On Sunday, Roland-Garros lived a historical first : the top-seed Angelique Kerber was knocked out in the first round, after losing against the Russian Makarova. Let’s look back on ten of the most dreadful fiascos at the start of the French Open.
1975 : Manuel Orantes defeated by Antonio Zugarelli
Manuel Orantes is a man who performs during even-numbered years, at least at Roland-Garros. Semi-finalist in 1972, quarter-finalist in 1976 and 1978, but mainly finalist in 1974, an edition which saw a certain Bjorn Borg win his first title in Paris, the Spaniard was one of the favorites of the 1975 edition. That year, he arrived at the Porte d’Auteuil as the seed number 2. In the first round, he had to face the modest Antonio Zugarelli, a player he had easily defeated the year before. Except that the Italian, on that day, put in the performance of his life and crushed him, 6/3 6/0. Following this brilliant win, Zugarelli went on to go through two other rounds before finally losing against the American Eddie Dibbs in the fourth round. Orantes, on his side, got his personal revenge a few months later by winning the US Open 1975 later that year, the only Grand Slam title of his career.
1990 : Stefan Edberg defeated by Sergi Bruguera
In 1990, Sergi Bruguera was only a humble young hope in the tennis world, who had just won his first title in Estoril a few months earlier. As the world number 46, he was then only considered like Edberg’s foil. At the time, Edberg was the number 1 seed, and the finalist of Roland-Garros 1989 (which he had famously lost against Michael Chang). But as he was troubled by a few blisters on his foot, he was stunned in the first round on an irrevocable score : 6/4 6/2 6/1 for Bruguera, the future double winner of the French Open in 93 and 94. Immediately after, on the same central court, the seed number 2 was defeated as well : Boris Becker was outclassed by the aces of an 18 year-old kid named Goran Ivanisevic. Enough to let the seeds number 3 and 4, Andre Agassi and Andrés Gomez, qualify for the final in which Gomez triumphed.
1994 : Martina Navratilova defeated by Miriam Oremans
In 1994, Martina Navratilova was close to retiring. She made her return at Roland-Garros after six years of absence, and no one really thought of her as one of the favorites of the tournament. However, seeing her losing in the very first match against the unknown Miriam Oremans was a huge surprise. It even was the first time that Navratilova didn’t go through at least one round in a Grand Slam tournament since the 1976 edition of the US Open ! The naturalized US citizen lost 4/6 4/6, broke her racquet out of rage and refused to stop by the French interviewer Nelson Monfort before piteously heading back to the dressing rooms. As the true champion she was, she managed to light up the spark one final time by reaching the final of Wimbledon a few weeks laters. Oremans, on her side, won the doubles silver medal for the Netherlands six years later, which was the other highlight of her career.
1995 : Pete Sampras defeated by Gilbert Schaller
When he arrived at the French Open in 1995, Sampras was already a huge star of tennis, having already won five Grand Slam tournaments, and who was on his way to win nine more. However, he never won at Roland-Garros, a cursed place for him. « My biggest wish is to win Roland-Garros », he nevertheless said the day before facing Gilbert Schaller in the first round. A tricky match, against this tough clay specialist who won this epic duel in five sets : 7/6 4/6 6/7 6/2 6/4. With Sampras out, the Parisian spectators lost the seed number 2 of an edition which was, in the end, won by Thomas Muster.
2000 : Lindsay Davenport defeated by Dominique van Roost
After the US Open in 1998, Wimbledon in 1999, the Australian Open in 2000…Roland-Garros, still in 2000 ? Davenport truly believed that it was finally the year for her to shine in France. Except that in front of the world number 2 came a Dominque van Roost on fire who, on her 27th birthday, achieved one of the greatest performances of her career (she retired at the end of the 2000 season). After 2h18 of playing time, the Belgian ended up defeating the American, who was troubled by a crippling back pain, 6/7 6/4 6/3. A never-seen-before performance. After that, Davenport never won another Grand Slam title, whether it be in Paris or elsewhere.
2003 : Roger Federer defeated by Luis Horna
« I don’t know how long it will take me to get over this defeat. A day, a week, a year, or maybe even my whole career. » You can easily say the Roger Federer’s disappointment was huge. The Swiss was then only a promising young tennis player who hadn’t won a single Grand Slam tournament. A promising player who was already the seed number 5, and who was hoping to take his personal revenge on a defeat he suffered a year earlier in Paris, in the first round, against Hicham Arazi. Alas ! The same scenario occurred again, this time against Luis Horna. The Peruvian won 7/6 6/2 7/6 in what remains, to this day, Federer’s last defeat in the first round of a Grand Slam tournament. A few weeks later, he won his first major trophy in Wimbledon. The beginning of a unique reign.
2004 : Andre Agassi defeated by Jérôme Haehnel
With a surfer necklace around his neck and blonde hair, Jérôme Haehnel arrived on the central court as an anonymous. The Frenchman, who had battled through the qualifying rounds, was then only the world number 271, and had to face the charismatic Andre Agassi, the seed number 6, who had won the tournament six years earlier and who had played the quarter finals in the three previous editions. The American however looked a little tired on the court, and Haehnel who was Julien Benneteau’s best man at his wedding, made the most of it, to win the most beautiful match of his career, 6/4 7/6 6/3 (before being defeated by his fellow countryman Mickaël Llodra). « Two weeks before I had lost in a Future tournament against a guy who had gone through the qualification rounds, and who didn’t even have a ranking ! I wasn’t playing very well. When I showed up at Roland, I wasn’t really confident », he explained a few years later.
2005 : Anastasia Myskina defeated by Maria Sanchez Lorenzo
A first ! Never had a title-holder lost in the first round of Roland-Garros in the following year. That’s the misfortune which happened to Anastasia Myskina, who, twelve months after her triumph in 2004 against her fellow countrywoman Elena Dementieva, was piteously knocked out of the women’s table by the anonymous Maria Sanchez Lorenzo (in what remains her only win against a player of the top 10). The score ? 6/4 4/6 6/0 in favor of the Spaniard, against a Russian who was troubled by some family problems, and who never won another Grand Slam title after that.
2011 : Tomas Berdych defeated by Stéphane Robert
« The crowd was going crazy, it boosted me. I was playing really well, I did everything, I saved a match point, I was very solid, it’s incredible, extraordinary. » The story really was a beautiful one for Stéphane Robert, the world number 140 at the time, who had battled through the qualifying rounds, who was losing by two sets to love, who saved a match point in the fifth set to end up by winning the match 3/6 3/6 6/2 6/2 9/7 against Tomas Berdych during a marathon-like match (which had some consequences as he was crushed 6/2 6/1 6/0 by Fabio Fognini in the following round). Too confident, the 2010 Wimbledon finalist, then the world number 6, was stunned and left the Porte d’Auteuil through the back door.
2014 : Li Na defeated by Kristina Mladenovic
We’ve seen a strange first round in the 2014 edition of Roland-Garros with the winners of the Australian Open both being knocked out : Stan Wawrinka first, who was defeated by Guillermo Garcia Lopez before Li Na, who lost against Kristina Mladenovic. As the world number 2, the Chinese was one of the favorites of this French Open, as she had won it three years before. But this was before taking in account her constant misfiring (37 unforced errors) and with « Kiki »’s energy in front of an overexcited crowd. After 2h02 of playing time, the world number 103 won a prestigious victory, 7/5 3/6 6/1. A match she finished with tears in her eyes, after a difficult start of the season, and the fact that she arrived at the Porte d’Auteuil with no confidence.