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Roland Garros Flashback: Kuerten Saves Match Point & Defends Title

  • Posted: May 31, 2020

Roland Garros Flashback: Kuerten Saves Match Point & Defends Title

Russell speaks to about their epic 2001 battle

All it takes is one point to alter the course of a tournament.

American qualifier Michael Russell was one point from a feat that hours earlier had seemed inconceivable: scoring a straight-sets win against top seed and defending champion Gustavo Kuerten in their fourth-round clash at 2001 Roland Garros. But after the Brazilian erased the match point by prevailing in a lengthy rally at 3-5, he clawed back to score a dramatic 3-6, 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-1 victory.

After the match, Kuerten carved a large heart in the clay with his racquet and knelt down in the middle of it. It would become his trademark for the rest of the tournament as he went on to defend his title and lift his third crown in Paris.

“It was very special, maybe one of the greatest feelings in all my life on the tennis court,” Kuerten said. “I like these challenges, to fight and to give it my all. But a payback like this is more than you can ask for.”

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While some players may have been devastated at coming so close to a career-changing win, the 23-year-old Russell was able to quickly shake it off. His inspired run in Paris pushed him inside the Top 100 of the FedEx ATP Rankings for the first time.

“I was down match point in the first round of qualifying and then had a match point on the World No. 1, so there was so much craziness within a three-week period,” Russell recalled to “I was able to get through the loss very quickly, but a lot of that had to do with being so young and just breaking through. There were so many career-highs from it that it didn’t give me a chance to be negative. I felt like I had my whole career in front of me and this was a launching pad.”

Although Russell’s memorable run would remain his best Grand Slam result, he’d go on to enjoy a lengthy ATP Tour career and peak at No. 60 in the rankings. He even developed a rapport with Kuerten and the pair casually brought up their epic battle over the course of their careers.

”We joked about it after, but obviously it’s easier to joke about when you’re the guy winning,” Russell said, laughing. ”But even walking around the grounds in Paris today, fans will sometimes come up to me and say they remember watching that match and how special it was. It’s really nice to get still that support. That match helped me for the rest of my career because it made me believe that I could win every match when I stepped on court.”

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Stich On Muster Roland Garros Stunner: 'He Had A Lot To Lose'

  • Posted: May 31, 2020

Stich On Muster Roland Garros Stunner: ‘He Had A Lot To Lose’

Relive the German’s upset at 1996 Roland Garros

Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September.

Two weeks before Roland Garros in 1996, Michael Stich was unsure if he was going to play the clay-court Grand Slam.

Stich had lost a three-setter in the second round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia against current ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi. Before that, he hadn’t played for nearly three months due to a left ankle surgery that March.

“Why should I come to Paris and look like an idiot on clay?” Stich wondered, according to the New York Times.

Little did the 27-year-old know that he’d not only play Roland Garros, but he would spring the upset of the tournament and achieve his career-best result on the terre battue.

After winning his first three matches with the loss of only one set, 15th-seeded Stich faced a daunting fourth-round challenge against defending champion Thomas Muster. The second seed was the tournament favourite after triumphing in Monte Carlo and Rome.

Despite trailing by two sets to one, it appeared the Austrian was poised to wrestle back control of the match from Stich. Muster served to force a decider at 5-3, and converting would have put him in good shape, as he was arguably the fittest player on the ATP Tour.

“We all knew Thomas Muster was a strong guy. He was an animal,” former World No. 1 Yevgeny Kafelnikov told “He could run fast and for a long time.”

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Instead, Stich kept Muster pinned well behind the baseline to earn three consecutive break chances. Although he couldn’t convert the first two, he hit a ball with heavy topspin to Muster’s forehand, and the Austrian couldn’t reach due to the high bounce.

The players weren’t going to a fifth set, but a tie-break. Stich hit a net-cord winner to earn the first mini-break, and he never looked back from there. When he clinched the 4-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-6(1) stunner with a forehand volley winner, Stich threw his arms up in celebration.

“There was a lot of pressure on him to defend his title,” Stich said, according to the Washington Post. “I had nothing to lose. He had a lot to lose.”

Muster won 18 tour-level clay-court titles in 1995 and 1996, yet he lost in four sets against a player who wasn’t sure he was going to play Roland Garros at all.

“It’s a disappointment now, but when I wake up tomorrow morning, I will hopefully have the same hair,” Muster said. “Winning last year hasn’t changed my life, and this is not going to change my life, either.”

