One after another they came: Past, present and future members of the Top 10. Eventual Grand Slam champions. Winners of multiple Masters 1000 titles.
And one by one they fell, at the 1992 French Open, to the defending champion and world No. 1, Jim Courier.
The year before, the young American made his breakthrough, capturing his first Grand Slam title at the French Open with a five-set win over former academy roommate Andre Agassi in the final. He ended the Slam season with a runner-up finish at the U.S. Open, which propelled him to a year-end No. 2 finish in the rankings.
Courier’s 1992 campaign started off perfectly with a title at the Australian Open, his first tournament of the year. He reached the top spot in the rankings in February, but experienced a short title drought afterward. He broke out of that in Asia with two titles in a row on hard courts.
At the Italian Open, his first tournament of the year on clay, Courier’s winning ways continued as he ran his unbeaten streak to 16 matches entering the French Open.
Winning breeds confidence, and Courier would need it in spades, faced with one of the most daunting draws in Grand Slam history.
In the first round, Courier faced Nicklas Kroon of Sweden, who was ranked outside of the Top 200 at the time. Getting through that match without too much difficulty, Courier next faced one of the era's most rugged clay-court specialists, Thomas Muster. The Austrian was a French Open semifinalist in 1990 and the Monte Carlo champion in 1992.
Ranked No. 22, Muster was considered one of the most dangerous floaters in the draw. For the second tournament in a row, though, he was unable to solve the problem that Courier posed to him on clay. Like their Italian Open match, he again fell in straight sets.
Next up for Courier was the 1989 Monte Carlo and Rome champion, Alberto Mancini. The Argentine had reached the final of the tournament in Miami in '92, one of the biggest hard-court events on the calendar. Though it had been a few years since his last tournament win, the former world No. 8 was in solid form and promised to be another test for Courier.
It was one the American passed with ease. He won his third match in a row in straight sets, running his French Open streak to 11 matches in a row.
Kicking off the second week, Courier was in Slam-winning mode. His fourth-round opponent, though, was no stranger to success at Roland Garros.
Teenager Andrei Medvedev was the reigning French Open boys' champion, and had lived up to the hype surrounding his potential with a round-of-16 run in 1992. Medvedev notched wins against veterans Jakob Hlasek and Kevin Curren on his march through the tournament, but his run ended at Courier’s hands.
Looming in the quarterfinals was Courier's former junior rival, Goran Ivanisevic, the highest-ranked player he faced to that point. Though he'd demonstrated his Slam-winning potential on faster surfaces, the Croat was also a threat on clay. He surrendered the first two sets to Courier rather meekly, but in the third something unexpected happened: Ivanisevic won it, marking the first set Courier lost in the tournament. The two went toe to toe in the fourth before Courier took it 7-5 to wrap up the match.
Courier was through to his fourth career Grand Slam semifinal. He knew what it took to push through that barrier, having won his previous three matches at that stage. In the semis, though, he faced what could be considered his biggest challenge, Agassi. This had the potential to surpass their prior encounters, as it was a hungry and motivated Agassi that loomed across the net. Agassi went into a funk after his French Open final defeat in ’91—culminating in a first-round defeat at the U.S. Open—but he righted the ship in ’92 and had been storming through the French Open himself.
As great as he’d been playing over the course of the two weeks, Courier was performing at an even higher level, and he won his fifth match of the tournament in straight sets.
Waiting for Courier in the final was the seventh seed, Petr Korda, who took full advantage of the multiple upsets in the bottom half of the draw. In fact, Korda didn’t have to face a seeded player on his way to the championship match.
While the Czech’s reputation as one of the game’s premier shot-makers was well deserved, he was no match for Courier. After a closely contested first set, the defending champion breezed through the next two to clinch his third Grand Slam title and second in a row.
Courier delivered his victory speech in French, much to the delight of the crowd. It was nearly as impressive a feat as his title-winning run. The final six players that Courier beat at Roland Garros would have careers filled with memorable moments:
• Muster: In 1995, Muster won the French Open and would go on to reach No. 1 in the world.
• Mancini: As noted, Mancini won the two biggest tournaments on clay outside of the French Open in 1989. He also reached the final in Rome in 1991.
• Medvedev: After the French Open, the teenager won his next two tournaments. He’d get as high as No. 4 in the world and lost a memorable French Open final to Agassi in 1999.
• Ivanisevic: The biggest server in the game reached his first Grand Slam final just weeks after this French Open, at Wimbledon. In a heartbreaker, he lost the final in five sets to Agassi. After years of failing to win a major, despite reaching No. 2 in the world at one point, Ivanisevic finally captured one of the sport's biggest prizes in 2001. That year, he shockingly won Wimbledon as a wild card.
• Agassi: The American rebounded from his French Open loss with his first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. He’d go on to have one of the game’s finest careers, and eventually won his first French Open title in 1999 to complete the career Grand Slam.
• Korda: It wouldn’t be until near the end of the decade before Korda reached another Grand Slam final. He made that appearance count, though, winning the Australian Open in 1998 over Marcelo Rios.
Between them, the six won 32 Masters 1000 titles and 11 Grand Slams over the course of their careers. All of them spent significant time in the Top 10, as well.
Yet for all they achieved, they were nothing more than minor obstacles in Courier’s path to Grand Slam glory in one of the most impressive performances in French Open history.