The power of 'nine' at RG

 - Sarah Edworthy

1969, 1979, 1989, 1999 and 2009 produced significant champion stories. What does "9" augur for 2019?


Tennis is a game in which greatness is expressed in statistics, tallies and numerical scorelines.

For Roland-Garros 2019, it is worth exploring the significance of the number nine and the stories of the champions of 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999 and 2009 in order to anticipate what action might thrill spectators in the last tournament on Paris clay before the 2020s.

Mirroring the planets of the solar system, nine symbolises harmony, eternity, positivity and a plenitude of talents. All these qualities resonate in the great Rod Laver, who was born on the ninth day (of August 1938) and is now in his ninth decade of life.

For the player with the sublime one-handed backhand, 1969 was the super-harmonious year in which he won all four Grand Slam titles for the second time in his career. How’s that for universal supremacy?

Roll on a decade, and it was the turn of Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert to lift the trophies on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Borg had triumphed in nine Grand Slams when he beat the big-serving, diamond-earringed Victor Pecci and claimed his fourth crown in Paris.

For Evert, who would go on to collect 18 (twice nine) Grand Slam single titles, Roland-Garros 1979 represented her - you've guessed it - ninth major win.

1989: Karma for Chang

Numerologists cite nine as the number behind the concept of karma, a belief emphatically upheld in Michael Chang’s epic victory.

In his defeat of Stefan Edberg, Chang became the youngest male player ever to win a Grand Slam title at the age of 17 years and 110 days; more significantly, he reached the final fuelled by the satisfaction of having quashed Ivan Lendl in the fourth round… The very same Lendl who, having thrashed him the year before in an exhibition match, bluntly told the youngster: “First off, you’ve got no serve. And you’ve certainly got no second serve. You can’t hurt me.”  

So, at two sets down to the top-seeded Lendl in Paris, the young Chang summoned all his tenacity and pulled off an incredible score-settling outcome. Afterwards Chang said he "felt an unbelievable conviction in my heart" not to give up.

The 1989 women’s singles laurels went to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario for the first of three Roland-Garros titles which straddle a nine-year time span (1989, 1994, 1998). Her victory over Steffi Graf made her the youngest winner of the women’s singles in the 16th arrondissement.

Happily ever after in 1999

The three consecutive nines in 1999 tap into a powerful energy symbolic of beginnings and culminations, serendipitously illustrated by the king and queen of the terre battue, Steffi Graf and Andre Agassi.

Graf’s appearance in the final against top-ranked Martina Hingis was her first Grand Slam final in three years, and she had to dig deep to win in three sets. Nine weeks after collecting this, her 22nd Grand Slam crown, Fraulein Forehand retired from the game while still ranked No.3 in the world.

Happily in this the year when she and Agassi went public with their new romance, both were anointed RG champions. Proof, surely, that nine is the number of universal love. Agassi, 29, recovered from two sets down to beat Andrei Medvedev and become only the fifth player to accrue all four Grand Slam titles during a career.

2009: Regardez the GOAT

Ten years later, a mutuality of a different sort - professional respect - linked champions Roger Federer and Svetlana Kuznetsova. The first year ending in nine of the 21st century proved a fitting time for Federer to win his sole French Open title. By beating Robin Söderling, he equalled Pete Sampras' record of 14 Grand Slam titles and Lendl's record of 19 Grand Slam finals, and also became the sixth man in history to complete a career Grand Slam. It was this victory that prompted the game’s sages to say he “must surely be regarded now as the greatest male player of all-time".

What does nine augur in 2019? 

Could it favour Simona Halep who made her debut here nine years ago? Or the in-form Karolina Pliskova, who has recorded nine wins here in a modest 9-7 win-loss record? Or Petra Kvitova, nine years after she was named WTA Newcomer of the Year?

2019 could be the year of Novak Djokovic, who, until this year’s Australian Open, had never won any of his 15 Grand Slam titles in a year with a 9 in it.

Dominic Thiem could claim karma after his defeat last year, when he won only nine games against Rafael Nadal in the final. Or Stefanos Tsitsipas, who was nine years old when Nadal won his fourth title by trouncing Federer 6-1, 6-3, 6-0? Nine could be lucky for Alexander Zverev, the first player born in the 1990s to win multiple Masters 1000 titles, or Fabio Fognini, the No.9 seed and 2019 Monte Carlo champion.

One thing for sure, whoever wins at Roland-Garros 2019 will be on cloud nine or neuf, nove, nueve, neun, devyat’ ....