We discuss our memorable French Open moments in this week’s episode of the Changeover Chat, a quick back-and-forth exchange between the writing staff at The Changeover.
Lindsay: Somehow this year has absolutely flown by, and we are just two days away from the start of the French Open! I can hardly believe it. Amy and Juan José, what are your most memorable French Open moments?
Juan José: I’ve had a long relationship with the French Open. I’m pretty sure my first tennis memories involve watching Steffi Graf play Monica Seles there. And I do remember loving what I saw: long rallies, and an array of great shots. Also, as a South American, Roland Garros is THE slam, much in the way that Wimbledon is THE slam for the English-speaking world. Sadly, I missed Andrés Gómez winning the whole thing (I lived in Los Angeles at the time, and I was seven years old. I did get a chance to write about Gómez’ win over Andre Agassi here), which had to be amazing for my country. Later, as I moved to Argentina, the importance of the French Open just got heightened even more.
I remember running out of a film set to find a place where I could watch the 2005 semi between Federer and Nadal. That was the first time the pair met in a Grand Slam, and there was an enormous amount of hype about whether Federer would complete his Career Slam that year (and every year until 2009). Also, the Argies were going nuts with Mariano Puerta’s run to the final, one year after Gaudio won it for them.
Lindsay: It’s interesting to hear about that history, JJ. The French Open is definitely the slam I have the least amount of history with. Being a Roddick fan, I never really tuned in until Wimbledon. I think 2007 was the first time I followed the French really closely.
Amy: The 2009 French Open men’s tournament has to be one of the most memorable for me. So many crazy things happened that year. It’s the one time in the last eight years that someone other than Rafael Nadal took home the trophy, which makes it exceptional to begin with. Robin Soderling’s run to the final was incredible, and Federer really struggled to reach the final.
After knowing that Rafa was out, Federer went down two sets to love vs. Haas in the fourth round before coming back to win in five. Though he denied it, he clearly felt the pressure of having a Nadal-less path to the French Open title. He also went down two sets to one against Del Potro in the semifinals. He desperately wanted to complete that Career Slam, but it wasn’t smooth sailing.
Lindsay: I agree with you Amy, the 2009 French Open had a lot of highlights. My favorite memory might be Gonzo rubbing out the line with his bum.
Juan José: I actually hate the 2009 French Open. That clay season was all about Djokovic and Nadal, who met in the Monte-Carlo and Rome finals before being drawn in the same half in Madrid and essentially knocking each other out after their killer semifinal. As we know, both lost early in Paris. Hence, I have decided to erase most of the 2009 Roland Garros from my memory.
I think that the Federer-Nadal rivalry really helped the French Open. Federer was always going for the Career Slam there, all the way until he finally got the title in 2009. That’s why all the editions prior to 2009 had this great historical significance added to them. And parallel to that you had the rise of who eventually became the greatest clay court player of all time in Rafael Nadal. Watching somebody turn a slam into such a stronghold has been incredible: only Pete Sampras has achieved the same feat of winning one of the big ones seven times in eight years. On top of that, Nadal has always done it against the will of the Paris crowd, which has always been boisterously in favor of whoever was across the net from Rafael.
It’s also worth noting that Nadal surpassing Borg’s record of six French Opens has been remarkable.That seemed like one of those landmark achievements that wouldn’t be equaled in a long, long time, and yet Nadal managed to do it.
The French Open has also seen three bids to complete the non-Calendar Slam. Federer arrived to the Roland Garros final in 2006 and 2007 with the chance to hold all four slams at once, which hasn’t been done since Rod Laver in 1969. Both times he was foiled by Nadal. And of course, Novak Djokovic arrived to the 2012 French Open final with the same opportunity, and was again denied by Nadal.
It’s arguable that no other major has enjoyed this much historical significance in the past 15 years (it’s worth noting that both Andre Agassi and Roger Federer completed their Career Slams there, and they’re two of the three people who’ve achieved that since Laver). And much of it is due to Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and more recently, Novak Djokovic.
Lindsay: Yes, it seems that before the Federer-Nadal rivalry, the French Open was a bit separate from the rest of the tour in a narrative sense.
