Marcel Bernard

25 Years Ago Today: Noah Triumphs!

It was 25 years ago today on June 5, 1983 when Yannick Noah set off the perhaps the biggest celebration in French tennis since the Four Musketeers won the Davis Cup for France for the first time in 1927, by becoming the first man from his nation to win the French Open singles title, defeating Mats Wilander in the final. June 5 is a day of big occurrences in tennis history, as seen below in this exclusive early excerpt from my upcoming book On This Day in Tennis History. To pre-order this book (due out Sept. 1) you can click here for a 39 percent discount.

June 5

1983 – Yannick Noah creates a frenzy of French patriotism at Stade Roland Garros becoming the first Frenchman in 37 years to win the men’s singles titles at the French Open, defeating Mats Wilander 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 in two hours and 24 minutes in a passion-filled final. Noah serves and volleys and chips and charges on the slow red clay court to become the first Frenchman since Marcel Bernard in 1946 to win the French men’s singles title. Noah was discovered at age 10 in the African nation of Cameroon, the birthplace of his father, when Arthur Ashe informs French Tennis Federation President Philippe Chatrier of Noah’s talent after seeing him play – with a tennis racquet carved out of wood – during a U.S. State Department visit to Cameroon. Wilander was attempting to defend the title he won the year before as an unknown 17-year-old, but is unable to hit enough passing shots to fend off the constant net attacks by the dread-locked 23-year-old Noah. Wrote Bud Collins in the Boston Globe, “Perhaps the French will rename that huge monument at Place de l’Etoile and call it Noah’s Arc de Triomphe. The original outlasted a flood, but the current one opened the floodgates of emotion at Stade Roland Garros and washed away not only the Swedish Reign of Terror in the French Open, but also a seemingly impenetrable barrier that has separated French male players from their own title for 37 years.”

1953 – With his bag packed ready for a trip to Cleveland to play in the U.S. Pro Championships, Bill Tilden, regarded by many as the greatest player in the history of the sport, is found dead in his hotel room in Los Angeles at the age of 60. The cause of death for the seven-time U.S. men’s singles champion is a heart attack.

1973 – A in rare major final played on a Tuesday due to bad weather in Paris, Ilie Nastase beats Nikki Pilic 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 in 90 minutes to win the French Open for the first time. Said Nastase, “It meant much more to me to win Forest Hills last September because I thought I could never win a major grass tournament. Still, this is an important one.” Less than one hour after the match, Pilic is notified that he is suspended from competing on the circuit for 25 days for refusing to play for Yugoslavia in Davis Cup play, a decision that results in a player boycott of Wimbledon in defense of Pilic. Nastase, however, is one of the few ATP union players who does not honor the boycott.

1977 – Guillermo Vilas routs Brian Gottfried 6-0, 6-3, 6-0 to win his first major singles title in the most decisive French Open men’s singles final in the event’s history.

1982 – Martina Navratilova wins the French Open for the first time in her career, defeating future nun Andrea Jaeger 7-6, 6-1. Following the match, Jaeger accuses Navratilova of illegally receiving coaching signals from her coach, Renee Richards. ”It sort of blew my concentration,” said Jaeger, the 17-year-old American who was in her first Grand Slam final. ”It’s difficult to be playing three people at once. ‘I was trying in the whole first set to deal with it, and I was doing fine. But it was annoying. They’ve done it in other matches. It’s not very good for tennis. ‘She played well and I lost. But it shouldn’t happen. I might win, 0-0, or lose, 0-0, but I want to win by myself or lose by myself.” Said Navratilova, ”This is a shock. All I can say is that I never looked at Renee except for encouragement. Here I have won the final of one of the biggest tournaments in the world. Thank you very much, Andrea. I didn’t have to look up at them. Before I played, I went over the match 20 times with Renee. I could have recited in my sleep what I had to do against her. I didn’t need to look at Renee.”

1988 – In a near flawless display of clay court tennis, Mats Wilander wins the French Open for a third time in his career, defeating French native son Henri Leconte 7-5, 6-2, 6-1 in the men’s singles final. Wilander misses only two of 74 first serves, committs only nine unforced errors and does not hit a volley during the one-hour and 52 minute match.

1990 – Fourteen-year-old Jennifer Capriati becomes the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in tennis history, defeating Mary Joe Fernandez 6-2, 6-4 in the women’s quarterfinals at the French Open.

1993 – Steffi Graf wins her third French Open women’s singles title and her 12th career Grand Slam singles title, defeating Mary Joe Fernandez 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 in the French Open women’s singles final.

1994 – Sergi Bruguera wins his second straight French Open men’s singles title, defeating unseeded countryman Alberto Berasategui 6-3, 7-5, 2-6, 6-1 in the men’s singles final.

1999 – Twenty-nine-year-old Steffi Graf claims her 22nd – and final – major singles title, upending Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the women’s singles final at the French Open. Hingis served for the title leading 6-4, 5-4, but Graf, inspired by the French crowd chanting “STEF-FEE, STE-FEE” breaks Hingis and wins eight of the next 10 games. “It was my greatest victory,” said Graf. “I came here without belief – but the crowd lifted me. At 1-0 in the third I knew the momentum was with me. She got tight. Then at 3-0 I got tight and she almost caught me. It was the craziest match. ‘Quit worrying,’ I told myself. ‘Go for your shots.’ I did.”

2003 – Serena Williams is defeated by Belgium’s Justine Henin-Hardenne 6-2, 4-6, 7-5 in front of a raucously pro-Henin Hardenne crowd in the semifinals of the French Open, ending Williams’ 33-match Grand Slam winning streak. The match is highlighted by an incident in the third-set that would prove contentious and acrimonious between the two rivals for years to come. With Williams serving at 4-2, 30-0 in the final set, Henin-Hardenne raises her hand indicating she is not ready to return serve. Williams serves in the net, then protests, to no avail, to the chair umpire and tournament referee that she should be given a first serve, while Henin-Hardenne says nothing of her gesture. Williams then loses the next four points to lose her service-break advantage and eventually the match. Said Henin-Hardenne, “I wasn’t ready to play the point. The chair umpire is there to deal with these kind of situations. I just tried to stay focused on myself and tried to forget all the other things…It’s her point of view but that’s mine now and I feel comfortable with it….I didn’t have any discussion with the chair umpire. He didn’t ask me anything. I was just trying to focus on playing the returns. She saw me and she served. It was her decision to serve. I just tried to stay focused on the second serve. One point in the match doesn’t change the outcome.”

2005 – Nineteen-year-old Rafael Nadal of Spain fends off a charge from unseeded Mariano Puerta of Argentina to win his first major singles title at the French Open. Nadal wins the title and his 24th consecutive match with a 6-7 (6), 6-3, 6-1 7-5 decision over Puerta to become the fourth youngest men’s singles champion at Roland Garros. Nadal joins 1982 champion Mats Wilander as the only player to win Roland Garros in his debut.