During these two weeks, the only clay court grand slam of the year should be taking place: Roland Garros. The clay of Paris, sacred to some and hated by others, has left unforgettable moments. Also results that were a real shock for the viewer; matches, weeks and championships that nobody would have bet on at the beginning. As we have done in Indian Wells, Miami, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome, we review the biggest surprises at Roland Garros, although we expanded to ten due to the Grand Slam character of this tournament and left the female version parked, for now.
10 – Dominik Hrbaty, potential killers: Five ATP titles illuminate the showcases of the talented Slovak. Perhaps none of them is as dazzling as the magical two weeks in 1999 in which he became capable of everything. In a year in which he did not win a single Grand Slam match outside of Paris, Dominik began his crusade against the best by defeating world number one. “Dominik was playing so solidly that he had an answer for all my shots. He and Thomas Johansson were my two nemesis, I couldn’t find a way to beat them.”
The words belong to Yevgeny Kafelnikov, champion in ’96 who succumbed to Hrbaty’s track intelligence in an almost humiliating way (4-6, 1-6, 4-6). Then an incipient Marat Safin fell, and he also denied Marcelo Rios one of the best opportunities to win a Grand Slam of his entire career. Only Andre Agassi could stop him in the semifinals, and not without a significant dose of suffering. It was the great moment of Hrbaty’s career.
9 – Stephane Huet and the greatest moment of his career: probably many do not know this French name at all. If we take a look at his career, Huet narrowly entered the top-100 (his best ranking was # 96) and only managed 14 wins at the ATP level. One of them, however, was one of the biggest surprises remembered in Paris. 1993 and a veteran Ivan Lendl he appears in Paris far from his best days, but as a firm candidate still to reach the final rounds (he was the number 7 seed). It was measured in the first round, on the mythical Track 1, the Plaza de Toros, at 297 in the world … and Stephane became a giant to, in four sets, leave Paris orphaned by one of its great champions. Lendl did not leave Roland Garros without a victory for 15 years; the following year he would hang up his racket.
8 – Eric Winogradsky, another Frenchman full of surprises: If Huet had only won 14 games, Winogradsky won 22. His best ranking was world number 89, far from the best. But they both share one thing: they played the best tennis of their life, at a specific moment, to get off two great champions of the 80s and 90s. In this case the victim was Stefan Edberg, which in 1987 was number 3 in the world and that Eric’s perfect storm was not expected: serve tennis and volley on clay. They were applying her own medicine.
“I couldn’t get him to serve him all day. I felt like I was in danger all the time because I couldn’t read his serve. He didn’t seem to get nervous, he just kept hitting big shots. I never had a chance,” Edberg said of his rival, who ended up being a finalist in Roland Garros … but in doubles, two years later, together with the great Mansour Bahrami.
7 – Marat Safin and the first turning point of his career: Marat himself recently admitted that his tournament in Paris, in 1998It was the first great moment of his career. That his victory against Andre Agassi in the first round opened his eyes, taught him where he could go. That tournament, the Russian was an 18-year-old who barely stuck his head out, but already showed that uncompromising tennis, from bombs to the bottom of the court, that would conquer the world years later. Agassi in the first round and Gustavo Kuerten in second, a list of two champions who fell before the impudence of the Moscow tennis player, who confessed that those two weeks “he only ate kebabs” because he had no money for more. It didn’t go wrong with them.
6 – Chang, the scoop and a miracle: 17 years and 4 months. That was Michael Chang’s age when he got up with his first and only Grand Slam. Its history in Paris is well known. There he arrived, in 1989, as an outsider with no chance of reaching the title, a project for the future that did not seem to stand out too much. Agassi and Courier, after all, were the ones at the Bollettieri Academy. None of them surprised as much as the Asian player.
His story was pure survival: from the comeback two sets down against Ivan Lendl in the eighths, with scoops and remains on the service line included, to a final against Stefan Edberg in which he was two sets to one down and saved eleven (!) break balls in the fourth set. “As I do the same at Wimbledon and win, I will take off my shorts in the middle of the Center Court,” he said of him. John McEnroe after that championship; The title and the way of achieving it hit to such an extent.
