1999: The year of Mr and Mrs Agassi
Roland Garros 1999 proved to be a life-changing moment for tennis legends Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf. The Kid from Las Vegas had touched rock bottom and plumbed the depths of the Challenger circuit towards the end of 1997, but by the time he came to Paris in 1999, he was ready to become just the fifth player ever to achieve a career Grand Slam (after winning Wimbledon in 1992, the US Open in 1994 and the Australian Open in 1995).
And yet Agassi made hard work of it throughout the two weeks. In the second round he came within two points of defeat against Frenchman Arnaud Clement. Two rounds later, defending champion Carlos Moya led 6-4, 4-1 only for Agassi to launch an incredible comeback and win 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 6-1. And in the final, the American found himself two sets to love down to Andrei Medvedev, who at No.100 in the world was the lowest-ranked player ever to make the final of the French Open. Comeback kid Medvedev had enjoyed an incredible tournament, seeing off none other than Pete Sampras and Gustavo Kuerten. But when push came to shove, destiny – and the crowd – were firmly on the side of Agassi, who emerged victorious after five long sets.
The previous afternoon, Steffi Graf had won her sixth title at Roland Garros and her 22nd major in the process. Having overcome perennial rival Monica Seles 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, she then defeated world No.1 Martina Hingis in the final 4-6, 7-5, 6-2. Hingis was in feisty mood that Saturday afternoon, contesting many of the umpire's decisions, incurring the wrath of the Philippe Chatrier crowd and bursting into tears shortly after match point. For Steffi, who had struggled with injuries in the lead-up to the tournament, this was an unexpected opportunity to go out with a bang. Three weeks later after her last-ever Wimbledon final, Miss Graf called time on her tennis career. Her new vocation – as Mrs Agassi – was about to begin…
Steffi Graf (GER) def. Martina Hingis (SUI) 4-6, 7-5, 6-2
Andre Agassi (USA) def. Andrei Medvedev (UKR) 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4
1998: The reign in Spain continues
The Spanish flag waved proudly over Roland Garros for the entire fortnight in 1998. Carlos Moya won his first Grand Slam title, defeating fellow Spaniard Alex Corretja in the final. Having won Monte Carlo a few weeks earlier, Moya overcame his greatest obstacle in the quarter-finals of the French, defeating world No.1 Marcelo Rios from Chile in four very up-and-down sets 6-1, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4. From thereon in, it was plain sailing for the Majorcan as he defeated two more members of the Spanish armada, Felix Mantilla and Alex Corretja, en route to the title.
With the football world cup about to get under way around France, Pele himself was on hand to hand out the "Coupe des Mousquetaires" to Moya, while Corretja showed off his footballing skills during the award ceremony.
The only non-Spaniard in the final four was Cedric Pioline. The Frenchman did things the hard way, going through two five-set marathons against Hicham Arazi and Marat Safin, the latter very much the revelation of the 1998 tournament. The 18-year-old Russian came into the French Open ranked No.116 in the world but saw off Andre Agassi and Gustavo Kuerten in a pair of matches which also went the distance. A star was born...
Arantxa Sanchez meanwhile was already a star, and she confirmed that very status with her third French Open crown. She took it upon herself to knock out every dangerous American opponent single-handed, defeating Monica Seles 7-6, 0-6, 6-2 in the final, Lindsay Davenport in the semis 6-3, 7-6 and also a young up-and-coming star in the fourth round by the name of Serena Williams, who came within a few points of creating an upset before falling to a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 defeat. This was the third French Open title for Sanchez, putting her level with her final opponent Seles in the hall of fame.
Arantxa Sanchez (ESP) def. Monica Seles (USA) 7-6, 0-6, 6-2
Carlos Moya (ESP) def. Alex Corretja (ESP) 6-3, 7-5, 6-3
1997: Here comes "Guga"
Though he was barely out of the Challenger circuit, Gustavo Kuerten was about to create one of the biggest shocks in the history of tennis. With his skinny physique, bright clothing and even brighter tennis, the 66th-ranked Brazilian won supporters – and matches – aplenty during an amazing fortnight which saw him defeat Thomas Muster, Andrei Medvedev, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and then Sergi Bruguera in the final. Guga played a heart-warming brand of tennis with a luscious (and extremely effective) one-handed backhand, and how the crowd loved it, cheering him on every step of the way as he slowly but surely rocked the established clay-court hierarchy to its very foundations.
