Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.
Saturday, 31 May 2003 was a special day for Tommy Robredo. He had just turned 21 and was facing the biggest challenge of his career so far at Roland Garros: defeating a World No. 1 at a Grand Slam.
His opponent was Lleyton Hewitt, who took the first two sets 6-4, 6-1. However, the Australian would not be the man to claim the victory that day.
Playing in the third round of a Grand Slam was nothing new to the Spaniard. It was not even the first time he had met — and defeated — a Top 5 player at a Grand Slam event, as he had previously overcome Juan Carlos Ferrero at the 2001 US Open. But, in Paris, he produced the best victory of his career until that point.
“Until now I had always remembered my 2001 win over Ferrero in the US Open. But today’s surpasses that by a distance,” said Robredo.
So, what happened that day on the French clay? David brought down Goliath. And he did so by coming back from two sets down in a total of three hours and 24 minutes to win 4-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3.
“The important thing was keeping a good head. I didn’t care about going two sets down, or losing 0-3 in the fifth. I kept fighting, convinced that I could beat him,” said Robredo.
Sixteen years later, Robredo revealed something intriguing that happened to him before the match against Hewitt. The day after beating Jonas Bjorkman in the second round, the Spaniard went to the physio room for his treatment. In just 24 hours he had to face the World No. 1 and he wanted to be as prepared as possible. Andre Agassi was close by and he quickly asked him for some advice.
”Hey, Andre, tomorrow I’m playing with Hewitt,” said Robredo. “What tactics should I use?
“I’m not the kind of person that asks a lot of questions, but I thought I’d ask Agassi,” said Robredo. “It was very interesting. He suddenly got up off the bed. He sat down. And he started explaining the tactics to me.”
They spoke of Hewitt’s tactics, his cross-court backhand, his solid forehand and that on his second serve and on break points he tended to aim at the ‘T’.
“Agassi kept talking and I remember that the match was exactly as he had told me,” said Robredo.
Robredo progressed to the fourth round, along with his countrymen Albert Costa, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Felix Mantilla and Carlos Moya. The next day, he returned to the same room he had spoken to Agassi in. And the US player was there once more.
“He got up and gave me a hug and said, ‘I watched the whole match and you honestly played incredibly. You applied all the tactics we talked about perfectly. I’m really glad.’ Nobody had ever given me tactics for a match as elaborately and clearly as he did. Everything he said was right. I knew exactly how Hewitt played and how you had to play him,” said Robredo.
After the evident success, the then-World No. 31 did not hesitate, “Hey, tomorrow I’m playing Kuerten, maybe you can give me some tactics. And he did it again for me,” said Robredo.
The result? Robredo reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final by beating the Brazilian 6-4, 1-6, 7-6(2), 6-4.