There's nothing like Paris in the springtime, they say. As these 10 epics—the 10 most memorable French Open matches of the Open Era—show, there's also nothing quite as stirring or sensation as tennis in Paris at this time of year.
You only have to listen to the two men who played it to understand how high the stakes were for the 1984 men’s final at Roland Garros. Lendl has said that, looking at his French Open career in its entirety, which included three titles and a 53-12 record over 17 years, the only match he cares about now is his win over McEnroe in ’84. The same, unfortunately, can be said for Johnny Mac. No defeat over the course of his 15-year career would haunt the American as much as this one.
“It was the worst loss of my life,” McEnroe recalled. “Sometimes it still keeps me up at night.”
“To make a comparison to golf, I blew a 12-inch putt to win the Masters, and that’s hard to live with.”
For McEnroe, that disappointment begins with the fact that for two hours on that hot afternoon in Paris, he was playing the most masterful tennis of his life. At 25, he was at the peak of his considerable powers. He had started the 1984 season, his annus mirabilis, with 42 straight wins, and he would finish it 82-3, with titles at Wimbledon and the US Open. But perhaps the most telling measure of his excellence that season was how unbeatable he was on clay.
In his four previous trips to the French Open, McEnroe had failed to make it past the quarterfinals. No male player from the U.S. had won the title there since 1955, and, despite his obvious gifts, McEnroe seemed to be one more American attacker who didn’t have the patience for dirt. But in ’84, he was so superior to the rest of the men’s field that it didn’t matter what style he used; in his first six matches in Paris, he dropped one set. In the semifinals, he cruised past his longtime rival Jimmy Connors in straights.
After an hour of the final, it looked like he would do the same to Lendl. McEnroe arrived to loud cheers from the audience, and after serving-and-volleying his way to a two-set lead, he was trading knowing smiles with his friends in the stands—his doubles partner Peter Fleming had the champagne on ice. McEnroe had won his previous five matches over Lendl, a run that included two lopsided victories on clay that spring. The 24-year-old Czech was 0-4 in Grand Slam finals, and he looked to be well on his way to folding for a fifth straight time.
WATCH—Stories of the Open Era: 1968 French Open