The men's draw was turned completely on its head as only two seeds – Yevgeny Kafelnikov (No.3) and Sergi Bruguera (No.16) made it as far as the quarter-finals. Meanwhile there was Filip Dewulf who emerged from the qualifiers and then simply refused to stop, making it as far as the semi-finals and notching an incredible win over world No.7 Alex Corretja. The Belgian had the best Grand Slam showing of any qualifier since John McEnroe at Wimbledon in 1977.
The women's draw threw up its share of surprises as well. Having gone through the first half of 1997 unbeaten, with 38 wins and six titles to her name, world No.1 Martina Hingis – still aged only 16 at the time – came unstuck in the final against another teenager, Croatia Iva Majoli. The 19-year-old had made the quarter-finals here in Paris the past two years, and her Monica Seles-esque style of play certainly had a lot of success in 1997. Having disposed of Lindsay Davenport (WTA No.5) and Amanda Coetzer (11), she then won the title and prevented Swiss miss Hingis from achieving a calendar Slam.
Iva Majoli (CRO) def. Martina Hingis (SUI) 6-4, 6-2
Gustavo Kuerten (BRA) def. Sergi Bruguera (ESP) 6-3, 6-4, 6-2
1996: Yevgeny and Steffi on top
1996 was the year in which Yevgeny Kafelnikov became the first Russian to win a Grand Slam. Having made it through to the semi-finals the previous year, there was no stopping him this time around. Kafelnikov dropped just one set throughout the tournament, to Richard Krajicek in the quarter- final. The weather throughout the fortnight was hot and dry, which enabled the attackers to come to the fore, none more so than Michael Stich. The Wimbledon 1991 winner played an incredible match in the fourth round to knock out defending champion and hot favourite Thomas Muster 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6. It took Kafelnikov to stop the German, and then only in the final.
1996 was also the year that Pete Sampras made it to his only French Open semis. The world No.1 was made to work for his spot in the final four and was taken to five sets against Sergi Bruguera in the second round, five more against compatriot Todd Martin in the third and another five against another American Jim Courier in the quarters. By the time he reached the semis, Sampras was out for the count and could do nothing to stop Kafelnikov, who even went on to team up with Daniel Vacek to become the first player to win the singles and doubles titles at the French since Ken Rosewall in 1968.
At 40 games, the women's final between Steffi Graf and Arantxa Sanchez was the longest (in terms of games) in the history of the women's tournament, and the German it was who emerged victorious 6-3, 6-7, 10-8. This was Graf's fifth French Open title and her second in a row (both of them coming against Sanchez in the final). The tournament also saw the return of Monica Seles, three years after her stabbing at the Hamburg tournament. Having made a fairy-tale return by winning the Australian Open the previous January, the newly-naturalised American made it as far as the quarters here in Paris before having to give best to Jana Novotna.
Steffi Graf (GER) def. Arantxa Sanchez (ESP) 6-3, 6-7, 10-8
Yevgeny Kafelnikov (RUS) def. Michael Stich (GER) 7-6, 7-5, 7-6
1995: The Year of the "Musterminator"
Could anyone have stopped Thomas Muster at Roland Garros in 1995? Coming into the tournament, the Austrian had compiled an incredible record on clay, winning in Mexico, Estoril, Barcelona, Monte Carlo and Rome. Five tournaments on red dirt, five titles, no losses. "Musterminator", as he had come to be known, then strode into Paris and picked off the opposition, dropping just a set to unheralded Frenchman Gerard Solves in the first round and two in the quarter-final against Spaniard Albert Costa, who was the only player to trouble him throughout the fortnight before falling 6-2, 3-6, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2. Yevgeny Kafelnikov managed the grand total of eight games in the semi-final, and then Michael Chang fared little better in the final, garnering just 11. Six years after his fairy-tale win here in Paris, Chang was again impressive, eliminating the two-time defending champion Sergi Bruguera 6-4, 7-6, 7-6 in the semis, putting an end to the Spaniard's 19-match unbeaten run at Roland-Garros.
Steffi Graf meanwhile equalled Helen Wills Moody's achievements with her fourth French Open title, leaving her three short of the legendary Chris Evert. She was made to work hard for her trophy against some of the top-ranked players in the world, including Anke Huber (No.11), Gabriela Sabatini (No.8) and Conchita Martinez (No.4) before defeating defending champion Arantxa Sanchez 7-5, 4-6, 6-0 in the final – a result which also saw Graf take back the No.1 spot from the Spaniard in the WTA rankings.
