Friday 10 to 1: they never had Paris
The French Open is arguably the Grand Slam event that has tripped up the biggest number of high-quality players - we take a look at 10 of the most notable.
The French Open is arguably the Grand Slam event that his tripped up the biggest number of high-quality players.
Where legends of the game have succeeded at the other three major stops in Melbourne, London and New York, Paris seems to have an uncanny knack for denying some of the best tennis players and leaving their careers “incomplete”.
Here’s a look at the some of the most notable players who were unable to add a French Open title to their tennis CV.
The mighty Australian had all the makings of a fast-court player, with his big serve, athletic net-rushing and excellent volleys. Newcombe was a seven-time Grand Slam champion – three Wimbledons, two Australian and two US titles – but whenever he got to Paris, his style simply didn’t suit the clay. Newcombe never advanced beyond the quarterfinals in Paris, finishing his career with a 16-9 record (compared with 46-14 in Australia, 45-11 at Wimbledon and 43-9 in New York).
After going down 12-10 in the third to Jennifer Capriati in the thrilling 2001 French Open final, success in Paris seemed destined for Kim Clijsters. But it never materialised. Despite going on to dominate at the US Open and pocket an Australian Open title, the Belgian couldn’t break through on clay, twice stymied by compatriot and French Open queen Justine Henin deep in the tournament. She eschewed the event in the second phase of her career, playing just once (in 2011) and bombing in the second round.
As well as being an Australian and US Open champion, Boris Becker was one of the greatest ever players at Wimbledon, winning three titles from an incredible seven finals. Yet his attacking play – and patented dive-volleying – were not built for success at Roland Garros. The German reached the semifinals thrice from 1987 through 1991 but failed to advance further. And Becker’s mental block on clay extended further than the French Open – he finished his career with 49 titles, but not one on the dirt, despite reaching six claycourt finals.
Like Newcombe and Becker before him, Stefan Edberg’s attacking game simply didn’t have the same traction at Roland Garros as it did at the other Grand Slams. The elegant, stylish Swede won six majors – two each in Melbourne, London and New York – but only got as far as the final in Paris, in 1989. He reached the quarterfinals on three other occasions.
Davenport’s game – anchored by a booming serve and arguably the best groundstrokes the game has seen – was better suited to faster surfaces. And it showed, with the American triumphing at the US Open (1998), Wimbledon (1999) and the Australian Open (2000). The only major missing from her set was the French, where she failed to reach a final in 11 trips. Her best result was a semifinal finish in 1998.
Each year entering the French Open, storylines surrounding tournament favouritism were frequently matched by talk of how Amelie Mauresmo’s nerves would fare. The French adored their No.1 player – a former world No.1 and two-time major winner – and often Mauresmo arrived in Paris as a title favourite only to crash and burn at Roland Garros. Beset by anxiety and crushing expectations, the popular Frenchwoman with magnificent style forever underperformed on home soil – she reached the quarters just twice, in 2003 and 2004.
One loss in McEnroe’s career hurt more than any other, and that was when he went down in the final of the French Open to Ivan Lendl in 1984. Riding a 42-match winning streak and leading two-sets-to-love, McEnroe’s volatile temper eventually got the better of him, as did Lendl’s increasingly solid play. The Czech came back to win 3-6 2-6 6-4 7-5 7-5. McEnroe, despite making the semifinals in Paris the following year, never again came close to French Open success.
For all his success on clay, a French Open title eluded Jimmy Connors. The American won 12 career claycourt titles and even won the US Open (in 1976) when it was contested on green clay. Yet despite making 15 Grand Slam finals and winning eight, Connors only ever advanced as far as the semifinals in Paris, all the more surprising given his gritty style and baseline-oriented play. His absence from the French Open in 1974, due to his association with World Team Tennis, was unfortunately timed given it was probably his best chance of winning it – he scooped the three other majors that year.
> see Connors in action in the 1985 semifinals against Lendl
The Swiss Miss seemed to have a game built for clay, raised on the surface in Europe and a French Open junior winner, incredibly, at just 12 years of age. But Hingis was unable to translate that success to ultimate glory at Roland Garros. She was upset in the 1997 final by Iva Majoli – denying her an historic calendar Grand Slam sweep – and missed an even greater chance in 1999. Then world No.1, the reigning Australian champ and at the peak of her powers, she blew a 6-4 2-0 lead against Steffi Graf in the French Open decider, and utterly melted down. She never won another major.
Pete Sampras will be forever remembered as one of the greatest players – if not, the greatest – who ever lived. But tainting the American’s exemplary record was his inability to succeed at Roland Garros. His collection of 14 major titles is devoid of a French Open crown, and in 13 trips to Paris, he advanced to the semifinals just once. In his last five French Opens, he failed to pass the second round.