Cédric Pioline

Excerpt of Pete Sampras‘ autobiography A champion’s mind:

Todd Woodbridge had a career singles run at Wimbledon in 1997, making it all the way to the semifinals. Although he is one of the all-time doubles greats, Todd had trouble translating his skill to singles. He had geat technique and finesse, and he was very crafty. But he didn’t make a lot of power and he didn’t move great (in doubles, he only had to worry about half the court). Todd’s weaknesses played right into my strengths, and I had little trouble with him. Once again, I found myself facing Cédric Pioline in the final.

I felt for Cédric because even though he had played a previous Grand Slam final against me at the US Open, this was different – no tournament feels as historic as Wimbledon. There was no pressure on him; I was the prohibitive favorite. His best chance lay in getting out there and just letting it rip – what did he have to lose? But that’s easier said than done.

Once again, as in our US Open final, Cédric seemed overwhelmed. I won the first two sets, giving up just six games. I was on top of my game and in touch with the Gift. It seemed like just minutes after the start of the match, yet there I was, serving at 5-4 in the third. I found myself thinking, Wow this is too easy. I don’t mean to be disrespectful toward Cédric. It was just that the match was on my racket, far sooner and with far less difficulty than I expected.

I had this flash as I got within two points of the match: Man, this is so big, what I’m doing – this is it. Wimbledon. It’s huge … And I was immediately overcome by this feeling of insecurity. I panicked, like someone having an anxiety attack. I thought, Is it really supposed to be so easy? Am I missing something here? Is this all going to turn out to be some kind of joke or hoax, on me? In a very real, visceral way, it was like a great dream, the kind in which you feel omnipotent, but a part of you knows that at any moment you might wake up and destroy the illusion.

But I didn’t wake. I coasted across the finish line in straight sets, giving up a total of ten games. It was fitting end to one of the least eventful or significant of my Wimbledon tournaments. I didn’t have any epic battles or showdowns with career rivals. Yet my performance at Wimbledon in 1997 may have been my best, in terms of having full control of my game and using it to maximum advantage for the longest sustained period. One stat said it all: I served 118 games, and held 116 times.”

Richard Krajicek

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“When Paul (Annacone) and I arrived in England a few days after losing in the French, I appreciated the cool climate and those beautiful grass courts. It was like deleting every recent file on my mental hard drive and starting over. I really needed to regroup after the shocking collapse in Paris. The year was halfway over and, like most years, I would just a success or failure depending on whether or not I won a major.

I skipped all the warm-up tournaments for Wimbledon in 1996, hoping to regain my stores of stamina and energy. Things started to click for me when the tournament began, and although I lost a set to my Davis Cup buddy Richey Reneberg in the first round, pretty soon I was firing on all cylinders. I hammered Mark Philippoussis in straight sets in the round of 16. I rolled through Cédric Pioline, losing just ten games.
In the quarterfinals, I would be playing Richard Krajicek, the rangy, tall, hard-serving Dutchman who was always a threat on fast surfaces. He could pop up at any time and win a tournament, looking like the second coming of Pancho Gonzalez. At other times, he was just another big guy with a good serve who didn’t seem to have the confidence or drive to win, week in, week out.

I felt that Richard was a little nervous as we warmed up under leaden skies. But he held his own through the first seven or eight games, each of us taking care of his serve. Everything was fine, in my book. I was making him work on his service games, and I was getting pretty good looks at his second serves. I had break points here and there, which was encouraging even when I didn’t convert them. I had played many matches like this before on grass. The trick was to stay alert, focused, and confident, because my chance would come. I was getting to him, I felt pretty sure about that? It was just a matter of time.
But before we could finish the set, the rains came. We had a break of a few hours, and that gave both of us a little time to think and regroup. When we returned to the court, he was a different player. He was suddenly going for his shots, especially his second serve. Whether he knew it or not, he was taking me into the territory I least liked to visit. My m.o called for me to approach even the most lethal serve-and-volleyers with the expectation that I’ll get a good look at some second serves. If that happened, I could beat them. The strategy worked against Goran Ivanisevic, it worked against Boris Becker, and it worked against Stefan Edberg. But when it became harder for me to get a sniff at a second serve, it created a chain reaction. If I couldn’t get to his serve, that put more pressure on mine. I think Richard sensed that, and his own excellent serving freed up the rest of his game, especially his return game. And that’s how it almost always works.

