1986: Seventh heaven for Evert
Mikael Pernfors was the surprise package of the 1986 tournament. Despite being almost 23, he had only turned pro a year earlier and no-one was expecting anything of him at Roland Garros. And then he went and beat Stefan Edberg in the second round in five sets (6-7, 7-5, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4). Boris Becker suffered a similar fate (2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-0) a few days later, as did Frenchman Henri Leconte in the semis (2-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-3). Having swept aside three top 10 players in just over a week, Pernfors – with his brush-cut hair and winning smile – suddenly found himself through to the French Open final at the first attempt.
The dream had to end some time, and Ivan Lendl it was who provided the wake-up call. The Czech world No.1 was rarely in a mood to be trifled with on court and even less so at the French. The one man to take a set off him this year, Andres Gomez, was soon made to regret it (6-7, 7-6, 6-0, 6-0), while during his semi-final against South African Johan Kriek, Lendl barely had time to work up a sweat on a cool May afternoon, keeping his tracksuit on throughout a 6-2, 6-1, 6-0 win. The final also turned out to be one-way traffic and Lendl methodically captured his second French Open crown. Poor Mikael Pernfors meanwhile would not win another match at Roland Garros...
In the women's singles, Chris Evert won her seventh title, 12 years on from her first. This feat put her ahead of Suzanne Lenglen in the all-time rankings, the legendary Frenchwoman "only" managing to win the tournament six times between 1920 et 1926. This seventh title was perhaps the most fiercely contested for the 31-year-old. She dropped a set to up-and-coming Argentinean Gabriela Sabatini in the fourth round (1-6, 6-3, 6-3) and another to Canada's Carling Bassett in the quarters (5-7, 6-2, 6-1). To cap it all, she came back from a set down in the final against her perennial rival Martina Navratilova to win 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 and write her name in the annals.
Chris Evert (USA) def. Martina Navratilova (CZE) 2-6, 6-3, 6-3
Ivan Lendl (CZE) def. Mikael Pernfors (SWE) 6-3, 6-2, 6-4
1985: Ladies first
Three years after bursting onto the scene with a win at his maiden French Open in 1982, Mats Wilander grabbed his second Roland Garros title. The Swede came into the tournament at No.4 in the world but went on to beat No.1 John McEnroe 6-1, 7-5, 7-5 in the semis then the No.2 and defending champion Ivan Lendl in the final (3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2). For once at Roland Garros, the top four in the world made it through to the semis, with No.3 Jimmy Connors completing a dream line-up of multiple Grand Slam winners.
The women's draw was equally top-quality, with world No.1 and No.2 Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert meeting for the third time in a Paris final, after sharing the first two (Evert winning in 1975, Navratilova in 1984). The match combined quality and intensity throughout and was arguably the most memorable of the 80 (yes, 80!) times that they played. Evert was a point away from a 6-3, 5-2 lead only to lose the second set on a tie-break. In the final set the American again pulled clear, 3-1 then 5-3 but each time Navratilova refused to give up and battled back to level.
But just when everyone thought that the Czech lefty would finally take control, Evert summoned up every remaining ounce of strength to grab another break, before finally serving out for the match, 6-3, 6-7, 7-5 after two hours and 51 minutes. This sixth French Open title drew Evert level with Suzanne Lenglen and also enabled her to take over top spot in the rankings from Navratilova.
Mats Wilander (SWE) def. Ivan Lendl (CZE) 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 6-2
Chris Evert (USA) def. Martina Navratilova (CZE) 6-3, 6-7, 7-5
1984: Big Mac shot down
82 wins, three defeats – that was the amazing record posted by John McEnroe in 1984 en route to one of the most incredible seasons ever in the Open era. And yet one of those three defeats – in the final here at Roland Garros – has become one of the greatest stories in the history of the tournament. By making it to the final, world No.1 McEnroe had racked up 42 consecutive victories, thrashing his bitter rival Jimmy Connors 7-5, 6-1, 6-2 in the semis. Then he had to face Ivan Lendl, with the Czech sitting on four Grand Slam final appearances to date, and four defeats…
For two sets, McEnroe was head and shoulders above Lendl, darting hither and thither around the court and dominating the net to take a 6-3, 6-2 lead. But then the American started to tire. The sun was shining for the first time that fortnight, and the temperature began to rise on centre court. Slowly but surely, McEnroe started to lose his rhythm and accumulate unforced errors as Lendl got back into the match, taking the third set 6-4 then the fourth 7-5. The crowd were right behind the Czech, whom Connors still refers to as "chicken", and Lendl gave the lie to that reputation as he took command of the match. Though McEnroe's accuracy was waning as the match hit the three-hour mark in the fifth, he still managed to carve out a break point at 3-3, 30-40, only to hit his passing shot into the net.
