The list gets longer and longer each year ! A sudden tiredness against Melzer in 2010, a God-like Federer in 2011, rain in 2012, his racquet touching the net on a crucial point in 2013, a Wawrinka who played the match of his life in 2015…Until the day that he will triumph at Roland-Garros, Novak Djokovic will be considered like one of the cursed players in Paris. If that can cheer him up a little, he’s not the first.
Bill Tilden, who thought he’d hit an ace on the tournament point
The greatest player of the interwar years spread terror everywhere that he went, apart from Roland-Garros. Undefeated between 1920 and 1926, « Big Bill » was always defeated by the Musketeers in Paris, Davis Cup included. In 1927, one year before the stadium was built, he missed two match points during his final against René Lacoste. On the second, he thought he had hit an ace, which was finally called out by the linesman (who was no other than another Musketeer, Henri Cochet !). Finalist again in 1930, the same Cochet defeated him in three small sets during a final which attracted the crowds, the legend claiming the traffic jam had extended all the way to the Seine river.
Vic Seixas, left baffled by a player who had a « little girl’s serve »
After having triumphed at Wimbledon and Forest Hills, the American lost his Parisian final in 1953, defeated by a junior, the Australian Ken Rosewall, who was 18 at the time. Two years later, as he was the favorite of an edition where all the « Aussies », including Rosewall, were missing, the best American player of the moment was left baffled by an Italian with a hypnotic game in the quarter final, the small Giuseppe Merlo…whose serve was « girly » and whose two-handed backhand « didn’t move forward » according to the press at the time.
Istvan Gulyas, too nice
Enough to prevent you from being honest ! On Friday, June 3rd, 1966, on the night before his only major final, this 34 year old Hungarian architect found out that his opponent Tony Roche got injured during the doubles and that he couldn’t take part in the final. However, being a good sport, he accepted to delay the final to the next day, refusing to win by default. On the Sunday, completely healed, the Australian thanked him by defeating him in three straight sets, leaving him with the Unesco fair-play prize. A nice reward, but still…
Jimmy Connors, persona non grata
In 1974, the year of his 22nd birthday, Jimbo reigned on the circuit : he finished the year undefeated in Grand Slam tournaments, but couldn’t fight for his chance in Paris, as he was banished by the organizers after having signed with the WTT, a rival circuit. Would he have defeated the youg Swede Björn Borg, like he did two months after on the quick clay of Indianapolis ? The American star took the tournament to court (and lost), and will go on to avoid the tournament for many years, before making his come-back in 1979…But it was too late.
John McEnroe faltered at the worst moment
To many, his defeat during his only Parisian final, in 1984, was heartbreaking. The story is super famous : McEnroe, imperial, was leading 6/3 6/2 before turning of and seeing his worst enemy, Ivan Lendl, win the fifth set 7/5.
A blessing in disguise ? This curse gave his career the glamour and romantic aspects which some of the greatest champions are sometimes missing. And it’s maybe precisely because the American genius lost that final that it had such an impact in the minds of the viewers all around the world, and that it remains as the most beautiful of all time.
Boris Becker, a thumb away from the final
The king of Wimbledon was cursed on clay itself, as he has never won a single ATP title on this surface, which was too slow for his ferocious tennis. In Paris, the German was stopped three times in the semi-finals, in 1987, 1989, and 1991. In 1989 he came close to qualify for the final, but got a thumb injury during the semi, as he had taken Stefan Edberg’s serve in the decisive set.
In the final, he would have met with Michael Chang, who he has defeated 5 times out of 6 matches played…
Stefan Edberg, incapable of breaking the teenager
Is facing a 17 year old kid in a Grand Slam final more of a curse than a blessing ? The only three players to have played a final at such a young age, Wilander, Becker, and Chang, have all won…Stefan Edberg, as gifted on clay than he was on grass, had to surrender against the latter in 1989, despite leading by two sets to one and having had 10 occasions to take Chang’s serve in the 4th set, including one at 4-4…bad luck !
Pete Sampras, victim of a heat stroke
Like Connors, Becker, Edberg, and Djokovic for now, Pete Sampras has lifted the cup everywhere except for Roland-Garros. The American who counts fourteen major titles never seemed as concerned by the French Internationals as in 1996, when he reached the semi-finals. It was also the year in which the highest temperatures were recorded in Paris for the month of May…But Sampras never enjoyed sweating under a heatwave, and on that day, he was largely defeated by Yevgeny Kafelnikov.
Martina Hingis, who had all the time in the world
In the year in which she turned 17, the Swiss triumphed in Melbourne, London, New York, and seemed to have all the time in the world to win her fourth Grand Slam in Paris. After a first final lost against Iva Majoli during that same year 1997, Martina Hingis was serving for the title two years later against Steffi Graf…before losing her temper after a few umpiring mistakes. She finished the match like a spoiled child with underarm serves as to ruin Graf’s party, before crying on her mother’s shoulder.
Graf then told her she still had lots of time, but she would only go on to take part in three editions in the singles, with her best result being a semi-final.
Guillermo Coria, who was meant to do it like Vilas…
He had a preordained destiny. His father, a tennis teacher, had even named him Guillermo to pay hommage to Vilas, which he should have succeeded in the records of Argentinian tennis. Everything was going well for him on this Sunday, June 6th 2004, as Coria was even leading by two sets to none against his unexpected fellow countryman Gaudio, whose parents named to pay hommage to…no one. Finally, it was the one who wasn’t destined to win which triumphed after miraculously saving two tournament points. At the moment in which he was meant to conclude, Coria suddenly didn’t seem to know how to play anymore. Psychologically, Coria finished broken. The rise of Nadal a year later definitely swept him away.