Steffi Graf (GER) def. Arantxa Sanchez (SPA) 7-5, 4-6, 6-0
Thomas Muster (AUT) def. Michael Chang (USA) 7-5, 6-2, 6-4
1994: Un, dos, tres
Three of the year's four singles finalists were Spanish, with Sergi Bruguera and Arantxa Sanchez taking the respective trophies home to the Iberian peninsula. Defending champion Bruguera sailed through the tournament virtually untroubled. His topspin was still a real weapon and made him untouchable on clay. Much was expected of the Ukrainian prodigy Andrei Medvedev who had made the semi-finals here the previous year and won in Monte Carlo and Hamburg in the lead-up to the 1994 French Open. He had won Junior Roland Garros just three years earlier but was far too nervous this time around to make a genuine impact. Just a few short weeks after he had swept Bruguera aside in the Monte Carlo final, he came up desperately short against the Spaniard here in the quarter-finals (6-3, 6-2, 7-5).
Jim Courier was the next to fall to Bruguera (6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3), which set up an all-Spanish final with Alberto Berasategui having forehanded has way through the bottom half of the draw, brushing aside Cedric Pioline, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Goran Ivanisevic and Magnus Larsson. Bruguera was simply too strong for the Basque in the final however, running out a 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1 winner.
Compatriot Arantxa Sanchez was also simply too strong in the women's final against Mary Pierce – this after the 19-year-old Frenchwoman had swept all before her as she barrelled her way into the final dropping only 10 games in the progress! Lori McNeil (6-0, 6-0), Amanda Coetzer (6-1, 6-1) and even world No.1 Steffi Graf (6-2, 6-2) were powerless to stop the teenager, but the final proved to be a bridge too far. Sanchez called on her all experiences of previous Paris title matches to win 6-4, 6-4 and take the trophy without dropping a set throughout the fortnight.
Arantxa Sanchez (ESP) def. Mary Pierce (FRA) 6-4, 6-4
Sergi Bruguera (ESP) def. Alberto Berasategui (ESP) 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1
1993: Bruguera follows in Gimeno's footsteps
Jim Courier's consecutive win streak at Roland Garros was finally stopped at 20. The world No.1, two-time defending champion and winner of the Australian Open just four months earlier was the red-hot favourite coming into the French Open, but the 1993 Courier did not seem as invincible as the previous year's vintage. He was in trouble as early as the second round, when fellow American Jeff Tarango only went down 7-5 in the fourth set. He then went on to drop a set against Thomas Muster, Goran Prpic and Richard Krajicek.
Nevertheless Courier still made it to the final, but his opponent Sergi Bruguera was the man in the form, no doubt about it. He had won in Monte Carlo and had dropped only one set here en route to the final, against none other than Pete Sampras. He also caused a few ripples when he beat local hero Thierry Champion 6-0, 6-0, 6-0. And when it came to the final, Bruguera had what it took to finally dethrone Courier 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3. After falling back onto the hallowed clay of Philippe Chatrier court in what has since become a time-honoured gesture, Bruguera dragged himself back onto his feet to find a smiling and magnanimous Courier waiting for him at the net, hand outstretched to congratulate the first Spanish winner at Roland Garros since Andres Gimeno in 1972.
The main talking-point of the 1993 French Open however was the absence of the three-time defending champion Monica Seles, who had been stabbed just two weeks earlier by a mentally unstable fan at the tournament Hamburg. An uneasy atmosphere reigned over the women's tournament which was won by Steffi Graf, who took her third title here in Paris at the expense of Mary Joe Fernandez 4-6, 6-2, 6-4. The American had fought off no fewer than five match points against Gabriela Sabatini in the quarter-finals before finally emerging victorious 10-8 in the third set. Argentinean Sabatini had been the revelation of Paris in 1985 and was US Open champion in 1990, but was destined never to make the final here at Roland Garros.
Steffi Graf (GER) def. Mary Joe Fernandez (USA) 4-6, 6-2, 6-4
Sergi Bruguera (ESP) def. Jim Courier (USA) 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
1992: Seles and Courier justify top billing
For the first time since the computerised rankings had been introduced, the two world No.1s triumphed at Roland Garros. Jim Courier and Monica Seles were the players in question, and they were also the defending champions to boot. Courier was at his absolute that year and simply crushed anyone unlucky enough to come up against him. He dropped just nine games against Thomas Muster, six against Alberto Mancini, seven to Andre Agassi and eight against Petr Korda in the final. Goran Ivanisevic was the only player to take a set off him, in the quarters.