When a similar chance finally came Lendl's way, he needed no second bidding, and when McEnroe hit a forehand volley long at 5-6, the Czech finally had his first Grand Slam title. It was by no means a changing of the guard, since McEnroe would go on to dominate the rest of the season, but it proved that Lendl had the stuff of champions and would go down in history for the titles he won as opposed to those he lost. McEnroe meanwhile went on to win at Wimbledon and the US Open, but Paris continued to elude him.
Yannick Noah meanwhile continued his love affair with Roland Garros. Whilst he did not manage to defend his singles title, falling 7-6, 2-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 as Mats Wilander exacted revenge for the 1983 final, the Frenchman teamed up with compatriot Henri Leconte to win the men's doubles.
Attacking tennis may not have been on the menu in the men's final, but the women's event was certainly more spectacular as Martina Navratilova won her second Paris title.
Lendl's fellow Czech thus completed a Grand Slam spread over two seasons, having won the three preceding majors at Wimbledon, the US Open and the Australian Open. The world No.1 got her own back on Kathy Horvath in the quarters (6-4, 6-2) after the American had dealt Navratilova her only loss of the year at Roland Garros 12 months earlier. The final was also a straightforward affair as the lefty got the better of defending champion Chris Evert 6-3, 6-1.
Martina Navratilova (CZE) def. Chris Evert (USA) 6-3, 6-1
Ivan Lendl (CZE) def. John McEnroe (USA) 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
1983: Victory for Noah, and for France
37 years after Marcel Bernard, another Frenchman finally won at Roland Garros. Yannick Noah came into the French Open on the back of victories at Madrid and Hamburg and went on to have the fortnight of his life. Hurtling into the net at every opportunity, the Frenchman knocked the stuffing out of Ivan Lendl in the quarters, winning 7-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-0 and dropping his only set of the tournament.
France were guaranteed to have one of their own in the final as Noah met Christophe Roger-Vasselin in the semis, after the latter had shocked the tennis world with his straight-sets win over world No.1 Jimmy Connors in the quarters (6-4, 6-4, 7-6). Noah showed his compatriot no quarter however (6-3, 6-0, 6-0) and then went on to defeat the defending champion Mats Wilander, again in straight sets (6-2, 7-5, 7-6) to win the title, to the delight of the home crowd. After match point, Noah rushed into the arms of his father Zacharie who had leapt onto the court. Incidentally, Noah was the last player to win a Grand Slam with a wooden racquet.
Chris Evert meanwhile won her fifth women's title, putting her alongside Australia's Margaret Court who had won her final French Open ten years previously. Evert dropped two sets along the way, to Helena Sukova in the round of 16 (6-2, 3-6, 6-3) and Hana Mandlikova in the quarters (4-6, 6-3, 6-2). The final saw the American overcome Yugoslavian Mima Jausovec, who had won the title in 1977.
The real sensation was caused by the shock defeat of world No.1 Martina Navratilova in the fourth round, at the hands of unheralded American Kathleen Horvath. The 17-year-old won 6-4, 0-6, 6-3, knocking out the defending champion and inflicting the only defeat that Navratilova would suffer all season...
Chris Evert (USA) def. Mima Jausovec (YUG) 6-1, 6-2
Yannick Noah (FRA) def. Mats Wilander (SUE) 6-2, 7-5, 7-6
1982: The "other" Swede comes of age
For the first time in what seemed like an age, Bjorn Borg was not the favourite for the French Open. Having won Roland Garros six of the past eight years, the Swede had decided to retire, despite only being 26 years old. The main candidate to succeed Borg was the man he had defeated the year before, Czechoslovakia's Ivan Lendl who had taken him to five sets in the final. Lendl cruised through the first week of the tournament and was expected to make light work of his fourth round opponent Mats Wilander, a 17-year-old who had won the junior tournament the year before. What Lendl did not know however was that the Swedish teenager was already a master tactician.
While his forehand still needed a fair bit of work, Wilander's accurate backhand and excellent defensive play were enough to see off Lendl 4-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2. The public had another Swede to watch, and though he was as impassive as Borg, he was also capable of incredible sportsmanship. Up against Argentina's Jose Luis Clerc in the semi-finals, the umpire announced "game, set and match Wilander", but young Mats was not convinced that the call was the correct one and asked for the point to be replayed. Gestures like these helped to compensate for the fact that his tennis was somewhat one-dimensional at the time, with the 1982 final being the longest in the history of the French Open and certainly one of the least spectacular. After four hours and 42 minutes of long, defensive rallies, Wilander prevented Guillermo Vilas from celebrating one last victory in Paris (1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4).
1982 also saw the first French Open title for Martina Navratilova, but her success was a little less unexpected than that of Wilander, who had never before won a title on the ATP circuit. Navratilova had already been world No.1 and had three Grand Slams to her name. She defeated title-holder Hana Mandlikova 6-0, 6-2 in the semi-finals and then 17-year-old Andrea Jaeger 7-6, 6-1 in the final.
