Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Five historic French Open matches

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The Williams Sisters dominate

We kick off with the all Williams French Open Final of 2002, which makes the list, not for the spectacular nature of the tennis, but more for how it marked the beginning of Venus and Serena’s complete monopolisation of the women’s game. This meeting at Roland-Garros would be the first of four consecutive Grand Slam Finals between the sisters.

Venus came into the tournament as the Wimbledon and US Open Champion and in her languid but elegant style, served for the first set at 5-3. But after making the slower start, Serena fought back to take the match and the tournament 7-5, 6-3.

The crowd didn’t quite know what to make of it throughout and Serena’s exhilaration and Venus’ disappointment both seemed more tempered than you’d expect after a Slam finale.

But one thing that all couldn’t fail to acknowledge was the sheer brilliance of these two sisters. For two members of the same family to rise to the pinnacle of their sport at the expense of all rivals, and to win Grand Slam titles with the frequency that they have is quite incredible. A feat that may never be repeated.

Where were you when Soderling beat Nadal?

When Rafael Nadal met Swede Robin Soderling in the Fourth Round of the French Open in 2009, it wasn’t expected to be a memorable match. Just one more step on Nadal’s road to a fifth title in Paris.

Instead tennis fans the world over will ask the question for years to come, ‘Where were you when Soderling beat Nadal?’

The Spaniard came into the tie having won four consecutive titles in Paris since his debut performance at the Slam in 2005. He was fast becoming the ‘King of Clay’ and had dispatched all before him at Roland-Garros.

Soderling on the otherhand was an unheralded Swede, swept aside in straight sets by Nadal just three weeks earlier in Rome.

There was zero expectation of an upset but somehow in the three hours that followed, the 23rd seed managed to do what no man had done before him in 31 attempts, beat Rafael Nadal on the clay courts of Paris.

French failure for McEnroe

John McEnroe enjoyed a stellar tennis career, littered with titles. But one trophy which famously eluded him was the French Open. The controversial and combustible American would never come closer to lifting La Coupe des Mousquetaires than he did in 1984, when he faced Czech Ivan Lendl in the final.

McEnroe was dominating men’s tennis in 1984, winning 13 titles and losing just three of his 85 matches that year. Facing Lendl who had never won a major tournament, the American was firm favourite in Paris, with the bookmakers if not the fans.

All appeared to be going to form as McEnroe stormed into a two set lead. However a combination of Lendl finding his feet and McEnroe collapsing brought about a sudden change of course.

Having stemmed the tide in the third, Lendl found renewed energy in the fourth and fifth sets while McEnroe struggled with both his shot making and his concentration. With the French crowd firmly behind him, Lendl went on to win the last set 7-5, condemning McEnroe to the biggest collapse in the history of the tournament.

The match itself lasted four hours and eight minutes and as McEnroe departed without acknowledging the crowd, he was treated to a chorus of boos from the Parisian public.

An Evert epic

When Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova lined up for the 1985 French Open Final, they were competing against each other for a Grand Slam title for a staggering 13th time.

Navratilova had the stranglehold over the rivalry, having beaten the American in 20 of their previous 23 meetings, including the last four Grand Slam Finals.

But it was Evert who started the better, taking the first set 6-3 and going up 6-5 up in the second. But Navratilova came roaring back to break and clinch the set on the tie-break.

The crowd had got what they wanted, a third and deciding set. And it was a set which would swing one way and then the other in dramatic fashion.

Evert went 3-1 up. Navratilova levelled it at 3-3. Evert served for the match for a second time at 5-3 but again Navratilova responded and soon found herself at 5-5 and 0-40 up on Evert’s serve. Against all expectations, Evert recovered to hold and then went on to break her opponent and seal a magnificent victory.

The tennis and this incredible rivalry had enthralled the spectators throughout but it was the mark of friendship displayed by Navratilova at the end that may live even longer in the memory. Having watched Evert’s winner fly past her and bounce inside the baseline, Navratilova turned, ran around the net and congratulated her opponent with a smile and a hug.

“We brought out the best in each other,” Navratilova said afterwards.

Borg’s record is broken

Following his latest victory at this year’s French Open, Rafael Nadal has now won 88 of his 91 matches at Roland-Garros. He’s taken the title a stunning 11 times and in so doing has eclipsed the previous record haul at the Grand Slam, held by the legendary Bjorn Borg.

Going into the 2012 Championships Final, Nadal was level with Borg on six French Open titles each. Standing in the way of a seventh for the Spaniard was then World Number One, Novak Djokovic, a man bidding to become the first male player since 1969 to hold all four majors at the same time.

It was one of the most eagerly anticipated matches in years and the tennis didn’t disappoint as Nadal raced into a two set lead only for Djokovic to respond in style to win the third set 6-2.

Midway through the fourth set it looked like we could be in for a fifth set decider but Nadal had other ideas and found yet another gear to close out the match 7-5.

Fast forward seven years on and few would bet against Nadal adding a 12th French Open title to his collection.

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