Week 22-23 (French Open)


First and foremost, Rafael Nadal, the 14-time French Open champion (played each year since 2005), pulled out of the event, and on the day of his 37th birthday, he underwent surgery on his hip (psoas muscle). Other players who were potential seeds but withdrew include Pablo Carreño Busta, Marin Čilić, Matteo Berrettini, and Nick Kyrgios – all former major semifinalists at least. Nadal’s absence created a great opportunity for Novak Đoković, who had previously lost to Nadal eight times in Paris, always from the quarterfinals onwards.
When the draw was made, it seemed that Carlos Alcaraz would be the only player capable of defeating the 36-year-old Serb. They met in the semifinals, co-creating a fascinating contest for more than two hours. However, spasms attacked Alcaraz’s entire body at the beginning of set 3, and for the rest of the match, he was a shadow of himself. The young Spaniard has an impressive record this year (35-4), but three of his four defeats came as a result of cramps, which must be a cause for concern for him, his team, and his fans.
The first few days of the tournament brought two surprises as players who were anticipated to be potential semifinalists lost five-set matches to much lower-ranked opponents. Daniil Medvedev was defeated by Thiago Seyboth Wild [172, qualifier] on Chatrier, and Jannik Sinner wasted two match points in the fourth set (one after a net-cord) in a 5-hour 26-minute thriller against Daniel Altmeier [79] on Lenglen. This match became the fifth-longest in the tournament’s history. In another exciting five-setter of the first week, Andrea Vavassori prevailed against Miomir Kecmanović, winning sets 3-5 in tie-breaks. This has only happened once before at Grand Slams, in 1983. Additionally, Vavassori’s ability to fight off match points in sets 3 and 5 is a unique achievement, which has been seen only a few times before in the Open Era.
Juan Pablo Varillas [94] became the fifth man in the tournament’s modern history to win the opening three rounds after five-set matches. In the third round, he ousted another marathon man, Hubert Hurkacz, the only Pole in the Top 100, who has played five-setters in his last six major encounters! Đoković didn’t impress in the first week, but he finally found his best form in a tie-break of the quarterfinals, facing a scare of being down two sets. From that moment onwards, he played great tennis, especially considering his age of 36. The legendary John McEnroe even stated that Đoković at 36 is better than ever. The Serb has now won 23 major titles. With Roger Federer‘s retirement (20 major titles) and Nadal’s serious injury (22 major titles), it marks a defining moment in tennis history. It is highly unlikely that either of Đoković’s two biggest rivals would add another major title to their resume, particularly in Federer’s case. This effectively settles the dispute regarding who is the greatest male player of all time, often referred to as the ‘GOAT’… The beaten finalist, Casper Ruud, reminds me of Sergi Bruguera, the double champion at Roland Garros thirty years ago. Ruud’s game style is based on patience, physical capacity, and penetrating forehand topspins. The significant difference between Ruud and Bruguera lies in the quality of their final opponents in Paris. Ruud, in back-to-back finals, faced arguably the two greatest players in history and the best two on clay too. Karen Khachanov, one of the most solid players at majors lately (two hardcourt semifinals & a claycourt quarterfinal), comes back to the Top 10 after 3.5 years which marks three Russians in the Top 10 for the first time in history… The weather was beautiful throughout the fortnight in Paris, with the main arena remaining uncovered for the entire duration.


There were a few heroes of the event, some of them short-lived. The first one was the unknown Stéphane Huet [297, qualifier]. The 22-year-old Frenchman, without a win at the main level, stunned Ivan Lendl, who had been undefeated in the first round at Roland Garros since 1978! However, Huet was eliminated in his next match by a qualifier, Fernando Meligeni [167], who hadn’t won a major match before. Nevertheless, the Brazilian advanced to the fourth round, marking a breakthrough event for him. He enjoyed a successful career afterward, with a notable highlight in Paris six years later when he reached the semifinal.
Similarly to Huet, other French lefty Rodolphe Gilbert [92], played the match of his life, upsetting Boris Becker in straight sets in the second round. Despite these two moments of joy, it was a disappointing event for the French players. Gilbert, the only Frenchman to reach the third round, represented the worst French Open performance for the hosts since 1978.
From the beginning of the tournament, the vast majority of spectators expected a final meeting between the double champion Jim Courier and the almost 19-year-old Andrei Medvedev. The Ukrainian confirmed expectations, especially in the first set of the quarterfinal, as he demolished Stefan Edberg in just 16 (!) minutes. When things became more complicated, Medvedev displayed his hidden weapon – the offensive lob; in sets 3 and 4, he played 14 lobs, gaining 11 points. However, he was shocked in the semifinal by Sergi Bruguera, whom he had previously defeated twice on clay in events leading up to Paris. Bruguera, en route to the final, won as many as five sets 6-0 and also five sets 6-1! He caught amazing form after the opening set of the event when he had to save four set points on return.
In the top half of the draw, Courier actually dominated as predicted, although his form didn’t excite as a year before. In the third round and quarterfinal, he was involved in tight four-setters (winning 7-5 in the fourth set in both cases) against players he was expected to beat easily 3-0. The semifinal meant another tight four-setter, this time against serve-and-volleyer Richard Krajicek, who had prevailed in three consecutive five-setters. Krajicek’s 4R win on Centre Court, 10-8 in the fifth set against Carlos Costa, was particularly impressive as the Dutchman was trailing 5:6 (15/30) on return in the decider. It was only one of two matches that edition which lasted more than four hours (4:12h… yes, matches in the 90s were much shorter than the current ones, the 20-second rule contributed).
In spite of troubles, Courier was still the favorite to secure his third consecutive title in Paris, having defeated Bruguera in their previous four meetings without dropping a set. However, Bruguera’s easier path to the final proved to be crucial. The Spaniard came back from a 0:2 deficit in the final set to win in 4 hours. The following year, they would meet again on the same court in the semifinal, with Bruguera leaving it as the victor once more.
Bruguera might be called “the most boring king of clay”, his reign featured the years 1993-94, even though, apart from claiming the two most important titles on that surface, he only won one out of six possible Masters 1K titles at the time. What was Bruguera’s clay-court phenomenon? He primarily played high-percentage tennis. He aimed for a high first-serve percentage (~60%), often just blocking opponent’s fast serves with a forehand slice to engage in gruelling rallies as often as possible. He tried to cover around 70% of the ground-strokes with his heavy topspin forehands, played from the open stance (not common practice at the time), usually operating 2-3 meters behind the baseline. His backhand was a shot to keep the ball in play in general, but similarly to the triple French Open champion, Mats Wilander, he possessed acute backhand passing-shots, especially down the line which was still important in the 90s when many players were attacking the net on a constant basis (Bruguera faced two players of this type during each of his ’93 & ’94 routes to the Parisian titles).
In the quarterfinal of the junior event, 18-year-old Albert Costa, the ultimate runner-up, defeated one year younger Gustavo Kuerten 2-6, 6-3, 6-3. They both would win the main Parisian title in the future: Costa in 2002, Kuerten in the years 1997, 2000-01.