Martina Navratilova (CZE) def. Andrea Jaeger (USA) 7-6, 6-1
Mats Wilander (SWE) def. Guillermo Vilas (ARG) 1-6, 7-6, 6-0, 6-4
1979: Triumphant return for Evert
Having swept all before him in 1978, dropping only 32 games en route to the title – a Roland Garros record –Bjorn Borg immediately had a tougher time of things in 1979, despite (or maybe because of) his status as red-hot favourite. He dropped a set to Tomas Smid in the first round (6-1, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4) and then another in his next match against Tom Gullikson (6-3, 7-6, 5-7, 6-4). His next two matches saw him step up his game and defeat Hans Gildemeister and Vitas Gerulaitis in straight sets.
In the final he came up against surprise package Victor Pecci. The Paraguayan with the diamond-stud earring and jet-black hair had won over the crowds throughout the fortnight with some sparkling tennis that saw him defeat Corrado Barazzutti, Harold Solomon, Guillermo Vilas and Jimmy Connors. He was so good in fact that people were beginning to wonder whether his flamboyant style of play might prove too much for Borg… But it was not to be, despite some fierce resistance in the third and fourth sets which had the crowd on their feet, hoping for someone – anyone – to end the 24-year-old Swede's dominance as he moved inexorably towards his fourth French Open title.
After a four-year hiatus, Chris Evert made a triumphant return to Paris, winning her third crown after 1974 and 1975. The American dropped a set in the third round but was still head and shoulders above the competition, dropping only ten games from the quarter-finals onwards and dispatching Wendy Turnbull 6-2, 6-0 in the final.
In the doubles, Françoise Dürr played the last Grand Slam final of her storied career. The 36-year-old teamed up with Briton Virginia Wade but the pair lost to Wendy Turnbull and Betty Stöve 3-6, 7-5, 6-0. Dürr won no fewer than nine titles at Roland Garros – one singles, five women's doubles and three mixed doubles.
Chris Evert (USA) def. Wendy Turnbull (AUS) 6-2, 6-0
Björn Borg (SWE) def. Victor Pecci (PAR) 6-3, 6-1, 6-7, 6-4
1978: Borg on a higher plane
With seven victories in seven matches and only 32 games dropped on the way – a French Open record – Bjorn Borg really was head and shoulders above the competition this year. Huge-serving Roscoe Tanner in the Round of 16 was the only player not to come off court having been totally humiliated (6-2, 6-4, 7-6). Everyone else took a real beating, including defending champion Guillermo Vilas. The Argentinean was looking to prove that his 1977 win in Borg's absence was no fluke, but the score in the final – 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 – merely served to demonstrate just how far ahead of the field the Lennart Bergelin-coached Swede was as he raced to his third title at Roland Garros.
"The female Nastase" was how Virginia Ruzici was known, in homage to Ilie Nastase. And like her illustrious compatriot in 1973, she too secured the French Open title. The Romanian No.2 seed was relatively untroubled until she got to the quarter-finals, where Uruguay's Fiorella Bonicelli came within a point or two of knocking her out only to fall 6-7, 6-4, 8-6. Ruzici then beat Frenchwoman Brigitte Simon-Glinel (6-3, 6-0) in the semis before seeing off defending champion Mima Jausovec in a one-sided final (6-2, 6-2).
Virginia Ruzici (ROM) def. Mima Jausovec (YUG) 6-2, 6-2
Bjorn Borg (SWE) def. Guillermo Vilas (ARG) 6-1, 6-1, 6-3
1977: Vilas at last!
1977 was certainly Guillermo Vilas' year. The Argentinean was at the peak of his prowess and won no fewer than 16 tournaments, including two Grand Slams at the French and US Opens. Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors were absent from Paris and this gave Vilas the opportunity to dominate, which he duly did in a Borg-esque display of topspin technique. Stan Smith fell 6-1, 6-2, 6-1, Wojtek Fibak was brushed aside 6-4, 6-0, 6-4, Raul Ramirez went down 6-2, 6-0, 6-3 and then Vilas finished it off with a 6-0, 6-3 6-0 thrashing of Brian Gottfried in the shortest men's final in Roland Garros history. The win saw Vilas become the first South American on the tournament honours board.
Yugoslavia's Mima Jausovec lived up to her top seeding throughout the fortnight. The 20-year-old had already made the semis of the US Open the previous year and stepped up to the next level here in Paris. In the final, she found herself pitted against Florenta Mihai who had made the semis the previous year, but Jausovec had too much for the 21-year-old Romanian, winning 6-2, 6-7, 6-1. In the junior tournament, a young American by the name of John McEnroe won the boys' singles and also the mixed doubles alongside his girlfriend at the time, Mary Carillo.
