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Epic matches and major upsets at Roland Garros

Epic matches and major upsets highlight the May 31 landscape at Roland Garros through the years. The following excerpt from the book ON THIS DAY IN TENNIS HISTORY summarizes the excitement.

1983 – Twenty-five-year French journeyman Christophe Roger-Vasselin, ranked No. 130 in the world, registers one of the biggest upsets in the history of the French Open, upsetting No. 1 seed Jimmy Connors 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros. Roger-Vasselin’s countryman No. 6-seeded Yannick Noah, accounts for the second big upset on the day, defeating No. 3 seed Ivan Lendl by a 7-6, 6-2, 5-7, 6-0 margin.

1994 – Jim Courier defeats Pete Sampras 6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinals of the French Open, ending Sampras’ hopes of winning a fourth consecutive major tournament title. Sampras, falls short in his attempt to join Don Budge and Rod Laver – both of whom won Grand Slams – as the only men to win four straight major titles. Sampras, the 1993 Wimbledon and U.S.¬† Open champion and the 1994 Australian Open champion, sees his major tournament winning streak end at 26 matches. Says Sampras, “”I’m kind of down and disappointed. To win four in a row would have been something that would have been written about for years.” Says Courier after his first win over Sampras in 18 months, “I was in a lot more rallies and I was able to be the dictator rather than being the person dictated to…It has been a long time since I have won a big match in a big tournament like this against a top player.”

1989 – Thirty-six-year-old Jimmy Connors plays one of the longest four-set matches in the history of the sport, falling to fellow American Jay Berger 4-6, 6-3, 7-5, 7-5 in 4 hours, 26 minutes in the second round of the French Open. Berger is not surprised that the French crowd is so firmly rooting for the five-time US Open champion. “Hey, if I was in the stands, I would have cheered Jimmy Connors, too,” he says. Says Connors after the match, “For me to go out and grind out a match like that. It’s fun. To play a kid like that, 14 years younger – I could have played a fifth set. My mouthpiece wasn’t knocked out.”

1974 – Reigning Australian Open champions Jimmy Connors and Evonne Goolagong lose in French appeals court in an attempt to gain entry into the French Open. Both stars are denied entry into the tournament due to their involvement with World Team Tennis. French judge Jean Regnault denies the appeal stating that there was no “emergency” and that both players earned substantial incomes from tennis – with or without playing the French Championships. The decision costs Connors a serious opportunity to become only the third man to win the Grand Slam as he decisively wins Wimbledon and the U.S. Open later in the year. Says Connors of Parisien court experience, “I’m in the wrong court. I should be on clay.”

1998 – Alex Corretja completes a 6-1, 5-7, 6-7, 7-5, 9-7 third round victory over Hernan Gumy of Argentina at the French Open in a match that lasts 5 hours, 31 minutes, the longest match in major tournament history at the time. The match was five minutes longer than Stefan Edberg’s semifinal victory against Michael Chang at the 1992 US Open, but it is eclipsed in 2004 when Fabrice Santoro and Arnaud Clement play a two-day 6 hour, 33 minute match in the first round of the French Open.

1996 – Pete Sampras outlasts fellow American Todd Martin 3-6, 6-4, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 in 3 hours, 21 minutes in the third round of the French Open. Sampras serves 19 aces to Martin’s 29, believed to be the highest number in one match at the French Open.

2000 – Dominique Van Roost of Belgium celebrates her 27th birthday with a 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 win over No. 2 seed Lindsay Davenport in the first round of the French Open.

2001 – Pete Sampras is foiled again at the French Open, falling in the second round at the world’s premier clay court championship to Spain’s Galo Blanco 7-6 (4), 6-3, 6-2. “If I go through my career not winning the French, sure, it’s disappointing,” Sampras says. “But it’s not going to take away from my place in the game, what I’ve been able to do over the years. I mean, there’s still time. There’s no reason to think this is it. I mean, I’ve got plenty of years left.” ¬†Sampras plays at Roland Garros for only one more year in 2002, losing in the first round to Andrea Gaudenzi. He plays his final match in winning in the 2002 U.S. Open and retires having only reached one French Open semifinal in 1996.

2003 – In a 4 hour, 38-minute epic, defending champion Albert Costa of Spain defeats Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 in the third round of the French Open for his third five-set victory in a row at Roland Garros. Lapentti leads two-sets-to-love and 4-1 in the third set before Costa begins his comeback charge. ”I’m feeling so proud of myself because I’m not playing my best tennis, but I’m still fighting all the time,” Costa says. No. 1 seed Lleyton Hewitt is dismissed in the third round by Spaniard Tommy Robredo by a 4-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 margin. “”This was the match of my life,” Robredo says after his victory “To be two sets down and 0-3 down in the fifth and to have this crowd chanting my name in Paris against a guy like Hewitt, it’s close to perfection.”

1995 – Pete Sampras is sunk in the first round of the French Open, losing a darkness-suspended match Austria’s Gilbert Schaller 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4 in 4 hours, 2 minutes. The match resumes with Sampras leading 3-1 in the third set, but his serve is immediate broken in the first game of the resumption, setting the tone for the rest of the afternoon. “I think this loss is probably going to sit with me for quite a while,” says Sampras to reporters after the match. “I could talk about turning points, but we would be here all day.”

1980 – John McEnroe was hit with a $1,250 fine for his ungraceful exit in his third round French Open loss to Peter McNamara of Australia, in which he made an insulting remark to the umpire and an obscene gesture to the crowd.