The 10 greatest French Open finals in Open era history

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Ivan Lendl defeated John McEnroe, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5, in the 1984 French Open final. (AP)

Since the dawn of the Open era in 1968, the French Open—the only Grand Slam tournament played on clay throughout its history—has been the site of championship matches that have left a lasting footnote in the sport. Displays of dominance, breakthrough performances and career-defining moments have all been part of the experience over the decades as players vie to lift Les Coupes des Mousquetaires or Les Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen at the conclusion of the fortnight. 

As the half-century mark of Open tennis approaches, here’s a look at the 10 best finals at Roland Garros over that time.

10. 2008: Rafael Nadal def. Roger Federer, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0

There have been marches through tournament draws by eventual champions that speak volumes about their dominance. Nadal’s complete and utter dismantling of the field in 2008 can be added to that list. In the final he thrashed Federer, only losing four games as he captured his fourth French Open in a row. It might be the most masterful performance in the Spaniard’s career—the perfect topper to a tournament in which he did not drop a set.

9. 1974: Bjorn Borg def. Manuel Orantes, 2-6, 6-7 (1), 6-0, 6-1, 6-1

Borg, of Sweden, was destined for Grand Slam greatness at some point. But who thought it would happen when he was still in his teens. The Swede, who would go on to be known for his steely demeanor on the court, displayed that trait in his first French Open final. Playing against the veteran Orantes of Spain, the 18-year-old dropped the first two sets of the final. Over the course of the next three it was a completely different story. Borg only lost two more games, showing a maturity beyond his years to win the first of his six career French Open titles. At the time of this victory, he was the youngest man to ever win a Grand Slam.

8. 1986: Chris Evert def. Martina Navratilova, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3

For the third consecutive year, two of the greatest players of all time faced off in the final of the French Open. Navratilova defeated Evert in 1984 quite convincingly, while Evert won a three-set thriller in ’85. In the rubber match, Navratilova started off strong and stormed through the first set. Playing with her trademark consistency and grit, Evert won the next two sets to clinch her seventh career French Open and 18th Grand Slam singles title, her final one.

7. 1989: Michael Chang def. Stefan Edberg, 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2

At some point, surely, Chang’s miraculous run at the 1989 French Open would end. Few would have guessed that run would end with the title in hand. Chang, the 15th seed who had defeated world No. 1 Ivan Lendl in five sets in the fourth round, won the first set of the final quite handily against Edberg. The three-time major champion took the next two and appeared poised to capture his first French Open title. However, Chang was able to stop the onslaught and became the first American male in more than 30 years to win Roland Garros.

6. 1989: Arantxa Sanchez Vicario def. Steffi Graf, 7-6 (6), 3-6, 7-5

With her victory in the semifinals of the 1989 French Open, world No. 1 Graf had won her 41st Grand Slam singles match in a row dating back to her Grand Slam-winning campaign in ’88. There would not be a 42nd consecutive win. No. 7 seed Sanchez Vicario, playing in her first major final, took the first set in a tiebreak and then dropped the second. Surely the pressure of the situation would come into play and Graf would prevail. That wasn’t the case, as the young Spaniard took the final frame, 7-5, to win her maiden Grand Slam title.

5.  1983: Yannick Noah def. Mats Wilander, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (3)

France had waited decades to see one of its own win the French Open, and Noah—a two-time quarterfinalist—represented the country’s best chance. The No. 6 seed reached the final with the loss of only one set and faced the No. 5 seed, defending champion Wilander, in the title match. Noah raced through the first set and prevailed through some crucial moments in the next two to become a national icon.

4. 1987: Steffi Graf def. Martina Navratilova, 6-4, 4-6, 8-6

The years-long stranglehold of Evert and Navratilova on the women’s tour couldn’t last forever. Leading the charge for the next generation was Graf of Germany, who had been charging up the rankings since she turned pro. Graf entered the 1987 French Open undefeated on the year. The No. 2 seed only lost one set—to her peer, Gabriela Sabatini—on her way to the final. In the championship match, she faced top-seeded Navratilova. The two split the first two sets, and in the third the more experienced Navratilova eventually served for the title at 5-4. She was broken in that game, and again at 6-7, giving Graf the title.  

3. 2001: Jennifer Capriati def. Kim Clijsters, 1-6, 6-4, 12-10

Surprising the tennis world, former teen prodigy Capriati won the 2001 Australian Open earlier that year. Even though she entered the French Open that year as the No. 4 seed, few would have predicted a second major title in a row for the American. Clijsters, playing in her first Grand Slam final, did her best to make sure that wasn’t going to happen. The Belgian raced through the first set, 6-1. Capriati leveled the match by taking the second, setting the stage for the longest final set—in terms of games—in a women’s title match at the French. Multiple times, Clijsters was only a couple of points away from winning. Capriati prevailed at the end for her second straight major title. 

2. 1999: Andre Agassi def. Andrei Medvedev, 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4

If there was one player that had known disappointment at the French Open in the past, it was Agassi. The young American—a heavy favorite in his first two appearances in the title match—had fallen short on both occasions. In ’99, he was once again the favorite against a resurgent Medvedev. The Ukrainian could do no wrong early on as he romped through the first two sets. Medvedev had his chances to put himself in good position to take it in straights, but Agassi started playing more aggressively to come from behind and snag the title. With it came the career Grand Slam, making Agassi only the fifth male in history at that point to have won all four championships.

1. 1984: Ivan Lendl def. John McEnroe, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5

John McEnroe was at the height of his powers in 1984. By the time he reached his first French Open final, he had yet to suffer a loss that year. He romped through the first two sets against Lendl, one of his biggest rivals who had yet to win a Grand Slam title. McEnroe dropped the third set, but went up a break in the fourth to lead it 4-2. Lendl rallied to take the fourth and then clinched the title, 7-5, in the fifth set.


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