Six days before the Roland Garros begins. A year ago, Rafael Nadal came in as the World’s number one player but after a loss to Roger Federer in the Madrid final. Nadal was stunned early on by Soderling while Federer finally captured his white whale. This year? Federer is way off his mark although still holds the number one spot. Nadal? Still hasn’t lost on clay this season, looking ready to continue his Paris domination. As a historical and statistical preview – here are the men who have won at Paris more than once, the true greats of the Paris clay courts.
Two Wins – Jan Kodes (Czech), Jim Courier (USA) and Sergi Bruguera (Spain)
The Small Prague born player (only 5’9) had great success in the early 70’s, winning two French Opens and Wimbledon. He won at the Roland Garros back to back (1970-1971), beating Ilie Nastase of Romania and Croatian (then Yugoslav) Zeljko Franulovic in those finals. Kodes, despite being quite a limited and average player away from clay, managed to win the 1973 Wimbledon, as 13 of the top 16 seeded players did not participate due to a labor dispute. Kodes managed to reach to US Open finals (71, 73), losing them both.
A former world no.1, Courier was probably the best player in the world for a short period of time in the early 90’s, before Pete Sampras erupted. A winner of four grand slams in total (two in Australia), Courier won the French back to back in 1991 and 1992. In the 1991 finals, reaching them after beating Stefan Edberg and one-hit wonder Michael Stich along the way, Courier faced another American prodigy and back then “bad boy” Andre Agassi. It took him five sets, but he eventually beat Agassi to claim his first major. The next year, Courier came in as the number one seed, backed by a finals appearance at the US Open and winning the Australian Open a few months earlier. This time he dispatched of Austrain Thomas Muster, Goran Ivanisevic, again Agassi (Semi’s) and beat Petr Korda in the finals 3-0, claiming his third slam and second French Open title.
After Courier’s back to back wins, it was a Spaniard’s turn. Clay specialist Sergi Bruguera (born in Barcelona) ruled the clay in Paris in 1993-1994. Winning as the 10th seed in 1993, Bruguera beat Pete Sampras in the quarter final and reigning champion Jim Courier in the final, claiming his first slam. Interesting fact about Bruguera – he is one of a few players to actually have a winning record against Pete Sampras. In an interview about the Federer-Sampras comparison, Bruguera mentioned Federer is 10 times the player Sampras was. In 1994, Jim Courier met Bruguera in the semi’s, losing again, as Sergi beat Alberto Berasategui in a Spanish Derby to claim his second grand slam. Out of Bruguera’s 14 single titles, 13 came on the clay courts.
Three Wins – Mats Wilander (Sweden), Ivan Lendl (Czech) and Gustavo Kuerten (Brazil)
Probably the best Tennis TV guy there is today (for those who watch Eurosport), Wilander was the best in the world back in the 1980’s, or at least one of the best. Out of his seven grand slam titles, all won between 1982-1988, Wilander won the French Open three times – 1982, 1985, 1988. In 1982 Wilander won the title going in unseeded, stunning Ivan Lendl in the fourth round (a career rival) and stunning Guillermo Villas in the final, becoming the youngest man ever to win a singles grand slam (later broken by Becker and Chang). 1985 – Wilander came in as the number four player, with three grand slam titles behind him. On his way to a second French Open he beat a very young Boris Becker, no.1 seed John McEnroe in the semi’s and no.2 seed and arch-rival Ivan Lendl in the final. 1988 – Wilander’s great year (winning three slams). He beat Henri Leconte in the final, earlier dispatching of an 18 year old Andre Agassi in the semi final.
Another one of the all-time greats, Ostrava born Lendl was probably the best and most dominant tennis player in the second half of the 1980’s, winning eight grand slams in six years and spending most of that period as the world’s number one. He won the French Open three times. 1984 – Lendl beat Wilander in the Semi’s and another big rival, John McEnroe, in the final, winning his first grand slam title. 1986 – Meeting only two seeded players on his way to his second French and his third slam, Lendl beat Swedish Mikael Pernfors in the final, who stunned Henri Leconte in the semi final. 1987 – His third French and sixth grand slam title, Lendl beat Mats Wilander in the finals after dispatching of fellow countryman Miroslav Mecir in the Semi Final.
A clay specialist with a mega-serve. Yes, Guga was one of those unique talents who grace us with their appearance once in a while. He’s not one of the greatest ever, probably not on clay, but he was special to watch, and was probably one of the more popular champions in Paris and on the whole tour. 1997 – In only his third slam tournament ever, the only player to do so, while ranked 66th, Kuerten stunned the tennis world by winning the French Open, beating two time champions Sergi Bruguera in the final. 2000 – Now coming in as the sixth seed, Kuerten won his second French, taking out Kafelnikov (Quarter Final), Juan Carlos Ferrero (Semi) and Swede Magnus Norman in the final. 2001 – This time coming in as the number one seed, Kuerten again disposed of Kafelnikov (quarter) and Ferrero (Semi) before beating Alex Corretjia in the final.
Six Wins – Bjorn Borg (Sweden)
The Only player in the open era to win Wimbledon and the French Open in the same year more than once (achieved it three times, consecutively, actually), the great “Ice-Borg” is still considered by some to be the greatest ever. Six French Open titles and five at Wimbledon (1976-1980) make as a strong resume.
Borg is the only player to be in six French Open finals, more remarkably winning them all.
1974 – Borg’s first Grand Slam title – Coming in as the number 3 seed, he beat Spaniard Manuel Orantas (14th seed) in the final.
1975 – Borg’s second slam, coming in as number one, Borg crushed Argentine Guillermo Villas in the final, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Borg didn’t win at Paris again until 1978, making the quarter final in 1976 and not playing in 1977 due to contract obligations with WTT. 1978 – Borg begins his four-peat, beating Guillermo Villas, the reigning champion, again. 1979 – Borg beat Victor Pecci, a shocking finalist from Paraguay, who stunned Jimmy Connors in the semi final. 1980 – Borg was the only non-American in the Semi Finals that year, beating Harold Solomon before beating Vitas Gerulaitis in the final. Gerulaitis beat Connors in the Semis. 1981 – Borg’s final grand slam title – a classic final with a young Ivan Lendl, ending in Borg’s favor after five sets.
Seven Wins – Rafael Nadal (Spain)
The greatest clay court player ever? Probably is. Nadal won his first of four consecutive French Open titles in 2005, still before his 19th birthday, beating Roger Federer in the Semi Final and Mariano Puerta in the final. 2006 – Nadal became the first player to beat Roger Federer in a grand slam final, winning in four sets. 2007 – Again Federer, again four sets, again Nadal crowned as champion. 2008 – Total destruction, as Nadal wiped the floor with Federer, beating the Swiss 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. In 2010 Nadal returned to form, beating Robin Soderling in the final in straight sets. In 2011, it was Roger Federer, once again trying to stop Nadal from making history. As always on clay, Nadal came out the victor in four sets. In 2012, he broke Borg’s record, putting himself above anyone else on the clay surface, beating Novak Djokovic in four sets.