French Open, Paris
May 24-June 6, 2004; 128 Draw (32 seeds); Surface – Clay
The last Roland Garros before Rafael Nadal’s debut in Paris (and his incredible domination) was absolutely exceptional, abounding with unprecedented occurrences: Jerome Heahnel, who never played a tour level match before, ousted Andre Agassi in straight sets producing one of the biggest upsets in the history of men’s tennis, defending champion (Juan Carlos Ferrero) lost in straight sets as well, to a player, who hadn’t won a Grand Slam match before RG ’04 (Igor Andreev), Fabrice Santoro won the longest match in the French Open history, Vincent Spadea equaled a record for the most match points saved in a Grand Slam event, Marat Safin won two consecutive matches withstanding match points on return, Roger Federer for the last time in nine years (!) lost a major match before quarterfinals, Tim Henman became the first Englishman in 41 years to reach the semifinals at Roland Garros and the first serve-and-volleyer since 1997, Xavier Malisse & Olivier Rochus became the first Grand Slam doubles champions not having won a doubles title before, finally Gaston Gaudio, who hadn’t progressed beyond fourth round of a major prior to the French Open 2004, became the last unseeded Grand Slam champion thus far, winning the Grand Slam final from a match point down as the first player since the Australian Open final in 1960!
First round: (AP, Jim Haley)
Top men’s seed Roger Federer strode confidently into the second round of the French Open tennis yesterday. Federer, 22, ended his Roland Garros jinx by beating Belgian newcomer Kristof Vliegen 6-1, 6-2, 6-1 on his third match point after 1 hour 16 minutes on Court Suzanne Lenglen. The Wimbledon and Australian Open champion, hoping to complete a Grand Slam of titles this year, was never bothered by the 110th-ranked Belgian, who only reached the main draw as a lucky loser after being beaten in the final round of qualifying. The world number one needed just 20 minutes to wrap up the first set with Vliegen putting up the only real opposition in the final game when he saved two match points before Federer wrapped up the tie with a forehand winner. The Swiss, widely considered the finest player of the current generation, has suffered first round defeats on the slow, red clay of Roland Garros in the last two years. Bidding to better his previous best, a quarter-final appearance in 2001, Federer next meets Germany’s Nicolas Kiefer whom he trails 2-3 in their previous meetings but whom he has never played on clay. Kiefer advanced by beating Frenchman Thierry Ascione 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Last year’s surprise runner-up Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands, seeded 19, won his opening match 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 against France’s Julien Boutter. Gustavo Kuerten  left his opponent in tears. The three-time French Open champion struggled through his first-round match Tuesday against qualifier Nicolas Almagro of Spain, winning 7-5, 7-6(2), 1-6, 3-6, 7-5. The 18-year-old Almagro , playing his first major match, erased a break point trailing 1:4, and served at 5:4 (30/15) in the 5th set! After the match, Almagro sat in his chair, threw his towel over his head and wept, his bottom lip trembling. A relieved Kuerten smiled and signed tennis balls for his adoring fans. “The crowd helped me a lot in the fifth set,” Kuerten said. “The match was getting tight and I needed their enthusiasm at that stage. They gave me a lift.” A former world No. 1, the Brazilian, seeded 28th, was one of six Grand Slam tournament winners on court Tuesday. The others were defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero, Lleyton Hewitt, Federer, Albert Costa and Marat Safin. Ferrero overcame a dropped first set and bruised ribs to beat Germany’s Tommy Haas 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. The fourth-seeded Ferrero said he took an injection to numb the pain. “I took (painkillers) just half an hour before the match to put my ribs to sleep, but then it started to wake up again,” Ferrero said. Meanwhile, Hewitt, Safin and Costa also won their opening matches. Hewitt, seeded 12th, defeated Arnaud Di Pasquale of France 6-0, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-1. Russia’s Safin, seeded 20th, advanced when Agustin Calleri of Argentina quit while behind 7-5, 1-6, 1-4. Costa, the 26th seed from Spain, beat Flavio Saretta of Brazil 6-2, 6-2, 6-7(2), 6-4. The atmosphere in the Kuerten-Almagro match was so noisy and rowdy at times it resembled a soccer stadium. “I get a lot of good vibes when I come to Paris every year,” said Kuerten, a big soccer fan nicknamed “Guga.” “They like the way I play and I try and give the same feeling back to the crowd.” Kuerten won his most recent French Open title in 2001, with previous wins in 1997 and 2000. But since right hip surgery in February 2002, he has not gotten past the fourth round at Roland Garros – or in any other Grand Slam event. His best big tournament since then was a runner-up finish at the Indian Wells Masters, where he lost to Hewitt in straight sets. A recurrence of the injury saw him pull out of the Rome Masters earlier this month. He also sat out Hamburg, although he did win on home clay at Costa Do Sauipe – his lone title this year. “I still have a lot of problem with my physical condition,” he said. “But coming here and playing five sets straight away is satisfying. It will take me a while to get back to 100 percent.” Fabrice Santoro rolled in the red clay at Roland Garros, then wept after defeating fellow Frenchman Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(5), 3-6, 16-14 on Tuesday at the French