5 – The tennis redemption of Marco Cecchinato: How many Grand Slam matches, best of five sets, had this Italian won before Roland Garros 2018? I already tell you: zero. Cecchinato was the most absolute nothing in the best tournaments, four failed attempts plus many disappointments in the previous ones. That year, however, something was going to change.
After leaving behind a plot of match fixing In which he was involved, people enjoyed Marco’s precious tennis. Its reverse to one hand transported to another era, and its fine silk wrist martyred the rival based on drops. The question everyone was asking was simple: where had Cecchinato been all this time? His victory against Novak Djokovic at the Suzanne Lenglen it was one of the lowest points of Serb’s career and what drove him to excel for the umpteenth time. Marco reached the semis and competed against Thiem, but above all he earned the respect of the tennis community.
4 – Guga, king of kings in Paris: in the weeks leading up to the second Grand Slam of the year, Gustavo Kuerten I was in Curitiba trying to regain sensations. Playing in Brazil was healing for him, and in rivals like Óscar Burrieza, Emanuel Couto or Razvan Sabau he found a potion that would alleviate a tremendously irregular year. He was out of the top-60 and came to Roland unassuming, wanting to keep his good form at home.
Two weeks later, the beaten earth had a king. Thomas muster He had been beheaded, specifically in the Plaza de Toros and in the third round, by a young Brazilian who, thanks to his brother’s motivation, traced a break down in the fifth set. Andrei Medvedev he was the next to fall, in a dramatic duel that lasted for two days. Before Kafelnikov came the umpteenth show of strength, overwhelming tennis; in semis against Dewulf, the most working-class attitude in a party far from being brilliant. The final against Bruguera it was to close the circle, defeat the last giant on earth. He arrived without being among the 50 best in the world and left Paris starting a small dynasty on clay. Simply brilliant, Gustavo.
3 – Martin Verkerk, a shooting star: How does a guy with a negative win-loss balance did you play a Roland Garros final? Let’s mix a bit of luck, rivals with extra pressure and a state of exceptional form over the course of two weeks … and et voilà. And be careful, do not get confused: what Verkerk did had much merit. Many would like to keep such a risky and low margin tennis on clay for two weeks in such a certain way. Yes, even if those were, practically, the only two outstanding weeks of his career.
The Dutchman did make it to Paris in the top 50, but he was close to it (# 46). Once there, that mixture of factors flew him towards an absolutely unsuspected final. His biggest victory was, without a doubt, those quarterfinals against Carlos Moyá in which he won 8-6 in the fifth set. It is endearing to hear Andrés Gimeno’s comments for TVE, who in the first set did not give the Dutchman the slightest option to win. Then came the semifinals against a wildly erratic Guillermo Coria. He could not finish the feat in a final in which his serve stopped giving him points, but Martin had already left his mark on the tennis world.
2 – Gaudio, Coria and a crazy 2004: It would be difficult to highlight what the surprise was in the last tournament a. N. (before Nadal). In fact, this was the last Grand Slam without the presence in the semifinals of no Big-3 player, a statistic that speaks for itself. First, it was a huge surprise to see Tim Henman, based on serve and volley, reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam on the ground and be momentarily ahead in his match against Coria. It was also surprising that Gastón Gaudio, which came to Paris as # 44 in the world, reached the final.
And that game was probably the strangest, most chaotic and controversial final in the history of Roland Garros. Cramps, nerves, an epic comeback; in short, a meeting that had absolutely everything and that was a bona fide ending to what that championship had been.
1 – Robin Soderling and the bump of the century: There is nothing that has not already been written about the match that took place on May 31, 2009. Philippe Chatrier expected a new victory for Rafael Nadal on the ground, another show of strength against an opponent whom he had won 6-1 and 6-0 a few weeks ago in Rome.
What happened on the track had nothing to do with the Foro Italico match. It was a conjunction of powerful blows from the bottom of the track, a perfect machine that took time and space in a thick day for the Balearic Islands, pushed off the track and unable to impose his rhythm. Anginas? Knee discomfort? Physical tank in half? Only Rafa knows in what physical condition he arrived that day, but the reality is that he played and fought that duel like every time he goes out on the track. And lost. It was a moment that the tennis world will never forget and, in all probability, the most surprising result in the history of Roland Garros.
What result do you get? What are, for you, the biggest surprises of Roland Garros?