My Point: Get The Players' Point Of View

The upset surprised the rest of the field, too. Kafelnikov said that there was a crowd of players watching the match in the locker room.

“I was very surprised, but all credit to Michael. He played a very fantastic match,” Kafelnikov said. “That was the surprise of the tournament, that the defending champion went out in the fourth round. But Michael played a very great tactical match and used his strengths to his advantage very classically. It did surprise many players.

“I knew Thomas was the best clay-court player at the time with his record and his game. That year was very, very hot. The courts got a bit quicker. The balls were travelling through the air a bit faster.”

Stich maintained his momentum, beating home favourite Cedric Pioline and Swiss Marc Rosset to reach his first and only Roland Garros final. The German fell short against Kafelnikov, who had led their ATP Head2Head series 6-3.

Nevertheless, the fortnight was a 180-degree turnaround for Stich. Not only did he show up in Paris, but he looked better than ever on the red clay.

“I might have lost a match,” Stich said after the final. “But I’ve recaptured my love for the sport.”

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Flashback: Federer Survives Haas To Keep Career Grand Slam Bid Alive

  • Posted: May 31, 2020

Flashback: Federer Survives Haas To Keep Career Grand Slam Bid Alive

Swiss recovered from two sets and break point down in fourth round

For four consecutive years from 2005 to 2008, Roger Federer’s bid to become the sixth man to complete the Career Grand Slam was ended by Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

So, when the four-time defending champion fell to Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009, Federer knew he had a great chance to finally break through in the French capital. One day after Nadal’s loss, Federer met former World No. 2 Tommy Haas for a place in the quarter-finals.

The Mutua Madrid Open champion entered the contest on an eight-match winning streak and had won seven straight ATP Head2Head clashes against Haas, but it was the German who opened the match in inspired form to increase Federer’s nerves on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

“He wasn’t taking full command of his opportunities,” said Haas. “He was making a few more unforced errors than usual, and his forehand wasn’t firing on all cylinders.”

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Despite a strong serving performance from Federer in the first set, Haas dictated rallies from the baseline with his forehand and served with power and precision in the tie-break to earn a one-set lead. He then doubled his advantage by taking the second set, rallying with Federer from the back of the court and extracting crucial errors in the 12th game to move one set from victory.

After three consecutive finals between Nadal and Federer, the Parisian crowd were beginning to imagine the prospect of losing both men from the draw in a 24-hour period. Those thoughts were magnified when the match reached its most crucial point in the third set.

As Haas continued to pile the pressure on Federer’s shoulders, the German earned break point at 3-4, 30/40 on the 13-time Grand Slam champion’s serve. If Haas could convert his opportunity, he would serve for the match.

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Federer, who had struggled to find his best level on his forehand, held his nerve to not only survive, but turn the match on its head. Haas returned Federer’s second serve with interest, attacking his opponent’s backhand with a cross-court reply. But Federer had other ideas, shuffling his feet to strike a pinpoint inside-out forehand winner just inside the tramline.

“When I hit that forehand to save a break point at 3-4 in the third, I had the feeling it could be a turning point in the match,” said Federer.

The 58-time tour-level titlist held serve and claimed back-to-back games to force the match to a fourth set. From there, Federer won 12 of 14 games to cruise to the finish line. It proved to be a crucial victory for Federer, who overcame Gael Monfils, Juan Martin del Potro and Soderling to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires for the first time.

With his Roland Garros triumph, Federer joined Fred Perry, Don Budge, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson and Andre Agassi as the sixth man to complete the Career Grand Slam. The win also drew the Swiss level with Pete Sampras’ record haul of 14 Grand Slam titles.

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Fognini Undergoes Surgery On Both Ankles

  • Posted: May 31, 2020

Fognini Undergoes Surgery On Both Ankles

Italian explains injury struggles in Instagram post

Fabio Fognini has been using his time at home in Italy to bond with his three-year-old son, Federico, and play backyard tennis with his wife, former US Open champion Flavia Pennetta. But when he recently transitioned to a real court for training sessions, the ankle issues that plagued him for nearly four years still remained.

The 33-year-old decided to tackle the problem on Saturday by undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both ankles. Fognini explained in an Instagram post on Saturday that he believed this is the best possible time for him to have the procedures.


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”I’ve been having a problem with my left ankle for three-and-a-half years now. It’s an issue I’ve learned to cope with. Then my right ankle started playing up in the past two years as well,” Fognini wrote. “I had hoped the various issues would go away during my two-month break from the game because of the lockdown, but when I resumed training, they were still there.