Open. The 6-hour, 33-minute match – played over two days – is the longest in tennis’ Open era, which began in 1968. Moments later, Santoro sat on his chair and threw a towel over his head, “I only took 1 liter of water out with me today,” Santoro said (the match was suspended due to darkness at 5-all in the decider). “I told myself we’d play maybe 10 or 15 minutes. I didn’t think I had another two hours in my legs.” The match beat the previous mark held by John McEnroe and Mats Wilander. They battled for 6:22 in a Davis Cup quarterfinal between the United States and Sweden in 1982. McEnroe won the 79-game slugfest 9-7, 6-2, 15-17, 3-6, 8-6. “I don’t care (about the record). What do I get? A medal?” Clement said after his fourth first-round exit at Roland Garros in eight attempts. “There may be an even longer match tomorrow,” he said. “I don’t play tennis to spend as much time possible on court.” Santoro saved two match points – one on each day. The first came when serving at 4:5 in the 5th set (earlier 0:3) late Monday evening. Then, facing a break point while trailing 14:13 Tuesday, Santoro frustrated Clement into a mistake – his opponent hurrying a winner into the net after a long rally marked by looping shots that bounced on the red dust like beach balls. “I came very close to defeat, it’s a miracle,” Santoro said. “I tried to stay relaxed on the important points and if it looked that way, then I did a good job because I was very tense.” Santoro broke Clement to love to go up 15:14 but then trailed 0/40 when serving. With three break points to pull even, Clement froze: two routine passing shots hit the net, a miscued lob sailed over Santoro and out. “Depechez vous! (Hurry up!)” a voice cried from the crowd on Suzanne Lenglen Court. No one laughed – especially not Santoro, who momentarily lost his concentration and had to steady himself again. He smacked his 22nd ace of the match to set up victory, sealed by a passing shot while stretching at full speed. “I decided I had to take a risk,” Santoro said, referring to his winner. The match lasted 463 points. Santoro won 235, including the last one on a backhand winner. After playing for 4:38 Monday, the match lasted 1:55 on Tuesday. There was no poignant moment at the finish despite the valiant duel. No slap on the back at the net, no warm smile, no disbelieving shake of the head. Simply a polite handshake like strangers meeting for the first time. “We could have fallen into each others arms, but we didn’t,” Santoro said. “Frankly, it could have been a longer handshake. But put yourself in Arnaud’s shoes. He’s bitterly disappointed.” The longest prior match at a Grand Slam was in 1998 when Spain’s Alex Corretja took 5:31 to defeat Argentina’s Hernan Gumy at Roland Garros. Santoro could have won the match in straight sets, but blew a 5:3 lead in the tie-break. In other 5-set thriller featuring just one French player: Vincent Spadea equaled the biggest number of match points saved in a Grand Slam match (9) overcoming Florent Serra 7-5, 1-6, 4-6, 7-6(7), 9-7 in 4 hours 32 minutes. This was a match in which Spadea was outplayed for three hours or more and when he had to constantly organize comebacks. He looked like a loser in the 4th set when he called the trainer to court to tend to a hamstring injury. And then he went down *0:4 and 1:5 in the fifth set. He faced his first match point at 6:7 in the tie-break. Then, serving at 3:5 in the final set, he saved a second at 30/40 and two more in the same game. The final five match points came in the next game when Spadea  went down 0/40 on return and Serra  had two ads. Twice in that game, on match point, Serra double-faulted. He was so distraught afterward that players said he was crying uncontrollably in the locker room. “I just played aggressively at 1:5 to get back into the match and he got a little bit tight,” Spadea said. It was Serra’s Grand Slam debut! Nine match points saved also Christophe Roger-Vasselin defeating Marcos Hocevar 6-7, 3-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-0 in the French Open first round in 1982. World number 271 Jerome Haehnel produced the shock result of the year by beating Andre Agassi in the French Open first round. Frenchman Haehnel beat the sixth seed 6-4, 7-6(4), 6-3 to delight the home crowds at Roland Garros. Haehnel, 23, had never played a tour level match before this victory. Agassi, who has won every Grand Slam in a superb career, had played just one warm-up event in the build-up to Paris, again suffering defeat to an outsider. His loss will lead to increased speculation that the 34-year-old will retire at the end of the season. Asked if he would return to Roland Garros, the eight-times Grand Slam champion replied: “Hard to say. You want to come back, but you just don’t know. I don’t know. It’s a year away, and that’s a long time for me right now. The chances get less every year, that’s for sure.” Haehnel admitted to battling nerves as he closed out his famous victory. “I was very nervous,” he said: “I tried to keep the ball in and take my time because the courts were very fast.” British ninth seed Tim Henman made an unimpressive start to his French Open campaign when he beat Frenchman Cyril Saulnier 4-6, 4-6, 7-6(2), 6-4, 6-3. Henman, who has never been beyond the third round on the slow Roland Garros clay, was in dire straits after handing his 79th-ranked opponent the first two sets with a stream of unforced errors. Henman recovered to snatch the third set on a tie-break and gradually Saulnier, who has never won a match at Roland Garros, wilted in the Parisian sunshine. Henman levelled the match and dominated the fifth set, sealing victory in 3 hours 48 minutes when Saulnier double-faulted.