2004: ''Don’t cry for me Argentina''
27 years after Guillermo Vilas, Argentina finally had another French Open champion to fete. In fact it was a feast after a fast, with two Argentineans – Gaston Gaudio and Guillermo Coria – making the final. The latter had won on the clay of Monte Carlo and was hot favourite for the title. He raced into a two-set lead on the back of a 6-0, 6-3 start to the match, and then suddenly it all went wrong. The crowd were hoping to get their money's worth from the final and launched a Mexican wave – and this somehow seemed to shake Gaudio from his torpor. "El Gato" relaxed a little, played his shots and took the third set 6-4.
There was more suspense to come in the fourth as Coria began cramping due to stress! The deciding set was a nervous affair and Gaudio it was who handled the tension slightly better, staving off two match points on his way to the title. He thus became just the fourth man in the history of the tournament to win the singles as an unseeded player, the sixth to win after saving a match point and the sixth to come back from two sets down in the final.
2004 was also Gustavo Kuerten's swansong. The Brazilian made it to the quarter-finals with wins over Nicolas Almagro, Feliciano Lopez and a cracker against Roger Federer, where he brushed aside the world No.1 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. Two Frenchmen – Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement – also set the record for the longest ATP match, their first round tie lasting six hours 33 minutes spread over two days.
The women's final also saw two players from the same country, with Russia's Anastasia Myskina winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the expense of Elena Dementieva en finale. The No.6 seed saved a match point in the fourth round against another fellow countrywoman, Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Another record was set, with reigning champions Justine Henin and Juan Carlos Ferrero both coming into the tournament under an injury cloud and getting knocked out in the second round – the earliest that the French Open had lost its two singles title-holders.
Anastasia Myskina (RUS) def. Elena Dementieva (RUS) 6-1, 6-2
Gaston Gaudio (ARG) def. Guillermo Coria (ARG) 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6
2003: New names on the honours board
It was time for an injection of new blood at Roland Garros. Having lost the previous year's final to Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero made no mistake second time around and looked set to reign on clay for years to come. The only worry the Spaniard had in 2003was in his quarter-final tie against Fernando Gonzalez, a player who had beaten him here in the juniors' final in 1998. The Chilean with the enormous forehands pushed Ferrero to five sets, but could not get the better of him.
The Spaniard then went on to beat the valiant Albert Costa, who had been through no fewer than four five-setters already (against Sergio Roitman, Radek Stepanek, Nicolas Lapentti and Tommy Robredo) to make it through to the semis. On the final day of the fortnight, Ferrero cruised past the tournament's surprise package, Martin Verkerk. The big-hitting Dutchman had enjoyed an incredible run to the final, saving three match points in the second round against Luis Horna before knocking out Carlos Moya and Guillermo Coria. He himself described his fairytale run as a joke, but the thrashing that Ferrero handed out in the final was no laughing matter.
The previous day, King Albert II of Belgium was on hand at Roland Garros to witness the women's final between two of his subjects, Justine Henin and Kim Clijsters. The Flemish-speaker had already made the final here in 2001 and so was slight favourite, but francophone Henin was coming off a morale-boosting epic win against world No.1 Serena Williams in the semis (6-2, 4-6, 7-5) and made an absolutely flying start. By the time Clijsters got into her rhythm, it was too late to prevent her compatriot from becoming the first Belgian player to win a Grand Slam.
Justine Henin (BEL) def. Kim Clijsters (BEL) 6-0, 6-4
Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) def. Martin Verkerk (HOL) 6-1, 6-3, 6-2
2002: The beginning of the Serena Slam
Having spent much of his career in the shadow of Carlos Moya and Alex Corretja, Albert Costa came to Paris in 2002 and seized his chance. In the fourth round, he knocked off the two-time defending champion Gustavo Kuerten (6-4, 7-5, 6-4) who had only just come back from hip operation three months earlier. Costa then needed five sets to overcome Argentina's Guillermo Canas in the quarters and another four to see off his great friend Corretja in the semis.
In the final, Costa faced another Spaniard in the shape of Juan Carlos Ferrero, making it the third all-Spanish title decider in less than a decade after 1994 and 1998. "Juanqui" was suffering with a sore groin however, and was in no fit state to challenge for a title which he probably deserved. At 27 however, Costa finally realised his dream and celebrated with his twin one-year-old daughters Alma and Claudia in his arms during the trophy ceremony. Five days later, he and his girlfriend Cristina were married, with Corretja acting as best man!
