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1973 : Nastase – at last!

Having won Monte-Carlo for the third time in a row a month earlier, Ilie Nastase was in the form of his life. The Romanian achieved the previously unthinkable, going through the fortnight without dropping a set and hampered only by the rain, which saw the Round of 16 finishing on the Saturday of the second week and the final pushed back to the Monday. Nastase made light of the dark clouds, and when the sun returned for the final, he found himself up against Nikki Pilic, who had caught Adriano Panatta cold in the semi-final. The unseeded Croat found himself passed at the net with alarming regularity, and Nastase needed just 88 minutes to record a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 win. The main attraction of the tournament however was Björn Borg, who celebrated his 17th birthday during the (extended) fortnight. The Swede fell to Panatta in the Round of 16, but his demigod looks certainly caught the eye both of the fans and the media.
There was also a youthful look to the women’s draw. 18-year-old phenom Chris Evert, unbeaten in her past 29 matches, dropped a mere 14 games en route to the final, where it took a Margaret Smith Court at the very top of her game to stop her. Having won the first set in a tie-break, which was new that year at Roland-Garros, Evert came within two points of the title on no fewer than three occasions in the second set before eventually going down 6-7, 7-6, 6-4. The Australian won Roland-Garros for the fifth and final time, but the future very much belonged to Evert.

Ilie Nastase (ROM) def. Nikki Pilic (CRO), 6-3, 6-3, 6-0
Margaret Smith Court (AUS) def. Chris Evert (USA), 6-7 7-6, 6-4

 

1972 : Billie Jean and Gimeno hit the heights

A Frenchman made the final, for the first time since Pierre Darmon in 1963! During the 1971 French Open, Patrick Proisy was invited to the Elysée Palace with other promising French sportsmen and women to meet Georges Pompidou, who assured him that he could win Roland-Garros in the near future. The French president’s wish was the man from Normandy’s command: Proisy was the darling of the Porte d’Auteuil crowds in 1972 as he knocked out first double-defending champion Jan Kodes in the quarter-finals, then dangerous Spaniard Manolo Orantes in the semis. He was the slight favourite going into the final against Andres Gimeno, a 34-year-old from Spain who had had a good career without ever bagging a major title. Proisy got off to a flying start but then it literally rained on his parade. When the players came back out under floodlights, the balding Gimeno seemed to be a lot calmer than the 22-year-old Frenchman, and the match was turned on its head (4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1). At 8.30 pm in front of a packed Centre Court crowd, Gimeno became the oldest winner of the men’s singles, though he was "as happy as a junior" as tears of joy ran down his cheeks.
In the women’s, Margaret Smith Court was absent, meaning that the top two seeds, Nancy Richey and Evonne Goolagong, were the favourites. Goolagong duly made it through to the final, only to lose to American Billie Jean King (6-3, 6-3), who in the past had tended to go no further than the quarter-finals in Paris but who had won everything else there was to win. A year before founding the WTA, King did the Minor Slam in 1972 and went unbeaten at the majors, choosing not to play in Australia.

Andres Gimeno (ESP) def. Patrick Proisy (FRA) 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-1
Billie Jean King (USA) def. Evonne Goolagong (AUS), 6-3, 6-3

 

1971 : Double for Kodes, first for Goolagong

Born in 1946 and rivals since their junior days, Jan Kodes and Ilie Nastase faced off for the title a month after their famous final in Nice. Down on the Côte d’Azur, a few days before going on to win the Monte-Carlo tournament, the turbulent Romanian drove the Czech out of his mind (and out of the court at one point, with Kodes refusing to carry on playing!), winning in three straight sets. In Paris however, Nastase lost his cool after disputing a point at 7-6 in the first set, before falling in four (8-6, 6-2, 2-6, 7-5). Kodes was on inspired, unusually attacking form that day, and became the fifth man to do the double in Paris and the first since Nicola Pietrangeli (1959–1960). The tournament was also enlivened by the return of Australian star Lew Hoad after a 13-year absence, and by another defeat for American Arthur Ashe, who went down in the quarter-finals after failing to take a match point against Frank Froehling. The German surprise package had a very pronounced backswing on his forehand which was unusual at the time and proved to be a real talking point.
In the women’s draw, the tournament was an open one after the early defeat suffered by Margaret Smith Court – her first loss in two years at a Grand Slam – at the hands of Frenchwoman Gail Chanfreau. Another Australian, Evonne Goolagong, stepped into the breach and bagged the trophy on her first appearance, defeating another Aussie, unseeded Helen Gourlay, 6-3, 7-5 in the final.

