The last Sunday, the last day. The one where the excitement of the men’s final is mixed with the heartache to see the tournament come to an end. You always feel a little feeling of emptiness when you leave the stadium on the evening of the final verdict. My first memory of the Roland-Garros final is the diamond in Victor Pecci’s ear, in 1979. But apart from that, nothing, I still don’t hear much in tennis and we have to wait until 1982 to transform interest in passion.
I have already had the opportunity to discuss this edition during the fortnight. The final took place on the day of the school fair. How to do ? It’s only a six or seven minute walk from the house to the party. It will be incessant round trips all afternoon to see the incredible slowness of the progress of the score and the mortal boredom caused by this generational confrontation.
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Mats Wilander, the 17-year-old Swedish kid, ended up beating his opponent, the experienced Argentinian Guillermo Vilas, after more than 4:40 of rallying from the baseline. Obviously, I could see the whole end because the fair was over a long time ago.
Mats Wilander and Guillermo Vilas at Roland-Garros 1982
Noah and Noah: the most memorable embrace
The following year, we do not yet know, is that of the last French Grand Slam coronation for boys. Thirty-eight years later, we are still waiting. And we don’t come close to it. Grandparents, parents, brothers and sisters, everyone is ready, massed in front of the small screen to witness the clear coronation of Yannick Noah’s offensive tennis against the same Wilander. The image of the Frenchman turning towards his family then that of his father running to fall into his arms remains engraved for anyone who has watched this meeting.
Yannick Noah at Roland-Garros in 1983.
Credit: Getty Images
1984. George Orwell used this exact year to write his famous science fiction novel. The final duel between the two main seeds, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl, is similar. Always with the family in front of the TV, the support is shared. My mom and I are behind the Czech, as everyone, including the commentators, seems to want a hit from the American. Unbeaten since the start of the season, the latter quietly leads two sets to nothing and seems to be heading towards his first Parisian coronation. Lendl, beaten in his four previous Grand Slam finals, then achieves the unthinkable: reverse the match and win 7/5 in the fifth in this historic final of permanent intensity.
His dazzling joy contrasts with the despair of his adversary. Never have I seen a player more dejected to have lost. Barely received the plateau of the vanquished, McEnroe, unable to bear it, descends the small staircase leading to the official stand and leaves the ongoing trophy ceremony, under the whistles of the crowd. He will never win in Paris. Lendl will lift the Musketeers Cup twice again.
The awkwardness of the future Masked Avenger
Suffering, that sums up Henri Leconte’s final in 1988. On the court first. He leads 5/4, serve to follow in the first set against the double winner Wilander, who is playing for the fifth time in seven years for the Porte d’Auteuil title. And there, nothing. The lights go off. He only scores three more games in a match that is no longer one. At bay after this huge miss, the one nicknamed Riton gets tangled up in his post-match remarks.
The awkward phrase – “Hope you understood my game“- earns him an uneasy bronca and it will take time for the Northerner to reestablish the link with the French public. Even today this day leaves me with a bitter taste. But the Masked Avenger has erased the affront in Lyon, three years later late.
I have much better memories of 1990 and the victory of the 30-year-old Ecuadorian Andres Gomez over the André Agassi peroxide, which I couldn’t stand at the time. Experience takes precedence over youth in this confrontation of neophytes in the final of a Major.
In my student years, it was the beautiful and long fight between Sergi Bruguera and Jim Courier in 1993 that marked me the most. Facing the two-time defending champion, the 22-year-old Spaniard achieves a superb feat and I remember one of the best levels of play produced in a Roland final. Here again, a striking and unforgettable image remains, that of the American passing the net to go and relieve his executioner, fallen backwards on his back after the last too long end of his rival. Certainly one of the very best finals of the last thirty years.
Late to see Agassi triumph … but Agassi was also late
In 1997, I have only been at Eurosport for a few days, still officially at journalism school. I made my very first freelance jobs and worked as a news officer on the victory day of the new Carioca king of Central, Gustavo Kuerten. The Brazilian dominates Bruguera who plays and loses his last final in Paris. I was not able to go there but I keep this very first accreditation preciously, now at the head of a nice collection.
The following will be experienced within the stadium itself. 1998, I have already mentioned it, in the small press gallery as close as possible to the court to savor the triumph of Carlos Moya. The following year I see myself arriving late at the stadium, I don’t know for what reason, out of breath on the Boulevard d’Auteuil, to finally experience in the cabin alongside the commentators a historic event: Agassi, finally winning after two first However nightmarish sets against Andrei Medvedev, now owns all the Grand Slam titles. He enters the very closed circle of the greatest.
Coria – Gaudio, the more unreal final
Just before the start of Nadal’s hegemony, which will be chronicled in 2022 (subjects must be put aside), the most epic finale of the modern era unfolded. The Philippe-Chatrier court is 100% Argentinian and the mano a mano between Guillermo Coria and Gaston Gaudio guaranteed 100% clay and 100% dingo. Two small templates with the touch of a magic ball. “El mago”, the magician, is also Coria’s nickname. Big favorite, the latter flies over 6/0 6/3 the first two races. Gaudio is nonexistent.
But little by little he finds his sublime one-handed backhand, delightfully fluid, capable of opening up impossible angles. The winning of the third set gives him hope while Coria, who no doubt saw herself already beautiful, accuses the blow and develops from the start of the fourth stress cramps. We fall into the unreal. The seed number 3 can hardly serve or run and takes a scathing 6/1.
But a good suspenseful film must offer several twists and in the final round, “El Mago”, also known for his cunning and a certain lack of fair play on the court, finds some colors and part of his legs . It even serves for the title at 5/4 and gets two opportunities to conclude that it spoils with unforced errors. Rendered hilarious and incredulous by the scenario, Gaudio, not seeded, breaks and ends up winning 8/6 at the end of a stunning and hair-raising spectacle. It was the good guy in the movie who won. And the villain is not about to recover …
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