Top 10 French Open moments.
Andre Agassi’s hair piece. On his first appearance in a grand slam final, at the 1990 French Open, the Las Vegan was more concerned with keeping his wig in place than with beating Andres Gomez to win the trophy. “With each leap, I imagine it falling into the sand,” Agassi would later recall in his autobiography. “I imagine millions of spectators moving closer to their TV sets, their eyes widening and, in dozens of dialects and languages, asking how Andre Agassi’s hair has fallen from his head.”
Serena Williams loses in the first round of the 2012 French Open to Virginie Razzano. Never before had Williams lost in the opening round of a grand slam; when it happened for the first time, it produced the most extraordinary theatre on Court Philippe Chatrier. The last game of the match, lasting 24 minutes, was absolutely compelling. The umpire made a bold call by calling Razzano for noise hindrance at 30-30, giving Williams the first of five breakpoints, and it was inevitable that the crowd would show their displeasure with whistles and with the banging of seats. Finally, having survived a total of five breakpoints, and on her eighth match point, the cramping Razzano completed the win.
Steffi Graf achieves a double bagel in the final. The champion’s speech is usually full of thank-yous; Graf’s was full of sorrys after she won the 1988 final. She apologised for having won the match in just over half an hour, with a 6-0, 6-0 victory over Natasha Zvereva.
Michael Chang’s underarm serve. People don’t tend to remember the final – the 17-year-old American beat Stefan Edberg in the title-match – but what happened in his fourth-round encounter with Ivan Lendl. As one observer put it, “he destroyed the seemingly indestructible Ivan Lendl by serving underarm – Lendl’s computer-like brain blew a bank of valves at the audacity of it all”. Chang, who was cramping, said it was “a real spur of the moment thing” to serve underarm.
Robin Soderling defeats Rafael Nadal in 2009. The Swede remains the only man to have defeated Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros. His win came in the fourth round of the 2009 tournament. Though it later became known that Nadal had been bothered at the time by the pain in his knees, and by problems in his parents’ marriage, that did not change the fact that this was a great victory for Soderling. While Soderling is missing this tournament because of glandular fever, Nadal is attempting to become the first man in the modern era to win seven titles at the French Open, which would take him one beyond Bjorn Borg’s six trophies.
Andre Agassi completes the career slam. He came back from two sets down against Ukraine’s Andrei Medvedev in the 1999 final. “I walk off the court, blowing kisses in all directions, the most heartfelt gesture I can think of to express the gratitude pulsing through me, the emotion that feels like the source of all other emotions. I vow that I will do this from now on, win or lose, whenever I walk off a tennis court. I will blow kisses to the four corners of the earth, thanking everyone.” Ten years later, Agassi was in Paris to present the prizes on the day that Roger Federer completed his career slam by beating Sweden’s Robin Soderling.
Ivan Lendl wins his first grand slam title after John McEnroe’s meltdown. Lendl lost the first two sets of the 1984 final. But he was helped by his opponent’s loss of emotional control, with McEnroe raging because of the noise leaking from a cameraman’s headset. Lendl, who had lost his first four appearances in grand slam finals, went on to win a total of eight majors.
Li Na becomes the first Chinese to win a grand slam singles title. Li is someone who wears her patriotism lightly – she plays for herself first and her country second – but there can be no doubt that she achieved something significant in the sport’s history when she defeated Italy’s Francesca Schiavone last summer. Women’s tennis used to be dominated by the Soviets, by the Ovas and the Evas, and in 10 or 15 years, there could be a posse of Chinese players going deep into the slams.
Bjorn Borg wins the 1981 title – his sixth. Borg never returned to try to defend his title: he chose early retirement instead. There is much debate still about who is the greatest clay-court player of modern times – Borg or Rafael Nadal?
Justin Henin wins the title in 2007 after being reunited with her family. Henin had reunited with her family after a seven-year feud, and was feeling the “joy” of being back in touch with her previously estranged father and three siblings. “My family are back in my life, and that makes a big difference to me. It feels great, and I feel very peaceful,” Henin said, and she went on to take the title.