Juan José: Yep – it was the Super Bowl of the clay-court loving nations. But with Federer’s continuous deep runs, and Nadal’s stronghold, the French became quite relevant in the yearly narrative of the Federer-Nadal rivalry. I mean, they’ve played there five times in the past eight years!
Lindsay: Absolutely. For the women, Dinara Safina’s run to the French Open final in 2008 really struck a chord with me. It proved that her run in Berlin hadn’t been a fluke, and really laid the groundwork for the way she’d dominate that next year. Her down a set and 2-5 in the second comeback wins over Sharapova and Dementieva were absolutely incredible. There were a lot of other fun WTA matches that year as well. The Ivanovic/Jankovic semifinal was insane.
Juan José: As we discussed in the 2006 Draw Back of that year’s French Open on the men’s side, that was a hugely important event for me in many ways. It was the start to the Djokovic-Nadal rivalry – they’ve played 33 more times since!
I really miss watching Justine Henin play at the French. She was simply amazing to watch on clay. I was surprised to see her retire in 2008 – it seemed to me that whatever issues she had, she would find solace in going back to Roland Garros and doing what she did best there: dominate.
Lindsay: Yes, seeing Justine play was awesome, and her abrupt retirement definitely shifted the tennis universe, as we’ve talked about before.
The WTA has had an exciting last few years at the French Open. I enjoyed seeing Schiavone and Li Na both have fairytale runs at the event late in their career. Fran’s run was especially memorable in 2010. Everything seemed to be in place for Stosur to win her maiden slam, and then BAM. Fran played absolutely flawlessly. Her tennis from that final should be studied in a textbook.
Amy: As someone who misses Robin Soderling’s presence on the ATP Tour, the French Open is pretty significant in thinking about his career. Before the 2009 French Open, Soderling had never made it past the third round of any slam, which is strange to think about, in retrospect.
That year, he shockingly made it to the final and backed it up by doing it again the following year. It was an amazing and unexpected accomplishment.
Juan José: Agreed about the General, Amy. I still remember the 2008 tournament, when I realized that this tall indoor specialist could actually play quite well on the clay. In that year, Robin trashed Mónaco (who was ranked No. 16 at the time) 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, then destroyed Capdeville 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, only to then lose to Benneteau 6-1, 6-7(6), 0-6, 1-6. I remember that Mónaco match vividly: Soderling was blasting missiles from all over the place, and there was nothing anybody could do about it. The Argie commentators were stunned. It was a glimpse of the future, too: the tall guys with the big weapons would feature at the French for years to come. Berdych has a semifinal to his name, as does DelPo. And we know what Soderling did.
Lindsay: Yeah, seeing an indoor hard court specialist come alive at the French Open was hysterical and amazing. I loved that he beat Nadal and Federer in back-to-back years. Unfortunately he just couldn’t get it done in the final.
Amy: Soderling was 15-21 at slams before the 2009 French Open. From that point on, he was 36-10 at slams.
Juan José: That’s nuts.
Amy: That was really the beginning of his career as an elite player. I miss that guy.
Lindsay: One of my favorite/most random French Open memories is when Isner took Nadal to five sets. He played so incredibly well, my jaw was on the floor watching it!
Amy: Haha, yeah, I think everyone was pretty shocked at that one.
Juan José: He’s still the only guy who’s taken Nadal to five sets at the French Open. Federer and Djokovic have had nine tries between them, and neither has been able to push Nadal that far.
Amy: One of the most memorable moments at Roland Garros in recent history has to be the infamous 2011 Fed-Djokovic semifinal.
Fed was pissed about people writing him off. That was probably the best tournament I’ve seen Federer play on clay.
Juan José: Another instance where the French Open served as the backdrop for something historic. That was Djokovic’s first loss of the 2011 season, which is still mind-boggling to think about.
Lindsay: A moment that I admittedly didn’t experience in real time but have come to appreciate is Roddick’s win over Michael Chang at the French Open in 2001. It’s so funny that his first big slam win came at Roland Garros! I’ve watched videos and read all about the performance – he was completely cramping, nearly crawling on the ground, and at 18 still pulled off the upset. He ripped his shirt afterwards!