Anyone who fancied a little more excitement had to look in the other half of the draw, with Henri Leconte, who had led France to the Davis Cup title in Lyon six months earlier, making it through to the semi-finals. En route to the final four, he saw off world No.5 Michael Stich and then came back from two sets down in the quarters to defeat Sweden's Nicklas Kulti 6-7, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
Monica Seles was arguably even more dominant than Courier as she became the first woman since the 1930s to win the French Open three years in a row. The final was one of the best in recent memory, with Seles finally overcoming Steffi Graf 6-2, 3-6, 10-8. Three titles in three years for Seles, three defeats in four finals for Graf… Monica certainly had the upper hand in their rivalry at the time.
Monica Seles (YUG) def. Steffi Graf (GER) 6-2, 3-6, 10-8
Jim Courier (USA) def. Petr Korda (CZE) 7-5, 6-2, 6-1
1991: "Oh say, can you see…"
The 90th French Open was almost a US Open, with the first all-American final since 1954. Jim Courier and Andre Agassi, former room-mates at the Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida, squared off for the title, with Agassi – the beaten finalist the year before – once again the favourite. And once again he came up short… The match saw a battle between two of the greatest forehands of the 1990s and it went the five-set distance. It even had a rain delay to take the suspense up an extra notch, and as evening fell, the less experienced of the two rivals became the first to open his Grand Slam account with an epic 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4 win. The tournament also saw a little-known 22-year-old German make the semis. Michael Stich would go on to make a name for himself at Wimbledon the following month…
Monica Seles meanwhile became the tenth woman to do the double here in Paris. The final brought together the two previous winners of the French Open, namely Seles and Arantxa Sanchez with the latter disposing of Steffi Graf 6-0, 6-2 in the semi-finals. Seles was a cut above the rest of the field that year however, and she celebrated her newly-minted No.1 ranking with a comfortable 6-3, 6-4 victory in the final.
Monica Seles (YUG) def. Arantxa Sanchez (ESP) 6-3, 6-4
Jim Courier (USA) def. Andre Agassi (USA) 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4
1990: Seles ascends to the throne
Experience was what counted in the men's tournament in 1990, as 30-year-old Andres Gomez became the first player from Ecuador and only the second South American after Guillermo Vilas to win the French Open. Ivan Lendl had seen him off four times before (in 1981, 1984, 1986 and 1987), but with his bête noire out of the way, Gomez – a lefty from the city of Guayaquil – seized his chance, seeing off world No.9 Thomas Muster in the semis and then beating the favourite Andre Agassi in the final (6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4).
Agassi later admitted that he was over-confident going into his first ever Grand Slam final against Gomez, for whom the French Open crown was the high-point of a more than solid career which saw him win 21 titles. The tournament also saw the first time that the top two seeds were knocked out of the first round of a major, with Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker falling on the same day.
As was the case the previous year, the women's tournament was dominated by the youth movement, and it saw a new star take centre stage on the WTA circuit as Monica Seles became the youngest ever winner at Roland Garros at a mere 16 years old. The Yugoslavian youngster, trained at the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Bradenton, hit double-handed from both sides and would go on to revolutionise women's tennis. Her win over14-year-old Jennifer Capriati, who became the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist at the tournament, ushered in a new dawn in the sport, while her victory in the final over world No.1 and two-time French Open winner Steffi Graf (7-6, 6-4) was very much a changing of the guard.
Monica Seles (YUG) def. Steffi Graf (ALL) 7-6, 6-4
Andres Gomez (ECU) def. Andre Agassi (USA) 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4
1989: Chang underarms his way into the annals
The times, they were a-changing at Roland Garros. After bagging most of the titles between them after Bjorn Borg retired, no longer were Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander masters of all the clay they surveyed. The Swede was to fall in the quarter-finals against Andrei Chesnokov, who always seemed to have the Indian sign over Wilander. The dour Czech meanwhile lost to a young American called Michael Chang in the fourth round in a match which has since gone down in history. Chang soon found himself two sets to love down but somehow managed to claw his way back and force a fifth set. He then started suffering from cramp during the decider and realised that he had to start taking risks on almost every shot. This included his service, which he performed underarm at 4-3, and then he proceeded to hobble right up to the service box to receive match point. The crowd loved it, Lendl hated it and after four-and-a-half hours, Chang had actually managed to see off the world No.1 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3.