Excellent draw at Queen’s Club (the first grass-court event of the season), perhaps the best in the tournament’s history, with five past or future Wimbledon champions. The main favorite, Pete Sampras, was stunned in his opening match by Grant Stafford [110], despite being two games away from finishing it 2-0 or 2-1. “I just felt tired and a bit weak,” said Sampras. “I’ve been in Europe for five weeks now and I’m tired of it.” (he played on clay for four successive weeks). That match would remain the best victory in the career of 22-year-old Stafford. He stated: “I felt good today. I’m surprised ranking-wise, but I served and returned well, and it all came together nicely.” Stafford’s peer, Jamie Morgan [83], played the tournament of his life but experienced how perverse tennis can be: the Australian won three dramatic matches in succession (in the quarterfinal, he saved two match points against Stefan Edberg), but one point separated him from winning a fourth in a row; Morgan had four match points before losing to the eventual champion Michael Stich 7-5, 4-6, 6-8 (Queen’s Club was the only ATP event in the 90s played without a tie-break at 6-all in the 3rd set – it changed in 1996). In the 57-minute final, Stich already led 5:1* in the 2nd set against his doubles partner that week (Stich & Wayne Ferreira as a pair lost in the quarterfinals). The event marked the best comeback of the season: in the third-round meeting of Anglo-Saxon players who were competing to achieve their career-best result, US David Witt [191, qualifier] defeated UK Chris Wilkinson [176, wild card] 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, trailing 1:5 in the 2nd set!
The other grass-court event that week, which had a much more modest lineup, took place in the Netherlands and gave the first title to Arnaud Boetsch [29], the 24-year-old Frenchman whose last five sets finished with a ‘6-3’ score. Wally Masur made a season record in terms of saving set points as he ousted the local favorite Richard Krajicek 6-3, 7-6(14) – facing nine set points, and what’s pretty remarkable, there were no mini-breaks until the penultimate point of the marathon 30-point tie-break. Masur would avenge defeat to Boetsch in the Wimbledon third round a few weeks later after a dramatic five-setter.
Two 21-year-old qualifiers enjoyed an interesting event in central Italy: Filip Dewulf [145] and Jordi Burillo [107]. Dewulf won his two opening rounds 7-6 in 3rd sets before losing to the eventual champion Thomas Muster, whom Dewulf would sensationally defeat two years later in the Vienna final. Burillo, for the second time in 1993, advanced to the final as a qualifier. He seemed to be a promising player for the rest of the 90s, but the year 1993 remained his best one. In 1995, he would play his third and last ATP final. Muster triumphed in Florence third time in a row (he didn’t defend the title in 1994).
…Finals 2023…
ROLAND GARROS (€49.6M; clay semi-outdoors)
(3)🇷🇸Novak Đoković d. (4)🇳🇴Casper Ruud 7-6(1), 6-3, 7-5
…Finals 1993…
ROLAND GARROS ($4.1M; clay outdoors)week 21/22
(10)🇪🇸Sergi Bruguera d. (2)🇺🇸Jim Courier 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3
Queens Club ($600K; grass outdoors)week 23
(6)🇩🇪Michael Stich d. (7)🇿🇦Wayne Ferreira 6-3, 6-4
Rosmalen ($275K; grass outdoors)
(8)🇫🇷Arnaud Boetsch d. (7)🇦🇺Wally Masur 3-6, 6-3, 6-3
Florence ($275K; clay outdoors)
(1)🇦🇹Thomas Muster d. (q)🇪🇸Jordi Burillo 6-1, 7-5
Top 10 after the first half of the season:
1993: Sampras – Courier – Edberg – Becker – Bruguera – Ivanisevic – Lendl – A.Medvedev – Stich – Korda
2023: Djokovic – Alcaraz – D.Medvedev – Ruud –  Tsitsipas – Rune – Rublev – Fritz – Sinner – Khachanov 
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