The beloved 'Bullring' at Roland Garros will say goodbye at the conclusion of this year's tournament. Here are five memorable moments Court 1 has provided over the past 39 years at the French Open.
1993: Fernandez's giant comeback against Sabatini
Mary Joe Fernandez was down and out to Gabriela Sabatini. The Argentine led 6-1, 5-1 and looked well on her way to making the semifinals with ease. Match point was reached, and then from seemingly nowhere, consecutive double faults from Sabatini began an unexpected change in tide. Fernandez would save four more match points before squaring the clash at one-set all. The American struggled to close in a gripping decider, but five proved to be her lucky number that day. On her fifth opportunity to claim victory, the fifth seed stepped into a short reply from Sabatini to rip a backhand down the line to complete the improbable comeback, 1-6, 7-6 (4), 10-8.
"I kept fighting and going for bigger shots. I figured I should just hit it as hard as I could and see what would happen,” Fernandez said afterwards. “Physically I was fine, but mentally I was getting a little tired. But she got a little tentative and could not put away the match. If she had put on a little more pressure, she might have won."
1997: Kuerten announces himself against Muster
The champion two years earlier, Thomas Muster came into the 1997 French Open as a viable contender, seeded No. 5 and holding 40 clay-court titles to his name. That was until Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten made his big splash. Ranked No. 66 and yet to win an ATP title, Kuerten was 2-5 in tour matches that spring on the dirt. A return to his home country to play the Curitiba Challenger would prove momentous. Kuerten won that event and came to Paris a new man. Kuerten stabbed a backhand volley lob, which Muster pushed long, and the 20-year-old wrapped up the then-upset, 6-7 (3), 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4. Kuerten later became the first player to win Challenger and Grand Slam trophies in succession.
“I was losing 3-0 in the fifth set. Muster was killing me,” Kuerten reflected in 2015 press conference at Roland Garros. “One side to the other, I was like this already, No, I'm done, I'm done. [My older brother] said, Guga, you're not like this, man. Come on. You always fight. You never give up. My brother is very calming, and he suddenly was screaming at me. I said, Okay, okay. My older brother. I have to listen to him.”
2004: Safin drops Mantilla and trou
Marat Safin is a charming, charismatic character who always brought an element of surprise to the court. That was taken to another level in his third-round match with Felix Mantilla at the 2004 French Open. With Mantilla serving at 3-4, 0-15 in the fifth set, the two engaged in an enthralling rally. Mantilla twice found answers to Safin’s smashes and appeared to be in a winning position at net. His forehand volley sat up just enough for Safin to slide and drop it like it’s hot—twice. The Russian carved a beautifully angled forehand dropper to win the point and proceeded to yank his shorts down in celebration. Though he was penalized a point, Safin prevailed the next day when play resumed, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-7 (4), 11-9.
“I felt it was a great point for me. I felt like pulling my pants down. What's bad about it?,” Safin asked afterwards.
2005: Rafa debuts at Roland Garros
For fans who had a seat in the Bullring on May 23, 2005, history was on their side. An 18-year-old prodigy named Rafael Nadal made his tournament debut that day, the only time the future 11-time champion would grace the intimate arena. Spectators enjoyed a prime view of the tenacious teen as he faced Lars Burgsmuller. Decked out in a green sleeveless shirt and capri pants to coordinate with his white headband, Nadal generated plenty of buzz coming into Roland Garros by lifting crowns in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome. Against Burgsmuller, he got off to a roaring start and officially launched his dominance at the Paris major by dismissing the German, 6-1, 7-6 (4), 6-1.
“It was not the best match I have ever played. Of course, when you play a Grand Slam, you are under more stress,” Nadal said following his debut. “I am told at press conferences that I am favorite and that bothers me sometimes, because I tend to believe it and it puts pressure on me. It’s better to play when you’re not under pressure.”
2015: Schiavone and Sveta go deep again
Two former champions with two massive hearts collided in a breathtaking second-round encounter in 2015. Svetlana Kuznetsova, the 2009 champion, and Francesca Schiavone, the 2010 titlist, had met nine years earlier in the round of 16 at Roland Garros, when Kuznetsova won in three sets. But their most recent major clash at the 2011 Australian Open, which Schiavone took 16-14 in the third, had fans hoping this latest battle would match the drama of the longest women’s major match in the Open Era. It most certainly did. Kuznetsova opened early leads in the second and third sets and served for the match four times, getting to match point once at 6-5. The Italian unleashed a winning flat backhand up the line to stay alive and refused to wilt under pressure. Schiavone once again came out on top, 6-7 (11), 7-5, 10-8, in three hours and 49 minutes.
“It was great for me. She is amazing, and every time I play against her I say, Oh, my God, now what can happen?” said Schiavone. “And it's a long match [happened] again… I don't care how many minutes of time I have to stay on the court, I care about what I do. I put the goal that I have to give everything inside the court.”