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

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.

From Pete Sampras’ autobiography A champion’s mind:

When the draw came out for Roland Garros, I just looked at it and went “Wow”. It was as though as it could get. On form, I would play two recent French Open champions, starting in the second round with two-time winner Sergi Bruguera. It was time to step up; I knew that’s what Tim (Gullikson) would have wanted me to do. Paul (Annacone) wanted me to attack relentlessly, and the conditions for that strategy were good. It was hot and dry and the court would be playing fast. I might be able to attack and pressure Bruguera, although he was a great defender and could run down anything.

The Parisians are astute fans and tennis aesthetes; they like players who are stylish, daring, or flamboyant. They understood what a coup it would have been for me, a serve-and-volley player who played a relatively clean, elegant game, to win the ultimate clay-court title – and the only Grand Slam that had eluded me up to that point.
But most important, they were well aware that I had just lost Tim, and their sympathy for me was obvious. Their press, led by sports daily L’Equipe, was all over the story. Tim had just died, yet because of all the publicity and the endless questions, he was more alive in my mind than at any time since before he became ill.

Inspired by the oupouring of concern, respect, and support, I beat Bruguera 6-3 in the fifth. I know Tim would have been proud of the way I attacked and kept the pressure on. I kept my head up for the entire match and I really felt Tim – and the French crowd – pushing me through the rough parts of that battle. In the next round, I beat my friend and Davis Cup doubles partner Todd Martin, and I lucked out a bit to get Aussie Scott Draper in the fourth round – Aussie attackers just didn’t pose the kinds of problems on clay as the European grinders did.

But in the quarters, I was up against Jim Courier, who played extremely well on clay, especially Parisian clay. He was a two-time champ at Roland Garros, and a dominant guy there for half a decade.
I lost the first two sets, which was suicidal given the quality of my opponent. But I felt oddly confident and calm, as if Tim were looking over my shoulder, telling me that it was okay, everything was going to work out. And in reality, I was striking the ball well and putting myself in position to win points. I was getting my backhand to his backhand, which was always the key to playing Jim, who loved to dictate with his forehand. I felt I was outplaying him, but for one thing: I was missing a few volleys here and there, and generally failing to close.

Things changed in the third and fourth sets. I started to finish effectively, and everything else fell into place. Soon I was dominating, although I was also beginning to feel the physical toll. But emotion and inspiration pulled me through. After I won the match, I said something in the press interview about feeling that Tim was watching and helping me. I stated that as fact, and it just added to the developing story. Beating Jim gave me a semifinal berth opposite Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and I liked my chances in that one. I liked them a lot. […]

When Friday rolled around, I was scheduled to play the early semifinal match. Playing the first semi in Paris is a drag. It’s a late crowd in Paris, especially in the choice seats gobbled up by corporations. Frenchmen are not likely to pass up a long, lavish lunch in the corporate hospitality area jsut to catch the first hour or two of what is usually at least a six-hour center-court program. So in Paris, you can find yourself playing a Grand Slam semifinal that has all the atmosphere of a second-round day match in Indianapolis or Lyon. It’s a bummer to play for a place in a Grand Slam final under those conditions. […]

The lack of atmosphere threw me, and so did the conditions. It was hot, the sun was blazing in a cloudless sky, and there wasn’t the slightest breeze. Of course, a fast, sun-baked court would help my game, but the heat could also drain me in a long clay-court grind.
As it turned down, I didn’t have to worry about stamina. I served well at the start, picked my spots to attack, and made good use of my forehand to force the action. Kafelnikov hung in there without worrying me. We went to the first-set tiebreaker and it was close, but I lost it – theoretically, no big deal. And then everything just imploded. I didn’t get a game in the next set, and won just two in the third. It was by far my most puzzling and distressing Grand Slam loss, and it occured against a guy with a tendency to get tight in big matches – especially against me. […]

I was stunned. Down deep, I’d felt that it was my time at the French Open, and that was all bound up with having lost Tim. I thought it was meant to be, especially after my wins over two worthy former champions. During that entire tournament, I felt like Tim was still alive. Tim and I were going to win the French – it was going to be another team effort, like getting over the hump and winning Wimbledon. I’d even had these conversations with him in my head during my matches at Roland Garros, and they helped pull me through.

During the Kafelnikov match, however, there was nothing but a resounding, deep silence. I didn’t think about this during the match, but I guess the silence probably settled in because my attempt to hold on to Tim, my fantasy that I could keep him alive, expired. Despite having been to Tim’s funeral, I hadn’t really faced up to or accepted the fact that he was gone. Two matches too soon, I had a devastating reality check.

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.

Mark Philippoussis, Australian Open 1996

Excerpt of Pete Sampras autobiography A champion’s mind:

“I entered that event after having had less than a month of “off season” following the Grand Slam Cup (I pulled out of that with an ankle injury), and there was no way I was ready, much less eager to play.

I made the trip, though, and I played and ended up losing in the third round to an Aussie, Mark Philippoussis. The conditions were perfect for an upset: Mark had an adoring home crowd behind him and it was a night match, with some eighteen thousands fans jammed into the Rod Laver Arena, hungry for an upset. Mark just overpowered me – he was in the mythic zone, and when that happens to a player who has as big and versatile a game as Philippoussis, you’re in trouble.

