Top 10 Great Men's Singles French Open matches in the open era

The French Open is famous for its long matches, but it has had fewer all time great matches than Wimbledon or the U. S. Open. One of the problems is that many of the great players of the game have never been able to play their best on clay, so many of the great tennis rivals never played each other at the French Open. Borg and McEnroe never played at the French. Neither did Borg and Connors. Sampras and Agassi only played once at the French before Sampras was the great player that he became. Although there are always many long matches at the French, they don't always feature the favourites for the title. Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement played the longest French Open match in a dour first round match that was of little consequence in the tournament as neither had much chance of getting to the latter stages.

Judge for yourself the Top 10 French Open matches selected by this website by watching excerpts of the matches.

 

1. Nadal v Djokovic 2013 semi final    

This was the best match Rafael Nadal ever played at the French. In winning his first seven French titles he only played one five set match (a first round win against John Isner in 2011). Djokovic was the world number one and favourite. Nadal had returned from injury and won several tournaments, but he had lost to Djokovic on clay at Monte Carlo and there were doubts as to whether Nadal was slightly past his best. Nadal proved all the doubters wrong in this match. At one set all Djokovic inexplicably went walkabout for a set, gifting Nadal the third set 6-1. In the fourth set Nadal served for the match at 6-5 and reached 30-15, but then suffered from nerves. Djokovic took his chance and levelled the match at two sets all. Djokovic led by a break in the fifth. Against anyone else Djokovic would have won, but Nadal is never beaten until the last point is played. He fought back and won the fifth set 9-7. Nadal was back to his vintage best of 2008-2010, attacking the ball and hitting many glorious forehand winners. In the end he deserved to win because he was able to continue to attack the ball deep in the fifth set on the crucial points, which he had to do against Djokovic. When Djokovic is in command of a point he usually wins it. Nadal's wins over Federer in the 2008 Wimbledon final and 2009 Australian final and this win over Djokovic were three of the most remarkable matches ever (plus there was Nadal's loss to Djokovic in the 2012 Australian final). Nadal has leading Grand Slam records against all his rivals and is the best player of modern times. Federer may have won a few more Grand Slam titles than Nadal, but many of his wins had a hollow feel to them. In the course of winning eleven of his thirteen Grand Slam titles Nadal has beaten Djokovic or Federer when they were seeded in the top three. Federer won twelve of his Grand Slam titles where the best seeded players he beat were Andy Roddick (5 times), Lleyton Hewitt (twice), Juan Carlos Ferrero, Nikolay Davydenko, James Blake, Andy Murray and Juan Martin del Potro (his 1 French title).

 

2. Kuerten v Norman 2000 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the defining match in Gustavo Kuerten's career. The great Gustavo had won the title in 1997 as an outsider and in 2000 was going for his second title. In the quarters he was two sets to one and a break down against Yevgeny Kafelnikov but produced some Guga magic to win. In the semis he won another five setter against Juan-Carlos Ferrero. Guga's opponent in the final was the swede Magnus Norman, who was playing in his first Grand Slam final. Kuerten established a two sets to one lead. Then an epic fourth set developed. At 4-5 Kuerten had match point. He thought he'd won but the umpire came down from his chair to look at the mark and ruled against him. Kuerten was furious. Kuerten had several more match points in an epic game but Norman held on. At 5-6 Norman again won an epic game saving match points. Kuerten had match points in the tie break but again Norman came back. On his eleventh match point Kuerten finally clinched the match. Although the match was only four sets long, the fourth set was one of the greatest sets ever played in a Grand Slam tournament with the crowd going wild. Their hero had won. After that Norman disappeared back into obscurity. Kuerten retained his title the following year, again doing a Houdini act in his fourth round match in which he saved match points.

 

3. Lendl v McEnroe 1984 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was the most important match in Ivan Lendl's career. He had lost four previous Grand Slam finals and it looked as if it was going to be five as his arch rival John McEnroe established a two sets to love lead. McEnroe was trying to win the French Open for the first time. Serve volleyers rarely won on the red dirt of Roland Garros but McEnroe was trying his best to be one of the few who managed it. However, Lendl fought back magnificently to win the match in five tough sets. Lendl dominated the next three years winning three consecutive U. S. Open titles and two more French Open titles. He then won two Australian Open titles for good measure to cement his place amongst the all time greats. If Lendl had lost that match to McEnroe he may have been doomed to be the nearly man of the sport. McEnroe was never to get as close to winning the French Open again.

 

4. Gaudio v Coria 2004 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was one of the most bizarre matches in the history of the game. Guillermo Coria was the favourite. He was seeded three and over the past year had proved to be a good clay court performer. Gaston Gaudio was unseeded and in five years of playing Grand Slam tournaments had only once reached the fourth round. When Coria won the first two sets for the loss of three games the outcome seemed obvious. Gaudio, the underdog, was totally overwhelmed in his first Grand Slam final, as many underdogs had been before him. In the third set Gaudio at least found some form but it still seemed like Coria would win in straight sets. Then Coria cracked. He lost the third set and in the fourth from 1-1 he hardly moved to a ball. He claimed an injury, but if the injury had been so severe as to stop him being able to move why didn't he retire? In the fifth set Coria suddenly began moving much better and it seemed as if he had deliberately thrown the fourth set in order to lull Gaudio into a false sense of security. Coria served for the match at 5-4 in the fifth set but completely froze. He served for the match again at 6-5 and had two championship points but again his nerve let him down. Gaudio went on to win the fifth set 8-6. Coria was never the same again. He is one of only two men to have championship point in a Grand Slam final and to have never won a Grand Slam title. Gaudio disappeared back into obscurity, content in the knowledge that he was immortalised as a Grand Slam champion. The following year Rafael Nadal arrived on the scene and began his dominance of the tournament.