“After medical examination and a long discussion with my team, I decided to have arthroscopic surgery on both ankles. I believe it’s the right thing to do while the Tour is on this enforced break. I will undergo surgery in Italy today. I can’t wait to be back playing again!”

Fognini, No. 11 in the FedEx ATP Rankings, started this season by representing Italy in the inaugural ATP Cup and reaching the fourth round of the Australian Open. He picked up his first ATP Masters 1000 title last April in Monte-Carlo and, two months later, became the oldest first-time member of the Top 10 since 1973.

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Del Potro Announces Split With Prieto

  • Posted: May 31, 2020

Del Potro Announces Split With Prieto

Argentine reached career-high FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 3 during partnership

When play resumes on Tour, 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro will have a new coach alongside him. The Argentine confirmed on Saturday that he has parted ways with coach Sebastien Prieto, whom he has worked with since August 2017.

Prieto will switch to coaching fellow Argentine Juan Ignacio Londero. The former ATP Tour player picked up 10 tour-level doubles titles during his career and peaked at No. 22 in the FedEx ATP Doubles Rankings in 2006.

“I want to share that I have agreed with Sebastian Prieto to end our partnership, so that he can work with Juan Londero, while I continue my rehab process,” Del Potro wrote. “I’m very thankful to Piper for all of these years together. He is a great coach and an even better person. All the best!”

Del Potro has not yet confirmed who will replace him. Prieto helped the baseliner achieve several career highlights in 2018, including his first ATP Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open, first Grand Slam final in nine years at the US Open and achieving a career-high FedEx ATP Ranking of No. 3 that August.

The 31-year-old Del Potro has not competed since last June after undergoing surgery to repair a fractured right kneecap he sustained that month at the Fever-Tree Championships. He previously broke his patella in October 2018 at the Rolex Shanghai Masters, causing him to miss the last four weeks of that season and limiting him to five tournaments in 2019.

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Kafelnikov's News: His Roland Garros Run Won't Be Replicated 'For A Very Long Time'

  • Posted: May 31, 2020

Kafelnikov’s News: His Roland Garros Run Won’t Be Replicated ‘For A Very Long Time’

Russian relives winning the singles and doubles titles in Paris

Yevgeny Kafelnikov made history at 1996 Roland Garros, becoming the first Russian man to win a Grand Slam title. But the former World No. 1 put his name in the history books at that event for another reason — that’s the last time any man has won both the singles and doubles title at the same major.

“I’ve got news for you: Nobody will [do it again] for a very long time,” Kafelnikov, who won that doubles crown with Daniel Vacek, told “If you ask me when the next time we’re going to see a champion in singles and doubles at the same Slam, I don’t see that happening for many, many years to come.”

The closest any man has come since was at the 2000 US Open, when Lleyton Hewitt won the doubles title with Max Mirnyi and reached the singles semi-finals.

Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Daniel Vacek
Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Daniel Vacek celebrate their 1996 Roland Garros doubles title. Photo Credit: AFP/Getty Images
Not only did Kafelnikov win both titles at 1996 Roland Garros, he dominated both draws. The 22-year-old played 35 sets at the event, and only lost one. How did he balance it?

“Easily,” Kafelnikov said. “I used my doubles matches basically as my preparation for the singles. You are practising elements in your doubles game that are really necessary for your singles: the return of serve, for example, volleys, serve. Instead of going to practise for one hour and 30 minutes, I used doubles for that. All the circumstances came together perfectly.”

Kafelnikov is a keen student of the sport, and he wasn’t thrilled when he saw his draw in Paris. Three of his first four matches came against Spaniards, and the other one was against Thomas Johansson, who proved a nemesis for the Russian throughout his career. But Kafelnikov beat Galo Blanco, Johannson, Felix Mantilla and Francisco Clavet without losing a set.

“It just shows how good my game was. If I wasn’t sharp I would easily lose to the players like Felix Mantilla or Francisco Clavet, who were really solid clay-court players,” Kafelnikov said. “But I was playing so well that none of those guys had a chance to get a sniff of beating me.”

Kafelnikov knew he’d have a tough test in the quarter-finals against Richard Krajicek, whom he beat in three tough sets the week before Roland Garros at the World Team Cup. But the Russian knew that the Dutchman was not as comfortable on clay as he was indoors or on grass, which played to his advantage in a four-set victory.

