French Finality For Sampras, Chang and Connors – On This Day In Tennis History

May 27 was a day of finales at the French Championships as three all-time greats – Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors and 1989 champion Michael Chang all played their final matches at Roland Garros. The following is the complete excerpt from the May 27 chapter of the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY ($19.95, New Chapter Press, www.tennishistorybook.com) that spells out events of this day.

May 27

1992 – Jimmy Connors plays his final match at the French Open, enduring 26 aces by Wimbledon champion Michael Stich in a 7-5, 3-6, 6- 7(4), 6-1, 6-2 first-round defeat in 3 hours, 52 minutes. “I thought in the first three sets that I played some exciting tennis for me, but unfortunately it didn’t last,” says the 39-year-old Connors. “I thought I’d let the fourth set go and save my energy for the fifth, but my energy never came back. The years have started to take their toll.” Says Stich, who also slaps 68 unforced errors to go with his ace total, “He tried to finish the match, but I think he was just too tired to hang in there.”

Pete Sampras

Pete Sampras

2002 – Pete Sampras loses what eventually becomes his last match at Roland Garros as he is defeated in the first round of the French Open by Italy’s Andrea Gaudenzi 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (3). “I don’t want to say it’s a jinx,” says the No. 12 seed Sampras of not winning the French Open., the only major title to elude him. “It’s not like I lost four finals here. It’s a question of playing well on clay. But, you know, if Paris never happens over my career, life will go on. But I will come back and try again.” Says Gaudenzi, ranked No. 69, “What can I say? He’s probably the best tennis player who ever breathed [but] you cannot always be at the top and pretending you can win on all surfaces. Definitely his game is not made for clay. It’s so much more difficult for him to play good on this surface…It’s quite an honor to play him at the end sometimes. And to beat him is a great thing. I know I’m aware I didn’t beat him at his best, his best surface, so it doesn’t mean a lot.”

2003 – Michael Chang plays his final match at Roland Garros as the 1989 champion in defeated in the French Open’s first round by Fabrice Santoro 7-5, 6-1, 6-1 on Court Central. Chang openly cries into his Roland Garros towel as the crowd gives him a standing ovation following the loss. “I’ve only cried twice in my career,” Chang tells the crowd, “and both times were here on this court.”

2004 – Juan Carlos Ferrero, who had never lost before the semifinals in four previous appearances at the French Open, matches the earliest loss ever by a men’s defending champion at the French Championships, falling in the second round to No. 77-ranked Igor Andreev of Russia, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Ferrero, however, is not in top form, slowed by sore ribs and suffering unusually from cramps in his legs midway through the match. Says Ferrero, “I couldn’t play my best tennis today. It’s pretty difficult to stay in the match with two injuries…It’s pretty difficult to defend a title when you’re not 100 percent.”

1999 – Sixteen-year-old qualifier Justine Henin, playing in her first major tournament match, serves for the match against No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport, but wins only three points in the final three games and loses 6-3, 2-6, 7-5. Davenport praises the No. 121-ranked Henin, a future four-time winner of the French Open, and predicts greatness for her – “The girl is very good.” – and laments her sloppy play on clay  – “I was just frustrated the way I was playing. I knew I can’t be playing like this. On clay, I can’t be behind the baseline. I need to be the one attacking.” Says Henin of her loss, “I’m very disappointed and very pleased at the same time. I was just one game away from victory. I don’t want to do things too quickly, either. It’s not good.”

1979 – Vitas Gerulaitis outlasts Guillermo Vilas 6-7, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-2 in 4 hours, 53 minutes in the final of the Italian Open in Rome. The final is the longest at the Italian Championships since

1956 when Nicola Pietrangeli defeats Merv Rose in 5 hours, 9 minutes. Says Gerulaitis of the match, “I changed strategy about four times during the match, and played just about every way I know how to.”