Jan Kodes (CZE) def. Ilie Nastase (ROM) 8-6, 6-2 2-6 7-5
Evonne Goolagong (AUS) def. Helen Gourlay (AUS), 6-3 7-5

 

1970 : Court follows in the footsteps of Laver

After a decade that was virtually 100% Australian, Europe got back to business in men’s tennis at least, courtesy of Jan Kodes. In the absence of any professionals who were under contract (and therefore the previous year’s two finalists, Laver and Rosewall), the 24-year-old from Prague took his maiden Slam, but he was certainly made to work for it. Twice Kodes found himself two sets to one down; in the semi-final against Frenchman Georges Goven – who two rounds earlier had created the upset of the tournament by ousting Spain’s Manolo Santana – and in the Round of 16 against Romania’s Ion Tiriac, in a match where the umpire’s decisions were questioned throughout. Kodes ironically had a much easier time of things in the final, cruising past Zeljko Franulovic, who was even more fatigued than he was, 6-2, 6-4, 6-0 in just 68 minutes. In his defence, the Croat was exhausted from his marathon semi-final against the American Cliff Richey, who had two match points in the fourth set, one of which he wasted with a double fault.
In the women’s, the unstoppable Margaret Court Smith, who already had the US and Australian Opens to her name, won a third major title in a row. She dropped just the one set, against Olga Morozova in the second round. Indeed, the Russian even led that match 6-3, 5-4... In the final, Court was up against a surprise package in amateur Helga Niessen, whose day job was in a hotel in Berlin. Despite her height (1.80m) and strength, the German – who had seen off USA’s Billie Jean King in the quarter-finals – came up short in the final, falling in straight sets (6-2, 6-4). Like Rod Laver in 1969, Margaret Court achieved the calendar Grand Slam in 1970, a year which she dominated from start to finish.

Jan Kodes (CZE) def. Zeljko Franulovic (CRO), 6-2, 6-4, 6-0
Margaret Smith Court (AUS) def. Helga Niessen (GER), 6-2, 6-4

 

1969 : Laver on course for his second Grand Slam

After a 1968 season where he "only" won at Wimbledon, Rod Laver regained absolute power in 1969, winning the lot. En route to his second calendar Grand Slam after 1962, the Australian had the toughest time of it at Roland-Garros, as had been the case seven years earlier, with clay never being the surface on which he was most comfortable. In the second round, his compatriot Dick Crealy was leading two sets to love when play was stopped due to nightfall. "If we’d carried on, I might’ve been able to win that one," said Crealy, who fell 6-4 in the fifth the following day. Laver was also put through the mill in the semi-final against Tom Okker, who was one of the main pretenders for the title. The Dutchman took the first set 6-4 but that merely prompted the Australian to play his very best tennis. In the final, the attacking lefty was on top form right from the word go, getting his revenge from the previous year and giving Ken Rosewall no room for manoeuvre (6-4, 6-3, 6-4). This turned out to be the last match for these two in Paris, and Laver was also the last player along with Björn Borg to finish his Porte d’Auteuil career on a victory.
As was the case in the men’s, the women’s title also went to the favourite from Australia. Margaret Smith Court, who had been put through her paces in the semi-final by American Nancy Richey, saw off Ann Haydon-Jones in three sets (6-1, 4-6, 6-3). In so doing, she turned the tables on the Brit who had teamed up with Frenchwoman Françoise Dürr to win the doubles final 7-5 in the third set, depriving Court of the singles, doubles and mixed doubles trifecta.

Rod Laver (AUS) def. Ken Rosewall (AUS), 6-4, 6-3, 6-4
Margaret Smith Court (AUS) def. Ann Haydon-Jones (GB), 6-1 4-6, 6-3

 

1968 : Rosewall, 15 years on

The May 1968 uprising saw all sorts of public events struck off the calendar, from the Cannes Film Festival to the French football championships. Roland-Garros was made of sterner stuff, however, and in a country which had all but ground to a halt, the tournament was a boon for the spectators who came out in droves. Television and newspapers were on strike, and while no fewer than 64 players withdrew from the singles, the people of Paris got the word out and headed to the stadium to celebrate the beginning of the Open era which had begun just two months earlier. After 20 years of separation, the professionals were finally able to play alongside the amateurs at the French Internationals. And it was one of the latter category, 39-year-old American Pancho Gonzales, who was the fan favourite with his run to the semi-finals. The final was more of a classic, with the two best pros at the time slugging it out. Australia’s Ken Rosewall and Rod Laver did battle, with the former winning in four sets 6-3, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2, 15 years after his first victory in Paris. Rosewall took home 50,000 French francs, the equivalent of around €36,000 nowadays.
In the women’s, Britain’s Ann Haydon-Jones, a former table tennis champion who became one of the UK’s most popular sportswomen of the 1960s, was the red-hot favourite. In the final, she was expected to make light work of Nancy Richey, whom she had thrashed 6-3, 6-1 to win the title in 1966. But having done the Minor Slam in doubles in 1966 with Maria Bueno and gone on to win the Australian Internationals the following year, the American was now a different proposition, and got her revenge in three sets (5-7, 6-4, 6-1).

Ken Rosewall (AUS) def. Rod Laver (AUS), 6-3, 6-1, 2-6, 6-2
Nancy Richey (USA) def. Ann Haydon-Jones (GB) 5-7, 6-4, 6-1