It wasn’t surprising that Kafelnikov was winning, but perhaps it was surprising that he went for four eight-kilometre runs around Court Philippe Chatrier during the tournament. Those runs came after his singles matches in the first round, third round, fourth round and quarter-finals.

“[It was] to keep myself physically in shape,” Kafelnikov said. “I ran 20 laps… strongly just to keep myself physically ready. I was running really, really, really fast. That shows me how physically strong I was.

“A lot of the [players] saw me. They were surprised. Two hours after the matches I went for a run. Many thought, ‘Okay he played one hour, 40 minutes against Clavet, he didn’t waste too much energy, why not go for another workout?’ They were looking at me and some of them were doing the same.”

My Point: Get The Players' Point Of View

Kafelnikov faced World No. 1 Pete Sampras in the semi-finals. The American legend rallied from two sets down against two-time champion Jim Courier in the last eight, and he also won five-setters in the second and third rounds.

But Kafelnikov was supremely confident. At the same event he defeated Krajicek in Dusseldorf, the Russian raced past Sampras 6-2, 6-2. In Paris, after a tense first set, he beat the top seed 7-6(4), 6-0, 6-2. Those were the only two wins he’d earn against Sampras in 13 tries.

“I just don’t want people to feel Pete wasted his energy on his way to the semi-finals and he had nothing left [and that] if he would have been fresher, I had no chance. I don’t see it that way; I’m not going to believe in that,” Kafelnikov said. “We all can sit here and discuss, imagine what would have happened, but I believe I was the better player, particularly in that tournament.”

At the same time, Kafelnikov and Vacek had moved their way through the doubles draw. The final against Guy Forget and Jakob Hlasek provided a good opportunity for Kafelnikov to get used to what it felt like to play for a major title. Kafelnikov/Vacek breezed to a 6-2, 6-3 triumph.

“My attitude with the doubles was, ‘You have the most important match in your life tomorrow, so just try to emulate what you’re going to feel like tomorrow, today.’ That’s exactly what happened,” Kafelnikov recalled. “I was really nervous because we were playing the final of a Grand Slam and tomorrow was going to be an even more packed stadium than we had that day. Don’t freak out when you see a full stadium tomorrow… All the elements came together in that tournament to do both, singles and doubles, so perfectly.

“My partner was over the moon. He even stayed the next day in town to help me to warm up [for the singles final].”

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Kafelnikov only had one match left to make history. He faced German Michael Stich, who had upset defending champion Thomas Muster in the fourth round. The Russian had won six of their nine previous meetings, and he tried to treat it like a normal match, even if it wasn’t. Kafelnikov believed Stich could hurt him from the baseline more than Sampras did, so he was attentive to that, and his return game helped him to a two-set lead.

“I lost my first match point at 5-4 in the third set. It was [my] advantage on Stich’s serve, and he held his serve, got it to 5-5. Believe it or not I started cramping in my left leg out of nowhere because my nervous system got on edge… I can’t even remember the last time I had cramps [before that],” Kafelnikov said. “I told myself, ‘If you don’t get through this set you might not win it.’

“It is ironic, but that’s how important in my whole system that match was. It really cut everything out of my body. I left everything out on that court just to win that match.”

Kafelnikov went on long runs during the tournament, and yet he cramped during the biggest moment of his career. Kafelnikov held off Stich in the tie-break, hitting a forehand passing shot the German couldn’t handle. The Russian was so relieved, he threw his racquet high into the stands.

“I was really, really so confident, you cannot believe. You probably only get such feelings once or twice in your career where you feel like nobody can beat you. I can imagine what Djokovic and Nadal are feeling like right now because they’re mostly 365 days a year feeling that way. For me, against such competition like what I had to deal with in my career, that was a wonderful feeling.”

Yevgeny Kafelnikov

Kafelnikov beamed as he showed his singles trophy from the tournament, which he still has displayed in his home. Now 46, he thinks it’s “pretty cool” that he is still the last player to win the singles and doubles titles at the same Grand Slam.

“I will definitely in my lifetime be the last one,” Kafelnikov said. “What I really want, if for some reason in my lifetime someone wins both in singles and doubles at the French Open, I would love to present the trophy to that person. But again, I don’t know if it will happen ever in my lifetime.”

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Federer Posters On His Wall, Goffin Met His Idol During Dream Roland Garros Run

  • Posted: May 31, 2020

Federer Posters On His Wall, Goffin Met His Idol During Dream Roland Garros Run

The Belgian provides exclusive insight into his 2012 run in Paris

David Goffin remembers it being difficult to study for school exams growing up because he’d want to watch Roland Garros on television. The Belgian’s family often made the three-hour drive to Paris to watch the clay-court major in person.

