Memorable French Open matches: Nadal-Soderling, Serena-Venus
Rafael Nadal’s first French Open loss. Serena Williams’ first victory over Venus Williams in a major final.
Ivan Lendl’s comeback against John McEnroe. And, five years later, Michael Chang’s comeback against Lendl.
Sporting events can be memorable for all sorts of reasons, and sometimes more than one, from upsets to historical significance to moments of drama to big comebacks and more.
With the French Open postponed from now until September because of the coronavirus pandemic — “I miss playing the tournament that I love the most,” Nadal said Thursday — The Associated Press is republishing a handful of stories that first appeared when classic matches were played in Paris.
This AP Was There series starts with a story from May 31, 2009, about one of only two defeats for Nadal in his 95-match French Open career so far.
Here is a sampling of that Roland Garros contest and others from the past 40 years that stand out:
FROM 31-0 TO 31-1
Fourth round, 2009, Robin Soderling beat Rafael Nadal 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-4, 7-6 (2). It wasn’t just that Nadal was unbeaten through 31 matches at the French Open and considered a lock to become the first to win five consecutive titles there (he won his 12th Coupe des Mousquetaires in 2019). It’s also that Soderling never had been past the second round at any major. ... Other memorable upsets: Quarterfinals, 2010, Soderling beat Roger Federer 3-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4. Federer had reached 23 major semifinals in a row and 18 of 19 major finals. ... First round, 2012, Virginie Razzano beat Serena Williams 4-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3. The American’s lone loss in 74 first-round Slam matches. Afterward, Williams began working with Patrick Mouratoglou, her coach for 10 major titles. ... Also from the realm of surprises: The entire championship runs by 66th-ranked Gustavo Kuerten (1997) and 47th-ranked Jelena Ostapenko (2017).
Final, 2002, Serena Williams beat Venus Williams 7-5, 6-3. Serena entered with one Grand Slam singles title; she now owns 23. This began a Sister Slam streak in which Serena beat her older sister in four consecutive all-in-the-family major finals. Two days after the finale in Paris, Venus was ranked No. 1, and Serena No. 2 — two people from one household at 1-2 in singles for the only time in tennis history. ... Other memorable moments of historical significance: Final, 1983, Yannick Noah beat Mats Wilander 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (3). Noah is the only Frenchman since 1946 to win his country’s tournament. ... Final, 1999, Andre Agassi beat Andrei Medvedev 1–6, 2–6, 6–4, 6–3, 6–4. Agassi forever changed the way his career would be viewed by completing a career Grand Slam. ... Other career Slams completed in Paris: Roger Federer (2009), Maria Sharapova (2012), Novak Djokovic (2016).
Final, 1992, Monica Seles beat Steffi Graf 6-2, 3-6, 10-8. The third set alone lasted 1½ hours. After winning the fifth major in a row she’d entered, Seles called it “the most emotional match I’ve ever played.” Less than a year later, she was stabbed by a spectator in Germany; she returned to the tour in 1995 and would win one more Slam title. ... Other memorable moments of drama: Final, 1999, Graf beat Martina Hingis 4–6, 7–5, 6–2. The last of Graf’s 22 major trophies was overshadowed by Hingis’ tantrum. ... Semifinals, 2013, Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7. Nadal called it “a special one.” ... Semifinals, 2003, Justine Henin beat Serena Williams 6-2, 4-6, 7-5. Henin raised a hand to call time right before a fault by Williams and wouldn’t acknowledge doing so. Afterward, Williams accused Henin of “lying and fabricating.” The American's 33-match Slam winning streak ended.
Fourth round, 1989, Michael Chang beat Ivan Lendl 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. This certainly also merits a mention on any list of all-time upsets. Chang, 17, ousted the top-seeded Lendl while dealing with severe cramping. Chang won a point he began with an underarm serve and, on match point, he moved all the way up to the service line to return. Lendl double-faulted to end it, and Chang would go on to become the youngest male champion at any major. ... Other memorable comebacks: Final, 1984, Lendl beat John McEnroe 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5. This one marked a significant pivot: Lendl began the day 0-4 in major finals and retired with eight Slam trophies. ... Quarterfinals, 1993, Mary Joe Fernandez beat Gabriela Sabatini 1-6, 7-6 (4), 10-8. Fernandez trailed 6-1, 5-1 before saving five match points.