Also known as the French Open, the tournament began in 1891 and is played over two weeks at the Stade Roland-Garros in Paris, France. It’s held on a clay court — the only one to do so out of the four Grand Slams — resulting in a slow-playing surface. That, together with the seven rounds it plays out for a championship and best-of-five-set men’s singles, many consider it as one of the most physically challenging tournaments in the world of tennis.
This year, the Roland-Garros is turning out to be one of the most anticipated tennis events of the year. In the men’s singles category, all eyes are on tennis legend Rafael Nadal as fans expect another win from the King of Clay. What’s even more exciting, however, is the women’s singles category. Following her historic victory over Serena Williams in the 2018 U.S Open Final, and Petra Kvitová in the 2019 Australian Open Final, the tennis world is waiting with bated breath to see if the young Naomi Osaka can grab another Grand Slam victory.
As more and more historic events are expected, we take a look back at the notable moments in the past French Opens.
1. Federer vs. Nadal, 2005
In the first meeting of the two legends on a clay court — and on Nadal’s 19th birthday to boot — the resulting game was one of the most riveting. In a battle for a place in the finals, Federer was riding the wave of an unstoppable year, but it all came to a halt when he faced the young Nadal on clay. After defeating Federer, Nadal would then go on to win his first Grand Slam.
2. Evert vs. Navratilova, 1985
Entering the match with a personal score of 33-31 and having won 15 out of their last 16 meetings, Navratilova was hell bent on winning the 1985 French Open finals against long-time rival Chris Evert. The pair had significantly contrasting play styles, which would make for one of the most entertaining matches in the history of the Roland-Garros. In the end, 30-year-old Evert claimed victory over Navratilova and reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking.
3. John McEnroe vs. Ivan Lendl, 1984
Known as the “bad boy” of tennis, McEnroe was dominating in 1984. With 13 singles titles and only three losses out of 85 matches that year, Big Mac was on fire — until he stepped foot on Roland-Garros. The French Open, having a reputation for being unkind to American male singles, saw John McEnroe face 24-year-old Ivan Lendl. McEnroe won the first two sets in under an hour, causing fans to believe it would be a quick match. But Lendl, who was yet to win a major tournament, turned it around in the third set when McEnroe lost his focus due to a temper fit involving a cameraman. Lendl would eventually win the fourth set as well, resulting in a heated fifth set. The match lasted for over four hours, but saw Lendl victorious in the last set, 5-7.
4. Chang vs. Lendl, 1989
A historic match? Yes. An easy one? Not by any stretch of the imagination, at least not for Chang. Being weighed down by severe leg cramps is not exactly what one would hope to happen when facing the world’s top-ranked player during the fourth round of the French Open. However, in a stunning comeback, Chang delivered a 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 victory. What made this upset even sweeter was the fact that the 17-year-old Michael Chang would go on to win the whole tournament and earn a Grand Slam title, the youngest male to do so.
5. Graf vs. Hingis, 1999
''This is by far the biggest, the most unexpected win I've ever had," Graf said in an interview with the New York Times. "It was one of the craziest matches ever; it had everything.''
Martina Hingis at the time was ranked no. 1 in the world, a title she held for an impressive 209 weeks. She was winning tournaments since she was 15 and held a calendar year slam in doubles. So when she entered the 1999 French Open finals, the 18-year-old did not expect to lose to the 30-year-old Graf. But her arrogance would become her downfall. After a failed attempt to overrule the umpire, she saw the French audience turn on her. They cheered for Graf just as much as they jeered for Hingis, turning the tides as much as an audience could during a match. The pure support from the crowd gave Graf the boost she needed to claim victory, which would earn her a spectacular exit from the French Open.
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