 

5. Chang v Lendl 1989 fourth round    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was a giant killing performance. Ivan Lendl was seeded one and had won the French Open three times. Michael Chang was 17 years old and seeded 15. Lendl won the first two sets but Chang fought back to level at two sets all. Then in the later stages of the fifth Chang began cramping badly. He even served underarm. Chang seemed a spent force but it was Lendl who cracked and Chang managed to win the fifth set 6-4.

 

6. Bruguera v Courier 1993 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

This was clay court tennis at its' best. Jim Courier was going for a hat trick of French Open titles. He faced the Spaniard Sergi Bruguera, whose game was tailor made for clay. Courier had built up a reputation for grinding out tough matches (he had won an epic French Open final two years earlier against Agassi). However, Bruguera slid around the court hitting winners and outlasted Courier in five sets. Courier never got as close to winning a Grand Slam title again. For the next three years he lost several great Grand Slam matches against the likes of Sampras and Agassi before dropping down the rankings. Bruguera retained his title the following year before he struggled to find his form.

 

7. Agassi v Medvedev 1999 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Andre Agassi was trying to become only the fifth man to win all four Grand Slam titles and only the third man to win Grand Slam titles on three different surfaces when he faced Andrei Medvedev in the 1999 French Open final. He was also trying to win his first Grand Slam title for over four years. Medvedev was playing in his first Grand Slam final and began well. Agassi struggled to find his timing as the wind swirled around the court. Then the wind died down and Agassi managed to win the third set. It proved to be the turning point. Agassi won in five sets and there were emotional scenes as he realised what he had accomplished. Agassi went from strength to strength after that, winning the U. S. Open later in the year and then winning three Australian championships. Medvedev disappeared from view and never reached the heights again.

 

8. Sampras v Courier 1996 quarter final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Pete Sampras was a man on a mission in the 1996 French Open. Sampras had never won the tournament and knew that if he could manage to win it then his claim to be the best player ever would be stronger. The draw wasn't kind to Sampras. He faced former champion Sergi Bruguera in the second round and eventually won after five sets. Then he had another five set match against Todd Martin in round three. Then he dropped the first two sets in the quarters against Jim Courier. Courier loved playing on clay. He had won the event twice. Sampras, though, played the best clay court tennis of his career to level at two sets all. He got a break in the fifth and served for the match but then started to suffer physically. There were a number of key matches when Sampras struggled physically and he seemed to win every one of them. Courier said "the guy's in his grave and he's still f***** serving bullets!" A point after that remark Sampras claimed victory but he had used his last ounce of energy and had nothing left in the tank when he lost tamely to Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the semis. Courier was never quite the same again after that. Sampras went on to win four more Wimbledon and two more U. S. titles.

 

9. Courier v Agassi 1991 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Two young Americans who had both trained at the Bollitierri camp as juniors faced each other in the 1991 French Open final, both eager to win their first Grand Slam title. Agassi had been runner up the previous year to the veteran Andres Gomez and had also lost to Pete Sampras in the U. S. Open final. This was Courier's first Grand Slam final and he was the underdog. Agassi played well in patches, but he also played poorly at times as well. He led by two sets to one but capitulated in the fourth set, losing it 6-1. The fifth set was neck and neck all the way. Then at 4-4 Agassi cracked. He missed an easy bounce smash on a crucial point and Courier took his chance. He served out for victory. Agassi would have to wait another eight years before he finally won the tournament. By then he was older and wiser, though still attacked the ball with the same uncompromising zest. This 1991 final set Jim Courier on the road to dominating the game. He was the best player in the world in 1992 but in 1993 Sampras overtook him and Courier never won another Grand Slam title.

 

10. Chang v Edberg 1989 final    DIRECT LINK TO A YOUTUBE VIDEO OF THIS MATCH

Stefan Edberg was one of the all time greats. If he had won the French Open then he would have won all four Grand Slam titles. Serve volleyers rarely won the French. McEnroe had come close in 1984 before an inspired Lendl had pipped him at the post. In 1989 Edberg faced the 17 year old Michael Chang. Chang had beaten Lendl in a classic fourth round match. Edberg had overcome his arch rival Boris Becker in the semis. In the final Edberg led by two sets to one and a break but Chang never gave up. He took the fourth set and then Edberg began to tire. Chang kept running down every ball and proved victorious. He was the youngest winner of a Grand Slam men's singles title but it proved to be his only one. Edberg never lost another Grand Slam match to Chang and reached his peak in the early 1990s but he never reached another French final.

 

 

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