Krajicek won the first set 7-5, breaking me once. It emboldened him, and suddenly he was getting hold of my serves with his backhand return? Plus, his passing shots were impeccable. I lost the second set 6-4, and was relieved when it started to sprinkle again, because the light was fading. I knew we would never finish the match that day, and I really needed to regroup.
Yet instead of thinking, Tomorrow’s a new day, I’ll get back on track – no way he can stay hot like that… I had a strange sense of foreboding. I didn’t feel good about the way the match was going, and knew I was in a big, big hole. Paul worked double time that night to get me back up, to restore my confidence, but he couldn’t pull me out of it. Although I was still in the match I was feeling negative.

When we returned to play the next day, we just continued where we left off. Richard came out bombing away, and I immediately got discouraged, thinking, Hey this is what I do to people on grass. Long story short, he closed me out. All the credit to Richard for getting the job done. He played a great match, technically and mentally. And it was some balm for me to see him go on to win the tournament – if you’e going to lose, you may as well lose to the guy who’s going to run the table. I’ve never watched that match on tape, but I’d be curious – just to see if Richard’s game really did change as much as I believe it did after the rain delay.

Sampras and Ivanisevic, Wimbledon 94

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“During the grass-court season, Todd Martin won two tiebreakers to beat me in the final at Queen’s Club, and I moved on to Wimbledon to defend my hard-earned title. I lost just one set, to Todd, as I served and volleyed my way to the final opposite Goran Ivanisevic.

I had my hands full with Goran, as I would on grass during my entire career. A great deal of Goran’s juice at Wimbledon came from being a left-hander. That natural edge made his first serve even better and more effective than mine; I really believe it was. When Goran’s serve was on, it was pretty much unreturnable on grass. He was the only guy I played regularly who made me feel like I was at his mercy. I never felt that against that other Wimbledon icon, Boris Becker.

But my second serve was better than Goran’s, and the key to beating him for me always was getting hold of and punishing his second serve. Goran put tremendous pressure on my service games, because he usually held so easily. I felt that if I played one shaky service game against him and was broken, the set was gone. Very few people were able to make me feel that way, once I’d figured out the grass game. That was very tough, mentally. Goran’s serve also gave him a huge advantage as a returner – he could afford to take huge, wild cuts with his return. If he happened to tag two of those in a row, I was down love-30 – and from there anything could happen.

The final was incredibly fast tennis, played on a hot day, with balls flying all over the place at warp speed. It was a gunfight, both of us dodging bullets we could barely see, hoping to connect with a semiluck return here, or tease out an error there. That kind of tennis calls for a firm hand and intense focus. I proved slighly more steady in the crapshoot tiebreakers, and after I won two of them, Goran folded up. I won 7-6 7-6 6-0.

The match marked the high point in the growing debate about grass-court tennis. A growing chorus of critics charged that Wimbledon tennis had degenerated into a serving contest between two giants who almost couldn’t lose serve, but couldn’t break each other, either. Goran and I personified the trend, never mind that neither of us was the biggest guy around. Our big serves and our desire to end points quickly added up to a perfect storm of Wimbledon controversy.
Tennis at Wimbledon, some pundits said, was in danger of becoming irrelevant, because ongoing technologies had produced more powerful rackets that buried the needle on the power meter deep in the red. Even the tabloids got into it, running pictures of prominent politicians and others in the Royal Box sleeping soundly. Ostensibly, that had something to do with the way the game was being played.”

McEnroe and Lendl, Roland Garros 84

Roland Garros has proven to be the most challenging tournament for some of the greatest players of the Open era, especially for those part of that now extinguished specie of serve and volley players. Let’s have have a look at the 5 best male players to never win Roland Garros:

John McEnroe

Grand Slam titles: 7
Best result at Roland Garros: final (1984)

82 wins, three defeats – that was the amazing record posted by John McEnroe in 1984 en route to one of the most incredible seasons ever in the Open era. And yet one of those three defeats – the final here at Roland Garros – has become legendary.