Mima Jausovec (YUG) def. Florenta Mihai (ROM) 6-2, 6-7, 6-1
Guillermo Vilas (ARG) def. Brian Gottfried (USA) 6-0, 6-3, 6-0
1976: Panatta dives to victory
And to think he almost got knocked out in the first round… Adriano Panatta found himself down and almost out as he began his French Open campaign against Czechoslovakia's Pavel Hutka. Staring down a match point in the fifth set, the Italian stayed alive thanks to an incredible dive at the net! Panatta squeaked through 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, 0-6, 12-10, and then set about accomplishing one of the feats of the decade – defeating Bjorn Borg on the Paris clay. He had already done it once, back in 1973 when the Swede had barely begun his career. This time around, the Borg he would face was the two-time defending champion.
Yet somehow playboy Panatta, with his solid baseline play accompanied by regular forays to the net, pulled it off, winning a tight four-setter (6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6). He would end up being the only man ever to beat Borg at Roland Garros, and now he had done it twice. A few days later, the incomparably elegant Italian defeated Harold Solomon – after the American had ousted Guillermo Vilas in the quarters – to win his maiden Grand Slam title.
Another two-time reigning champion, Chris Evert, was not around to defend her title this year, and Britain's Sue Barker made the most of it to win her only Grand Slam. She was made to work for the honour however, taken to three sets in the fourth round, the quarters, the semis and the final! Czechoslovakia's Regina Marsikova came the closest to knocking out Barker in the quarter-finals, eventually going down 4-6, 6-2, 8-6. The Brit then beat another Czechoslovakian in the final, Renata Tomanova, in a nervous, up-and-down encounter (6-2, 0-6, 6-2).
Sue Barker (GB) def. Renata Tomanova (CZE) 6-2, 0-6, 6-2
Adriano Panatta (ITA) def. Harold Solomon (USA) 6-1, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6
1975: Borg and Evert repeat
While his maiden win in 1974 came as a real shock, Bjorn Borg's second French Open title was much less of a surprise. The Swede went through the tournament without dropping so much as a set to big names such as Stan Smith (No.12 in the world) and Harold Solomon (No.15). He met Argentinean Guillermo Vilas in the final in a match that was one of the highlights of the decade. And as was usually the case when these two met, Borg had the last word, winning 6-2, 6-3, 6-4 to become the sixth man to win the tournament two years in a row after Frank Parker (1948-49), Jaroslav Drobny (1951-52), Tony Trabert (1954-55), Nicola Pietrangeli (1959-60) and Jan Kodes (1970-71).
The day before, Chris Evert also won her second consecutive Roland Garros title. She sailed through the tournament before meeting an up-and-coming Czech by the name of Martina Navratilova in the final. Evert won in three sets (2-6, 6-2, 6-1), and the two young ladies also teamed up to win the doubles.
Bjorn Borg (SWE) def. Guillermo Vilas (ARG) 6-2, 6-3, 6-4
Chris Evert (USA) def. Martina Navratilova (CZE) 2-6, 6-2, 6-1
1974: A change of era
1974 was the beginning of the modern era in tennis. Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert and Bjorn Borg all shot to the forefront of the tennis scene and closed the door on the pre-open era, despite a few pockets of resistance embodied by Arthur Ashe and John Newcombe. Roland Garros was no exception to the rule. Connors may have been absent but the young Borg was about to begin one of the longest eras of dominance ever seen in Paris. The 18-year-old, coached by Lennart Bergelin, was taken to five sets early on by Erik Van Dillen and Raul Ramirez but nevertheless made it through to the final in only his second appearance at the tournament.
His opponent was Manuel Orantes, who had seen off Frenchman François Jauffret 6-2 6-4 6-4 in the semi-finals. The Spaniard was more experienced and certainly more of a household name, and he raced into a two-set lead 6-2, 7-6. This was all part of the Borg strategy however. With his incredible topspin and unshakeable defence, he slowly but surely began to wear Orantes down. The remainder of the match was one-way traffic, and Borg became the youngest ever winner of the tournament with a 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 win.
Having made the final in 1973, Chris Evert also laid the cornerstone of her Parisian fortress. She was the female equivalent of Borg, right down to the unflappable focus, baseline solidity and two-handed backhand. The 19-year-old took the crown without dropping a set, brushing aside all seven of her opponents including Olga Morozova of USSR in the final, 6-1, 6-2. Another soon-to-be famous name made it through to the quarter-finals that year and alongside Evert, Martina Navratilova would change the face of women's tennis…
Chris Evert (USA) def. Olga Morozova (USSR) 6-1, 6-2
Bjorn Borg (SWE) def. Manuel Orantes (ESP) 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1