And there was more to come. After defeating Ronald Agenor then Chesnokov, the diminutive American found himself up against Stefan Edberg in the final. And again he compensated for his lack of physical strength with a goodly amount of tactical nous and never-say-die attitude to confound the critics and become the youngest ever winner of the French Open at the tender age of 17 years and three months. He also became the first American to win at Roland Garros since Tony Trabert in 1955.
Spain's Arantxa Sanchez Vicario had shown Chang how it was done the day before, become the youngest ever women's champion at 17 years and five months. After summarily disposing of Jana Novotna and Mary Joe Fernandez, she outlasted the two-time defending champion and winner of the past five Grand Slam tournaments Steffi Graf in a three-hour epic which heralded a new rivalry in women's tennis.
Arantxa Sanchez (ESP) def. Steffi Graf (GER) 7-6, 3-6, 7-5
Michael Chang (USA) def. Stefan Edberg (SWE) 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
1988: Steffi in a hurry
Poor Henri Leconte – he came so close. Five years after Yannick Noah, another Frenchman was back in the final at Roland Garros. The suave lefty, ranked No.14 in the world at the time, saw off Boris Becker (No.6) in five sets in the quarters (6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4) and thought that his name was on the trophy. But in the final, he found himself up against Mats Wilander who throughout the 1980s had come to make that patch of clay called Philippe Chatrier Court his own. After huffing and puffing his way through the opening few games, the Swede hit his stride and ended up running out a comfortable 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 winner to claim his third French Open title and pull level with pre-war Frenchman Maurice Germot and René Lacoste, and his great rival Ivan Lendl, in the all-time list.
In the semis, Wilander had had to call on all his savvy and clay-court smarts to see off a young American upstart wearing denim shorts, sporting a mane of hair and who hit the cover off the ball. Andre Agassi fell 4-6, 6-2, 7-5, 5-7 6-0 to the Swede but it looked like it would only be a matter of time until the kid from Las Vegas bagged a French Open title…
In the women's tournament, an unfortunately record was broken when the final was done and dusted in 34 minutes. Steffi Graf pulverised poor Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 – and this after the Russian had enjoyed an incredible tournament, most notably defeating Martina Navratilova 6-3, 7-6 in the fourth round. Graf was on a higher plane in 1988 however, achieving a calendar Grand Slam by winning all four majors in one year, thus joining Maureen Connolly (1953) and Margaret Court (1970) among the all-time greats. The icing of the cake came later that summer when she added a gold medal at the Seoul Olympics.
Graf did not drop a set throughout the Paris fortnight as she won her second French Open title in a row. Indeed she dropped just 20 games in seven matches, nine of those to Gabriela Sabatini in the semi-finals in the only time that she was ever really stretched! Years later, the all-conquering German said that she had the odd twinge of regret for not letting Zvereva at least win a game or two…
Steffi Graf (ALL) def. Natasha Zvereva (RUS) 6-0, 6-0
Mats Wilander (SUE) def. Henri Leconte (FRA) 7-5, 6-2, 6-1
1987: Graf bursts onto the big stage
Lendl vs. Wilander at Roland Garros: Act IV. The Swede had won their first encounter here in 1982 en route to his first title, before repeating the feat in the 1985 final. Lendl on the other hand won their semi-final in 1984 (and like Wilander, he then went on to win his first Slam). Everyone expected an epic and that is exactly what the two men served up. It was a tactical battle, cat and mouse throughout with the wily Wilander doing everything in his power to stop Lendl from unleashing his mighty forehand. The Czech would have the last word on this occasion however, winning the battle of the double champions (Wilander in 1982 and 1985, Lendl in 1984 and 1986) 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6.
At the age of 17 years and 11 months, Germany's Steffi Graf became the youngest ever winner of the French Open women's singles. She burst onto the scene with the strongest forehand that women's tennis had ever seen and immediately shook up the established Chris Evert / Martina Navratilova hierarchy. That legendary pair met once again, in the semi-finals this time, with Navratilova winning comfortably 6-2, 6-2 while Graf struggled to overcome Gabriela Sabatini (6-4, 4-6, 7-5). Undaunted by this test, the German continued the unbeaten run that she had begun at the start of the year, winning six titles starting in January, and secured her maiden Slam in an epic final (6-4, 4-6, 8-6) on the Sunday. It was to be the first of many…
Steffi Graf (GER) bat Martina Navratilova (USA) 6-4, 4-6, 8-6
Ivan Lendl (CZE) bat Mats Wilander (SWE) 7-5, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6