It was the worst loss of my life, a devastating defeat: sometimes it still keeps me up nights.
It’s even tough for me to do the commentary at the French – I’ll often have one or two days when I literally feel sick to my stomach just at being there and thinking about that match. Thinking of what I threw away, and how different my life would’ve been if I’d won.

By making it to the final, McEnroe had racked up 42 consecutive victories, thrashing Jimmy Connors 7-5 6-1 6-2 in the semis. He was the huge favourite in this French Open final against Lendl, who was still seeking his first Grand Slam title at the age of 24. In the final McEnroe played beautifully to take the first two sets from Ivan Lendl in a little more than an hour. But McEnroe, distracted by courtside noises from a cameraman’s headset, lost his momentum. His temper took over as the Czech fought back to win in five sets and capture his first Grand Slam title.
McEnroe went on the win at Wimbledon and the US Open in 1984, but he would never get another opportunity to win Roland Garros.

Read what McEnroe said about this legendary final in his autobiography

Stefan Edberg

Grand Slam titles: 6
Best result at Roland Garros: final (1989)

Stefan Edberg‘s defeat in the 1989 final is perhaps even crueler than McEnroe’s defeat to Lendl in 1984, as he lost to a player who would never win a Grand Slam title again, Michael Chang.
With already three Grand Slams under his belt, Edberg was heavy favorite, despite the 17 yr old American’s incredible heroics en route to the final.The Swede led by two sets to one but could not finish it off and Chang became the youngest male player ever to win a Grand Slam title.

It was my great chance to win the French Open. Looking back, it was probably a match that I should have won with the chances that I had in the fourth set, but I should have been able to get out of that trouble. At the time, I thought I would get more chances to win the French Open, but I never did.

Read more on Chang’s victory in this portait by Rex Bellamy

Jimmy Connors

Grand Slam titles: 8
Best result at Roland Garros: semifinals (1979, 1980, 1984, 1985)

In 1974, Connors was among the players barred from Paris because they had agreed to play World Team Tennis, an American team competition which Philippe Chatrier, president of the French Federation, regarded as a “circus”. He had a stunning 99–4 record that year and won 15 tournaments, including all the Grand Slam singles titles except the French Open. His exclusion from the French Open may have prevented him from becoming the first man player since Rod Laver to win all four Major singles titles in a calendar year.

Although I’d missed the French Open for five years (it took four years for me to get rid of my anger and frustration after being banned in 1974), I always knew Roland Garros suited me. Not the surface or the balls they used, which slowed everything down too much for my game, but the atmosphere. It was hot, dirty, close and noisy… and I loved it. You had to be ready to grind it out. I’d buy a ticket for that any day.

Connors made the semifinals four times (1979, 1980, 1984, 1985) and the quarterfinals another four times, but one of his most memorable match at Roland Garros is probably his third round loss to Michael Chang in 1991. Read about it here.

Boris Becker

Grand Slam titles: 6
Best result at Roland Garros: semifinals (1987, 1989, 1991)

Despite his 49 career titles, Boris Becker never won a clay court tournament, his best result being a defeat to Alberto Mancini in Monte Carlo’s final in 1989. That same year, Becker had his best chance at Roland Garros but lost (ironically) to a serve and volley player, Stefan Edberg:

I reached the semi-final three times, playing on a surface on which my main opponent was always myself. My game plan has always been to attack; that’s in my nature. On clay, however, the aim is to make fewer mistakes than your opponent. Paris is won by those who minimize risks and who hang on in there for four or more hours. Once I was very close to victory – against Edberg in 1989 – but it didn’t happen. I lost the fifth set 2-6

Pete Sampras

Grand Slam titles: 14
Best result at Roland Garros: semifinals (1996)

One month after the death of his longtime coach Tim Gullikson, Pete Sampras reached the semifinals at Roland Garros, his best result ever on the Parisian red clay. On the way to the semifinals he beat two time winners Sergi Bruguera and Jim Courier.

When I hit the wall against Kafelnikov, and felt my dream – our dream – blow up in my face, it really did sink in. Tim was gone. Our dream was gone. It was gone for good.

