months ago, which saw elder sis Venus win 6-2, 6-4.
However, it was 20-year-old Serena’s chance this time around, as she tied the Sister Slam series with a 7-5, 6-3 victory.
The match was as sloppy as their last encounter, including 101 unforced errors, 14 double faults and 13 service breaks.
2003: The French Marathon
Fabrice Santoro rolled in the red clay at Roland Garros, weeping, after defeating fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 3-6, 16-14 in the fourth round of the 2004 French Open.
The six-hour, 33-minute match—played over two days—was the longest match in the Open era before John Isner and Nicolas Mahut’s 11-hour, five-minute battle at Wimbledon last year.
Play was suspended at 5-5 in the last set due to darkness, with the final 20 games being played the next day.
2004: Unseeded Gaudio Wins
Gaston Gaudio, one of the most unpredictable tennis players, was ranked 44th and unseeded for the 2004 French Open.
He dispatched Igor Andreev and Llyeton Hewitt en-route to the semifinal, where he beat fellow Argentine David Nalbandian.
In the final, he defeated Guillermo Coria, another Argentine, 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6 in one of the most remarkable comebacks in the tournament’s history.
It was the first time that a player had won a Grand Slam after losing the first set 6-0.
He also became the fourth unseeded player to win the French Open.
2005: Rafael Nadal Beats Roger Federer
Having all but swept the clay season, Rafael Nadal entered the 2005 French Open as the clear favourite.
The young, fist-pumping Spaniard celebrated his 19th birthday in style as he took apart World No. 1 Roger Federer 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in the semifinal.
Nadal would go on to beat Federer three more times in the same tournament over the years.
2005: Nadal Wins Maiden French Open
Ushering in his title of “King of Clay," Rafael Nadal became the first player since Mats Wilander in 1982—and third overall—to win the French Open on his tournament debut.
Nadal prevailed in the final against Mariano Puerta, winning his sixth clay title of the year—in a run that had seen him go 24 matches unbeaten.
In a dramatic opening set, Nadal went 2-0 up but Puerta broke back and clinched a thrilling tie-break.
Nadal levelled the match at one-set all with a single break and strolled to the third as the Argentine looked visibly tired.
The pair swapped breaks twice in a fascinating fourth set, but Nadal broke again in the 12th game to triumph 6-7(6), 6-3, 6-1, 7-5.
2007: Henin Bags Hat-Trick and Extends Winning Streak
Top seed and three-time champion Justine Henin won her third French Open in a row after beating a much-overwhelmed Serbian teenager Ana Ivanovic 6-1, 6-2 in the final.
Henin got through the tournament without dropping a single set against the likes of Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic on her way to setting an Open Era record of 35 consecutive sets in a tournament.
Henin hadn't lost a match at the tournament since 2004 and lost her first ever match at Roland Garros to Samantha Stosur in the fourth round of her comeback campaign last year.
2009: Soderling Shocks Nadal, Himself and the Whole World
The impossible happened at Roland Garros in the fourth round of the 2009 edition.
In what was probably the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history, big-serving Swede Robin Soderling, ranked 25 in the world, smashed World No. 1 Rafael Nadal’s record of 31 straight wins on the red clay of Roland Garros, after registering a 6-2, 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 victory against the Spaniard.
Nadal had become the face of the tournament ever since that win in 2005 and was gunning for his fifth straight win.
But Soderling clearly had other plans.
Nadal later revealed that he was suffering from tendonitis and withdrew from Wimbledon that year.
2009: French Open, Roger That!
The Coupe des Mousquetaires was the only trophy standing between Roger Federer and his quest for a Career Grand Slam.
Rafael Nadal had smashed that dream for the past four years. So, even the usually calm and composed Federer would have mustered up a wry smile at the prospect of seeing someone other than the wedgie-picking Spaniard on the other side of the court.
Come Final Sunday, nothing could deter the Swiss maestro as he outplayed Soderling en route to an emphatic 6-1, 7-6(1), 6-4 victory—not even the notorious Jimmy Jump, who successfully placed a Barcelona flag and his famous red barretina on the Swiss’ head in a few moments of bizarreness.
The win also helped Federer tie Pete Sampras’ record of 14 majors.