In the women's tournament, it was more than a local rivalry in the final – it was sibling rivalry! Serena and Venus Williams had been coached from an early age to one day take over the tennis world, and here they were in the final at Roland Garros, a feat which meant that they would also occupy the top two spots in the rankings the following Monday. The sisters were clearly nervous and the match was riddled with unforced errors (101 in total). But the quality on display was not what mattered most on the day – younger sister Serena's victory was the first part of what would become a historic Grand Slam as she went on to add Wimbledon and the US and Australian Opens to her Roland Garros title in the space of 12 months. And in each and every final, she defeated her sister Venus. The pleasant surprise of the tournament came courtesy of Mary Pierce, who accepted a wild card and made it all the way through to the quarter-finals without dropping so much as a set. But she, like everyone, had to give best to Serena at the end of the day.
Serena Williams (USA) def. Venus Williams (USA) 7-5, 6-3
Albert Costa (ESP) def. Juan Carlos Ferrero (ESP) 6-1, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3
2001: I heart Paris, signed Guga
French Open, round four: defending champion Gustavo Kuerten is on the point of being knocked out by Michael Russell. The unheralded American qualifier finds himself 6-3, 6-4, 5-3 to the good, and then along comes a match point. Guga had been out of sorts since the beginning of the tournament and struggled to come to terms with the windy conditions. The match point goes on and on, and at the end of a 26-stroke rally, Kuerten lives to fight another day. And fight he certainly did, taking the third set in a tie-break and then battling back to win in five sets, 3-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-1. "It was one of the most emotional moments ever on a tennis court," the Brazilian said after the match, after demonstrating his affection for the tournament by tracing a giant heart on Philippe Chatrier court and then lying down exhausted in the middle of his work of art.
This win gave Kuerten wings and made him unstoppable from thereon in. He dished out a veritable tennis lesson to Juan Carlos Ferrero in the semis (6-4, 6-3, 6-3) before seeing off another Spaniard, Alex Corretja, in a four-set final. This was the second time that Corretja had made the final here in Paris and he broke French hearts in the semis, ousting Sebastien Grosjean after the latter had knocked out Andre Agassi in an incredible quarter-final. Kuerten again lay down inside a heart traced on centre court, to celebrate his third title here at the French Open and his love affair with Roland Garros.
Jennifer Capriati also came back from the brink to lift the trophy at the end of the fortnight. World No.8 at the age of 14, Olympic gold-medallist at 16, US media darling and then pariah at the age of 18 due to her run-ins with the law (for shoplifting and possession of marijuana)… Capriati had seen it all. After a two-year hiatus, she made a stunning return to competition in 2001, winning the Australian Open followed by the French, reclaiming the No.1 ranking in the process.
In the final in Paris, Capriati saw off young Belgian Kim Clijsters in an epic two-hour 21 minute three-setter (1-6, 6-4, 12-10). Kim, daughter of international footballer Lei Clijsters, got to within two points of victory on three occasions, but nothing was going to spoil the Capriati comeback.
Jennifer Capriati (USA) def. Kim Clijsters (BEL) 1-6, 6-4, 12-10
Gustavo Kuerten (BRA) def. Alex Corretja (ESP) 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-0
2000: Pierce in Paradise
11 match points! That's what it took Gustavo Kuerten to finally overcome Sweden's Magnus Norman in an amazing fourth set in the 2000 French Open final. The rest of the match was a somewhat sub-par affair between the two best clay-courters of the season, with Norman seemingly overcome by the occasion during the first two sets. He had certainly earned the right to be there however, dropping just one set in his first six matches, to Marat Safin.
Three years after his maiden title, Kuerten found himself in trouble in the quarter-finals against Yevgeny Kafelnikov and then in a real spot of bother in the semis against rising star Juan Carlos Ferrero. The Spaniard made it through to the final four in his first visit to Roland Garros and then put up one heck of a fight against Kuerten. The match was one for the ages, and in the end the Brazilian emerged victorious 7-5, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3 as he made his way slowly but surely towards a second title.
33 years after Françoise Dürr, a Frenchwoman finally won Roland Garros once again. Mary Pierce had already opened her Grand Slam account in Melbourne back in 1995, but she came close to missing out here with Monica Seles in the quarter-finals (4-6, 6-3, 6-4) and Martina Hingis in the semis (6-4, 5-7, 6-2) pushing her all the way. These tests merely served to steel her for the final however, where she swept past Spain's Conchita Martinez (6-2, 7-5). To make 2000 a double celebration (quite literally), Pierce teamed up with Hingis and became the first woman to win the singles and doubles in the same year since Martina Navratilova in 1984.
Speaking of Navratilova, the 43-year-old former world No.1 chose to make a comeback here and went on to add another three Grand Slam mixed doubles titles (Australian Open 2003, Wimbledon 2003, US Open 2006) to her already packed trophy cabinet. When she finally retired for good, she had 59 majors to her name.
Gustavo Kuerten (BRA) def. Magnus Norman (SWE) 6-2, 6-3, 2-6, 7-6
Mary Pierce (FRA) def. Conchita Martinez (ESP) 6-2, 7-5