Dominant on hard courts and grass, Sampras was just a pale copy of himself on clay. Winner of three clay titles overall (Kitzbuhel in 1992, Rome in 1994 and Atlanta in 1998), he just couldn’t adapt his game to this surface. After his 1996 semifinal, he seemed to give up any hope to win Roland Garros, but later admitted he should have done better.

I could have worked a little harder. I mean I worked hard but you always look back at your career and feel I should have done.

Read what Pete Sampras wrote in his autobiography about his 1996 run through the semifinals

Maria Sharapova

Follow our Roland Garros 2014 coverage and relive some of the most memorable Roland Garros moments. Many pictures and videos to come! If you attend the tournament and want to share your pictures/videos/recaps please contact us.

Roland Garros visitor’s guide:

French Open 2014 VIP packages
How to buy Roland Garros tickets
Get behind the scenes at Roland Garros – part 1
Get behind the scenes at Roland Garros – part 2
Roland Garros 2014: one month to go
Take a seat: court Suzanne Lenglen
Take a seat: court Philippe Chatrier
Today at Roland Garros: Court Philippe Chatrier
Longines Smash Corner
Roland Garros store
Beach tennis and mini tennis at Roland Garros

Fashion and gear:

Chantal Thomass creates a capsule collection for the French Open
Ana Ivanovic adidas dress
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga adidas outfit
Andy Murray adidas outfit
Caroline Wozniacki outfit by Stella McCartney
Maria Kirilenko outfit by Stella McCartney
Kei Nishikori Uniqlo outfit
Novak Djokovic Uniqlo outfit
Victoria Azarenka Nike outfit
Serena Williams Nike dress
Maria Sharapova Nike outfit
Roger Federer Nike outfit
Rafael Nadal Nike outfit
Dominika Cibulkova dress by Lacoste
John Isner outfit by Lacoste

A trip down memory lane:

1956: First time at Roland Garros for Rod Laver
Portrait of Manuel Santana, first Spaniard to capture a Grand Slam title in 1961
1969: Rod Laver defeats Ken Rosewall
Portrait of 6-time Roland Garros champion Bjorn Borg
Portrait of Adriano Panatta, the only player to beat Bjorn Borg at Roland Garros
1978: Virginia Ruzici defeats Mima Jausovec
1982: At the request of Monsieur Wilander
1982: first Grand Slam for Mats Wilander
1984 French Open: Ivan Lendl defeats John McEnroe
1985 French Open: Chris Evert defeats Martina Navratilova
Roland Garros 1985: Mats Wilander defeats Ivan Lendl
Roland Garros 1988: bold Leconte swept aside by a Mats for all surfaces
Portrait of Natasha Zvereva, 1988 runner-up
Portrait of Arantxa Sanchez, 1989 French Open champion
Portrait of Michael Chang, 1989 French Open champion
1990 French Open: Opposites attract, Gomez defeats Agassi
1991 French Open 3RD: Michael Chang defeats Jimmy Connors
1991 French Open final: Jim Courier defeats Andre Agassi
Roland Garros 1996: Pete Sampras run through the semi-finals
Steffi Graf – Martina Hingis Roland Garros 1999
1999 French Open: Agassi-Graf, two days, one destiny
2005: Rafael Nadal defeats Mariano Puerta
2008: Rafael Nadal defeats Roger Federer
A look back at Roland Garros 2011

Pictures and Recaps:

Polls:

Who will win Roland Garros 2014?

  • Serena Williams (33%, 40 Votes)
  • Maria Sharapova (30%, 37 Votes)
  • Li Na (11%, 13 Votes)
  • Simona Halep (10%, 12 Votes)
  • Other (9%, 11 Votes)
  • Jelena Jankovic (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (3%, 4 Votes)
  • Victoria Azarenka (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Dominika Cibulkova (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 122

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Who will win Roland Garros 2014?

  • Rafael Nadal (40%, 108 Votes)
  • Novak Djokovic (29%, 79 Votes)
  • Roger Federer (21%, 57 Votes)
  • Stanislas Wawrinka (4%, 10 Votes)
  • Other (2%, 6 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (1%, 4 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (1%, 3 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (1%, 2 Votes)
  • John Isner (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Richard Gasquet (0%, 0 Votes)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 269

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