Down deep, I didn’t feel too badly about the loss. I’d done my best. It might have been different if I’d been able to have six or eight weeks off to recharge my batteries and prepare for the new year. It also might have been different if it were any other major but the Australian. I never really liked playing in Melbourne, and my results over the years reflected it (I won just two titles there). This surprised many people, because on the surface the Australian Open might have looked like the perfect Grand Slam for me.

The Aussies have a great tennis tradition, yet even their icons tended to be regular, plainspoken, understated guys, somewhat like me. That was an immediate affinity I felt with Australia. The Australians also are a friendly, easygoing people, and the atmosphere at their major is laid-back; that also suited me. You could get gut-shot in the street there and if you crawled up to a guy for help he’d probably say, “No worries, mate!” and then do all he could to help.
The facilities at Melbourne Park, including Rod Laver Arena, are modern and first-class. You don’t have that feeling of chaos and crowding that characterizes the other majors; even the media presence is considerably smaller. So you have a little less of that intensity and crazy pressure.

In Melbourne you could always count on a few days when the temperature pushes the 100 degree mark, and even though it isn’t very humid, the heat can be draining. It was a special problem for me, because I secretly suffered from thalassemia, a mild disease common to men of Mediterranean descent. It’s basically a blood-iron deficiency that causes anemia, and those who have it are prone to wilting in intense heat.

Another unpredictable thing about the courts at Melbourne Park was the Rebound Ace surface (which was replaced by Plexicushion for 2008). Rebound Ace was a rubber compound that they painted over the typical hard-court base of asphalt. The surface provided a little cushioning and slowed the bounce, but it did strange things in the heat. It was so hot in Melbourne one year that a TV crew cracked an egg on court and, using time-lapse photography, recorded it frying. The heat made the Rebound Ace very sticky.

Yet the conditions in Oz can change in the blink of an eye. The difference between playing day and night matches there is huge (the Australian and US opens are the only two majors that have night tennis, and the retractable roof over the Laver Arena means you can have night indoor tennis). The surface reacted easily to ambient changes of any kind; it was simply a different court when the temperature was a comfortable 75 or 80 degrees – which was often the case during the night matches that followed scorching afternoons. To me, the Australian major was a crapshoot in the areas where I most preferred consistency – the surface, the balls, and the ambient conditions.”

Pete Sampras would end up winning 6 more Grand Slams. As for Philippoussis, despite 2 Grand Slam finals (1998 US Open and 2003 Wimbledon) he never fullfilled the expectations placed in him.

London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games posters
London tube stops re-named for Olympic stars
Win an ITF Olympic Book

Fashion and gear:

adidas unveils Great Britain Olympic kit – designed by Stella McCartney
Andy Murray adidas Olympic kit
adidas unveils Australian Olympic kit
Andy Roddick’s new Babolat Propulse 3 Stars and Stripes shoe
Caroline Wozniacki’s Olympic outfit
Caroline Wozniacki 2012 Olympics adidas dress
Olympics French adidas athletes by David Ken
Ralph Lauren unveils US Olympic Team closing ceremony outfits
Ralph Lauren unveils US Olympic team opening ceremony
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2012 Olympics adidas outfit
Li Na Nike Olympic kit
Roger Federer 2012 Olympics outfit
Venus Williams creates new collection for 2012 Olympics
Spanish Olympic team kit and uniform
Russian and Ukrainian Olympic kits
German Olympic team uniform

Marketing:

Pantene supports the Olympics: Healthy Is The New Beautiful campaign
Coca Cola “Eight-Pack” of Athletes for London 2012 Olympic Games
Juan Martin Del Potro in Coca-Cola commercial for London 2012
adidas wraps the Metro during the Olympic Games

A trip down memory lane:

1996 Atlanta Olympics: Gold medal for Andre Agassi
Nadal – Gonzalez Beijing 2008

Results:

Career Golden Slam for Serena Williams and the Bryan brothers
Gold medal for Murray
2012 London Olympics medallists

Polls:

Which country will win the most tennis medals?

  • USA (34%, 50 Votes)
  • Russia (18%, 27 Votes)
  • Spain (15%, 22 Votes)
  • Switzerland (9%, 13 Votes)
  • China (7%, 11 Votes)
  • Serbia (7%, 10 Votes)
  • Other (4%, 6 Votes)
  • Great Britain (2%, 3 Votes)
  • Italy (2%, 3 Votes)
  • France (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Germany (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Australia (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 149

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Who will win the women's gold medal?

  • Serena Williams (46%, 70 Votes)
  • Maria Sharapova (33%, 50 Votes)
  • Agnieszka Radwanska (9%, 13 Votes)
  • Victoria Azarenka (5%, 7 Votes)
  • Sam Stosur (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Petra Kvitova (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Angelique Kerber (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Caroline Wozniacki (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Other (1%, 2 Votes)
  • Kim Clijsters (1%, 1 Votes)

Total Voters: 151

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Who will win the men's gold medal?

  • Roger Federer (51%, 95 Votes)
  • Rafael Nadal (18%, 34 Votes)
  • Novak Djokovic (14%, 25 Votes)
  • Andy Murray (6%, 12 Votes)
  • Juan Martin del Potro (5%, 10 Votes)
  • Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (3%, 5 Votes)
  • Other (2%, 3 Votes)
  • David Ferrer (1%, 1 Votes)
  • Tomas Berdych (0%, 0 Votes)
  • John Isner (0%, 0 Votes)

Total Voters: 185

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