30-year rewind: Gomez forges indelible bond with Paris

 - Chris Oddo

Ecuadorian was 30 years old when he made history with his defeat of Agassi in the Roland-Garros final.

Andres Gomez, Roland Garros 1990© Liliane Chedikian/FFT

When former Roland-Garros champion Andres Gomez visits Paris these days, his trip always starts off the same way. 

“Going there, the first thing that I do, I just go to the locker-room, get my things and then go straight out to see Chatrier,” he says.

Gomez, who made history for Ecuador in 1990, becoming the first player from his country to win a Grand Slam title, wasn’t able to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of his magical title in person this year. The coronavirus pandemic put the kibosh on that, but not to worry, the bloodlines ran deep. 

Gomez’s son, Emilio, cracked a milestone of his own when he won through qualifying to take his place in the main draw for the first time.

“I’m feeling that father-son thing that Roland-Garros gives us,” the 28-year-old from Guayaquil said. 

Emilio’s father, a hard-serving, athletic southpaw who won 21 singles and 34 doubles titles on tour, always placed a huge emphasis on family over the course of his career. Andres’ father passed away when he was just 18, but he always had him in his heart when he travelled the tour. 

Emilio Gomez, Roland-Garros 2020, Qualifying first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

It’s fitting that Emilio’s biggest success as a professional would happen at the place where his father solidified his legacy as one of the greatest Ecuadorian sportsmen of all time.

Family also played a starring role during Gomez’s post-match celebration on Court Philippe-Chatrier, moments after he defeated Andre Agassi in four sets in the 1990 final

After clinching the 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 triumph over the American, Gomez sprinted out of the stadium, only to emerge in the crowd next to his wife with his baby Juan-Andres in his arms. Call it serendipity: Gomez says an alert woman from the tournament’s nursery staff was ready to hand off the child as he made his way past. 

“It’s not that I went looking for him [Juan-Andres], it’s kind of like he came looking for me, and that was a great move by her because that was a very nice moment for a player and a very nice moment for a family,” he said. “Family, it’s always been there—good times, bad times.” 

Juan-Andres, two years old at the time, doesn’t remember a thing about the moment, but when he watches the video he can’t help but well up with emotions. 

“Oh my god the emotions are next-level,” he told rolandgarros.com. “I’m just super grateful for what he did, so happy for him and so happy for Ecuador.”

Andres Gomez, Roland Garros 2015, Legends© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Gomez was already well known for his extraordinary talents on tour by 1990. He was a two-time Grand Slam doubles champion, but he lacked that signature singles title, and was considered by some to be an underachiever. 

Not so after 1990. 

Gomez put forth a virtuoso display against the consensus favourite in the final, pummelling the young Agassi with his forehand and darting into the net to knock off volleys behind well-placed serves. 

“Even now people still remember that victory, and it’s one of the biggest or maybe the biggest win in Ecuadorian sports history—it’s definitely up there,” says Raul Viver, a former top 100 player from Ecuador, who grew up playing with Gomez. 

Thirty years later, Gomez still takes great joy in his achievement, and feels deeply connected to Paris and Roland-Garros. His victory has written his surname — and Ecuador’s — into the tournament’s lore, and he takes immense pride in it. 

"It’s just surreal. It still is. It’s hard to describe,” he says. 

Andres Gomez, Roland Garros 1990© Liliane Chedikian/FFT

As a tennis enthusiast and historian, Gomez knows what an honour it is to be mentioned among the sport's greats. When he visits Roland-Garros he comes to pay homage at one of the sport's ancient cathedrals, the clay-court Mecca where he can celebrate the sport with old friends from the tour. 

“So many guys,” he said, as he eagerly looked forward to his next visit. “I think back — [John] McEnroe, Yannick Noah, Mansour Bahrami, Diego Perez, not only the huge names but all the names that make tennis. Some of the guys are doing TV, some of the guys are doing radio, some of the guys are just there for the week. Some of the guys just come to the tournament to visit and say 'Yeah I haven’t been here in 25 years'. That’s what is fun and that’s what I’m planning to do with my whole family.”

Gomez’s title still resonates in Ecuador and across tennis. It’s a symbol that greatness can come from any corner of the globe, not just the perennial powerhouse nations. 

Greatness can also come at any age. At 30 years old, Gomez’s crowning achievement occurred near the end of his career, but he says the triumph opened up a new world for him. 

“With the years passing by it was probably a sunset for my ATP career,” he says. “But it became a sunrise for the rest of my life.”