Little did Goffin know that his breakthrough as a professional tennis player would come at that same venue in 2012.

“It’s always a special place because the French Open is probably the biggest tournament we follow in Belgium,” Goffin told this week. “When I played well in 2012, probably nobody knew me on the Tour and it was my first main draw at the French Open… it was the first time that people in Belgium saw me on live TV, so it was a big moment.”

Goffin became the first man since Dick Norman at 1995 Wimbledon to reach the fourth round of a Grand Slam as a lucky loser. He had not yet cracked the world’s Top 100, but Goffin certainly made a name for himself.

David Goffin

Growing up, the Belgian had posters of Roger Federer on his bedroom walls. It was fitting that the Swiss superstar was his opponent in the Roland Garros Round of 16. Goffin even won the first set against the third seed.

However, his dream run nearly ended before it began. Portugal’s Joao Sousa beat the 21-year-old World No. 109 in the final round of qualifying 6-3, 7-6(3).

“I was really nervous because I felt that there was maybe an opportunity to get in my first main draw and the level was there,” Goffin said. “I lost a little bit my game that day mentally, and also physically, I was really tight. After that, I was so disappointed.”

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Gael Monfils was struggling with a knee injury, forcing the Frenchman to withdraw from his home Slam. That gave Goffin his first major main draw opportunity. The Belgian would play 23rd seed Radek Stepanek.

“I knew he was a player with a lot of experience. Maybe the clay court is not his best surface, but I knew he would do everything on the court to win that match,” Goffin said. “I was just happy to be in the main draw. I had a lot of support, a lot of Belgians behind me. I enjoyed every moment in that match.”

ATP Heritage: Milestones. Records. Legends.

Goffin weathered his nerves and a tricky opponent in Stepanek to advance 6-2, 4-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

That set a clash between the 21-year-old and 2001 Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement, who was playing in his final Roland Garros. Goffin took a 5-1, 0/30 lead in the fifth set against the home favourite when, “it started to rain like crazy”, cancelling play for the day.

“During the night you can’t sleep well, you just imagine all the possible scenarios that can happen,” Goffin recalled. “The next day I came back for four points [to finish the match].”

Goffin was a lucky loser, but he was as confident as he’d ever been in his career, ousting Clement 3-6, 7-6(2), 0-6, 6-2, 6-1. Next up was Poland’s Lukasz Kubot.

“I saw [when I walked on the court] that it was packed full of Belgians, a lot of flags. The atmosphere on that court was just amazing and I remember it because I was the first player on the court and probably waited 10 minutes for Kubot,” Goffin said. “When he finally came on the court, all of a sudden, they started booing him!”

Goffin eliminated Kubot 7-6(4), 7-5, 6-2 to continue his dream run and earn a shot at Federer.

David Goffin

“[There were] a lot of [Federer] matches that I saw before playing him,” Goffin said. “I remembered all the racquets he had, all the outfits he had. I followed him very much. Every match I watched on TV.

“I was happy a little bit to see that I would play against my idol, but also I was super nervous because I was like, ‘Okay, I don’t know how it is to play against him.’… I was very tight until the first point of the match.”

It was tough for Goffin to focus on building a game plan because of the nerves, but he was fully focussed on getting off to a quick start.

“If you don’t start really well and then you’re really nervous and then you lose your first service game and it’s 2-0, 3-0, then it’s tough,” Goffin said. “Roger normally starts his matches really well.”

Goffin won the opening set 7-5, and kept the second set close. But in the back of his mind, he was thinking, “I have an opportunity, but he will do something magical, that’s for sure.”

Federer raised his level as the match went on, eventually triumphing 5-7, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4. Only one male lucky loser (Stephane Robert, 2014 Australian Open) has reached the fourth round of a major since.

“He’s very talented,” Federer said of Goffin. “I hope he can make it to the Top 20.”

Goffin’s accomplishments include climbing as high as World No. 7 and reaching the championship match of the 2017 Nitto ATP Finals. His breakthrough at 2012 Roland Garros went a long way to showing the Belgian what he was capable of.

“I think I proved to myself that I can win some big matches and also [hold up] physically,” said Goffin, who played 23 sets between qualifying and the main draw. “I proved to myself that physically I was good, because when you’re 20 years old, you never know. It proved to me that I have the level to go higher. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

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