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The French revolution

LiveMint logoLiveMint 04-06-2014 Kayezad E. Adajania

There has seldom been a French Open this unpredictable. This is the first time in the Open era (since 1968) that the top three seeds in the women’s singles draw have failed to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam. This also marks the first time in the Open era that both the men’s and women’s singles champions from the last Grand Slam have lost in the first round of the next one. China’s Li Na and Switzerland’s Stanislas Wawrinka, the winners at the Australian Open in January, lost in the first round in Paris. Switzerland’s Roger Federer, who won in Paris in 2009, also lost in the fourth round—his worst result there in 10 years.

But there have been even bigger upsets in the history of the French Open. Here are our picks.

French Open Men’s single

1989, final

Michael Chang beats Stefan Edberg

6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2

Few expected Chang to beat Stefan Edberg of Sweden when they met in the finals. It was just his second outing at Roland Garros. Edberg had won 19 titles in his career and was well on his way to becoming world No.1. But Chang fought resolutely. Despite being down a break in the fourth and fifth sets, Chang broke back and went ahead. He became the youngest man ever to win the title at 17 years and three months—his sole Grand Slam win. In his career, Edberg won every Slam but the French Open.

1983, final

Yannick Noah beats Mats Wilander

6-2, 7-5, 7-6

Yannick Noah, a 23-year-old Frenchman then, had won just two titles on clay that year leading up to Roland Garros; he wasn’t a threat at all. Or was he? He beat Ivan Lendl in the quarter-finals. Lendl would go on to win three French Open titles between 1984-87. Noah then met Wilander, the defending champion, in the final. Noah, who had made his French Open debut in 1977, was bidding to be the first Frenchman to win the singles title since Marcel Bernard won in 1946. He did it in straight sets—his one and only Grand Slam win.

1982, 4th round

Mats Wilander beats Ivan Lendl

4-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2

Ivan Lendl had won eight titles that year leading up to the French Open, including two titles on clay courts. Swede Mats Wilander had won just one title, his first, earlier that year. Wilander was playing his first French Open; it was Lendl’s fifth. Wilander prevailed in five tough sets against Lendl, and went on to become the youngest French Open winner at 17 years and nine months, till Michael Chang broke that record in 1989.

2004, final

Gaston Gaudio beats Guillermo Coria

0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6

In 2004, Gaston Gaudio had made it to just one final before Roland Garros; that was in a tournament in Barcelona, Spain, on clay. Fellow Argentine Guillermo Coria had won 33 of the 34 matches on clay before the 2004 French Open. The final began as expected, with Coria running away with it. Before he choked, spectacularly. He wasted two match points. Gaudio went on to win his first and only Grand Slam. Coria never recovered from that loss—he won just one title after that and played the last match of his career in 2007.

2009, 4th round

Robin Söderling beats Rafael Nadal

6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2)

Pick a world No. 25 to beat a four-time defending champion, unbeaten in that tournament, at your own risk. But for those remote few in the world that day in the summer of 2009 who thought the Swedish underdog Robin Söderling would beat Rafael Nadal, there was a fortune to be made. After that loss, Nadal would go on to win four more French Open titles. He’s the defending champion at this year’s French Open. Söderling has not played since July 2011 because of an injury.

French Open Women’s single

1999, final

Steffi Graf beats Martina Hingis

4-6, 7-5, 6-2

Former world No.1 Steffi Graf’s final year on the tour saw the emergence of the power game in women’s tennis. For Graf, time was running out. If anyone expected Graf to beat Martina Hingis in Paris that evening in 1999, the latter’s command over the first set must have left them unsure. In the second set, when Hingis was up 2-0, she lost her cool over a disputed call, walked over to Graf’s side of the court, forced the match referee to come out, argued in vain and got penalized. With the crowd firmly behind Graf now, Hingis caved in. Graf went from strength to strength.

1983, 4th round

1989, final

Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario beats Steffi Graf

7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-5

The former top-ranked Steffi Graf from Germany had made history in 1988 by winning all four Slams in a single year along with an Olympic gold. In 1989, she won 86 matches and lost only two. This was one of those.

Trailing 3-5 in the final set, Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario came back and rallied off the final set’s last four games to claim the title. At the time, she became the youngest woman to lift the singles title at 17 years and five months. She held on to that record only for a year, before Monica Seles broke it.

1997, final

Iva Majoli beats Martina Hingis

6-4, 6-2

Former world No.1 Martina Hingis’ best chance to win all the four Slams (only three women had done that before) in a single calendar year came and went by in 1997. Croatia’s Iva Majoli got in her way.

In 1997, Hingis was unbeaten before the French Open. She had just risen to the top of the women’s rankings two months earlier, at just 16 years and six months. In the final, though, Majoli overpowered her. Later, Majoli never really lived to her potential. Apart from this win, she didn’t cross the quarter-final stage of any Slam. Hingis was quick to recover from the loss and went on to win six titles in the same year, including two Slams, to cap one of her best years on the tour.

1993, quarter-final

Mary Joe Fernandez beats Gabriela Sabatini

1-6, 7-6 (7-4), 10-8

Talk about comebacks. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Argentina’s former tennis star Gabriela Sabatini was among the top five players, and formidable on clay. So when she faced the American Mary Joe Fernandez in the quarter-finals, it was supposed to be a routine match. She cruised to a 6-1, 5-1 lead in just about 53 minutes and served for the match. Then, Sabatini choked. She let that massive lead go by, wasted five match points, and lost in the third set. Fernandez herself squandered four match points in the third set, but managed to win the match on her fifth.

Kathleen Horvath beats Martina Navratilova

6-4, 0-6, 6-3

Although Martina Navratilova was one of the top players till the 1990s, her dominant years on the tour were 1982-84. She won 254 matches in this stretch and lost only six. One of those six losses—her most stunning—was this match. It was particularly dramatic because it was her only loss in 1983, the year she won 86 out of 87 matches, a record of the best win-loss percentage in a single year on the women’s tour that still stands.

Horvath later said she was so thrilled about the win that she lost focus, and her very next match. The pair met seven times after that day. Navratilova won them all and never lost a set.

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