Juan José: And that’s the end of Roddick’s highlights at the French Open! One of the funny subplots at the French was “Who will Roddick lose to in the first round of the French this year?” Just for posterity’s sake, here’s the list of people who beat Roddick in the first round at the French: Mahut (2012), Andreev (2007), Alberto Martín (2006), Sargis Sargisian (2003), Wayne Arthurs (2002)
Juan José: Last piece of Roddick trivia: the highest ranked player he ever beat at the French was Michael Chang in that 2002 match. Chang was at No. 35 at the time, and that was 13 years after he won Roland Garros.
Lindsay: Gee, thanks for that, Juan José. Nothing like a trip down memory lane! One thing about the French Open is that, even more than any other slam, the crowd is a huge part of the match. With the fading light and the volatile crowd, there are memorably insane matches every year. Of course, none more so than Fabio Fognini vs. Gael Monfils in 2010, or Fabio Fognini vs. Albert Montanes in 2011. Basically, anything and everything Fabio Fognini.
Juan José: The crowd, which is the worst in tennis, is definitely a key ingredient at RG.
Amy: You know what was memorable? Gasquet and Dimitrov’s puke rally.
I’m sorry, but that was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.
Lindsay: Totally agree, Amy. That was absolutely legendary. Last year had a lot of memorable moments. I mean, that Serena-Razzano match still gives me chills thinking about it. It was completely surreal in every sense.
Juan José: That Serena-Razzano match was straight out of the twilight zone. All I can remember is the very visceral despair on Serena’s face throughout the third set. Then there was the cramping, the hindrance calls … oy. And the saddest part of all, Serena’s fantastic dress lasted all of one match.
Amy: That dress was terrible.
Juan José: BOOOOOOOOOOO.
Lindsay: I’m with Juan José on that one. Also, it was pretty awesome to see Maria Sharapova win the French last year. What a transformation she made.
Juan José: It was indeed awesome, and I’m still not quite sure it actually happened. Same as Stosur winning the US Open.
Amy: Well, I just hope you’re not comparing Sharapova with Stosur. Do you?
Juan José: HA! But seriously speaking, Sharapova has done plenty on clay to back that up. Stosur, on the other hand …
Lindsay: Speaking of Stosur, her run to the final in 2010 was amazing, even though Fran beat her. She took out Justin Henin v 2.0 in the Round of 16 6-4 in the third, Serena in the quarterfinals 8-6 in the third, and then destroyed Jankovic in the semifinals. For someone not exactly known for mental strength, that’s quite a run.
Juan José: Agreed. Wasn’t Stosur’s run kind of similar to Soderling’s? It was kind of a surprise to see them do well on this surface that seemed alien to them before their success there.
Lindsay: Stosur’s breakthrough was actually in 2009 at the French Open, when she made the semis out of nowhere. Her run in 2010 certainly cemented it though, and her draw was much more difficult than it was in 2009. Speaking of 2009, let’s not forget Kuznetsova’s great tournament that year, especially her win over Serena. Unfortunately, it’s hard for me to think about that without also being sad for Dinara.
Juan José: Yep. That’s the slam Safina should’ve won. Alas.
Amy: How about Schiavone winning the French and then somehow making it back to the final the year after that? That was pretty amazing at the time. Nobody expected to see her there. She had had a miserable start to that 2011 clay season, too. Nobody was paying her any attention.
Juan José: Agreed on Schiavone, Amy. She was so much fun to watch those two years. Isn’t it amazing that at the time of the 2010 RG, Schiavone was 3 and 10 in career finals? The French was just her fourth title! And she was 30!
Lindsay: The power of Fran. She was so, so, so happy.
I feel like we’ve pretty much ignored Nadal, which probably isn’t fair. It’s okay, you can just read his diary from 2006 and you will be happy.
Amy: I think we mean that as a compliment. His winning RG after RG has become routine. I’m not sure how to describe the magnitude of his accomplishments because they speak for themselves.
Lindsay: Definitely. Well, this was really fun and certainly has me pumped for this year’s French Open.
Readers, be sure to share your favorite memories from Roland Garros in the comments!