With the French Open qualies getting underway this week I started reminiscing about my favourite moments from the glory days. Some may say it is biased but I have shared my ‘biasedness’ around.
There was life pre-Rafa domination on the red stuff. You just gotta be old enough to remember it!
Nadal’s fantastic achievements didn’t make the cut, they have all been superb and should not be undervalued, however. Dominance! A couple of Serena’s and Guga’s don’t get a mention either. Michael Chang in 1989 is unlucky not to make the list but I remember this more through news channels back then and videos in recent years. Albert Costa in 2002 was memorable for me as I backed him at 80/1. Myskina winning in 2004 was intriguing too.
(3) Kuerten winning in 1997 was incredible. It was a whirlwind journey. Having lost to Richie Fromberg in Hamburg, he decided to go back to Brazil and play in a Challenger in Curitiba. Just to gain some confidence. Guga won this and headed to the French Open as an unknown ranked 66. In the third round, I remember seeing him for the first time. The distinctive outfit by Diadora, the flashy hairdo, smile and that ripping backhand. He was skinny, like myself. There wasn’t much meat on Guga.
Five sets victories over former champions, Thomas Muster and Yevgeny Kafelnikov were either side of another five-set win over Andrei Medvedev. Compelling. Box office stuff from the lad!
He had won the hearts of the spectators and the general public. A four-set win over qualifier Fillip Dewulf in the semis was followed by a comprehensive pasting of another former champion, Sergei Bruguera in the final. This was how legends are made.
(2) Tim making the semis in 2004 was breakthrough stuff. I was like a pig in sh*t at this time. Dreamland. I was made up, this was a great effort.
The third round was his best showing going into the event that year. Watching masters series events, especially in Monte Carlo had shown Henman could get results on clay. However, losses to Schuettler (QF), Zabaleta (Last 16) and Andrei Pavel (Last 32) in the three lead-up masters series, didn’t give us any insight as to what was in store. Yes, he made the most of the draw opening up in Paris but you can only beat what is put in front of you.
It was Tim’s all-court game and attack-minded net play that the locals embraced. It was exciting to watch and not the norm on the dirt courts.
He came from two sets down in the opening round against Cyril Saulnier and then again, against Michael Llodra in the last 16 (so the French got to see his style first hand as he took out two homegrown talents). Lars Burgsmuller and Galo Blanco were put to the sword in between.
Chela was left in knots after the all-out quarter-final demolition. Henman serving up a lesson.
There were chances against Coria in the last four, he led by a set and a break. The Brit was playing superb stuff. He fought back in the fourth again but was ultimately denied.
Bizarrely, I’m sure Henman would have beaten Gaudio in the final. Coria was the number one player on the surface at the time and you could not have foreseen what would happen in the final. This was a great effort from Tim despite losing. Fine margins.
(1) Serena had not won in Paris since 2002, the year was now 2013. This was for number 16 on the road to history but it was the fact the wait in Paris had been long.
The form coming into it was promising. Titles on clay in all three events entered in Charleston, Madrid and Rome.
Tatishvili 6/0 6/1, Caroline Garcia 6/1 6/2, Sorana Cirstea 6/0 6/2 and Roberta Vinci 6/1 6/3 were all comfortably beaten.
Then that match that can win you a slam. Trailing in the third to Svetlana Kuznetsova, Serena had to dig deep and up her game. She did. Champion. Kuzzy was a former champ herself and a big danger. Her talent was once again there for all to see but Serena had her measure.
Wins over Errani 6/0 6/1 in the semi and 6/4 6/4 over Sharapova in the final confirmed her domination.
Winning on clay showed her superiority across all surfaces. The movement was superb and the firepower was obviously immense. Unplayable!
It also helped with the disappointment of losing in the quarter-finals in Melbourne to Sloane Stephens. SW was defo back up and running. Number 17 was confirmed in NYC when defeating Vika Azarenka in the final.
Andy Del Potro