Throwback Thursday: A look at the 1999 French Open

In anticipation of the upcoming French Open and in celebration of the 1999 installment’s 15th anniversary, let’s take a look back at the tournament that saw Andre Agassi complete his career Grand Slam.
French9Yevgeny Kafelnikov had to play Michael Chang in the first round? That’s no way to treat a top seed. Kafelnikov got past the American, but he did not survive round two. This was Dominik Hrbaty’s only career semifinal appearance at a slam, although he later reached three quarterfinals (the last one at the 2005 Australian Open). Also, LOL at Goran Ivanisevic being the 15th seed at a clay-court major. That makes you wonder if the French Open should do what Wimbledon does and tweak the seeds with clay-court bonus points in mind. By the way, note just 16 seeds. It did not change to 32 until the 2001 U.S. Open. Just think: next week we could be watching Rafael Nadal play Ernests Gulbis in the first round and there’s no question that Kevin Anderson would have to play Tomas Berdych in the first round. Thank goodness it changed!

French1Who would have thought that Marcelo Rios ever came back from two sets to love down to win a Grand Slam match. That he did it against Alberto Berasategui in the fourth round makes it even more surprising. Interestingly, Berasategui had accomplished the exact same feat, himself, one round earlier against clay-court novice Tim Henman.

French3Agassi’s campaign almost never got off the ground. He lost his first set of the tournament to Franco Squillari (a terrible opening draw, it should be noted) and trailed Arnaud Clement two sets to one in the second round. How the 13th-seeded Agassi upset No. 4 Carlos Moya on clay is beyond me. Moya must not have been at his best this time around in Paris, though, because he needed five sets to get past Markus Hipfl in the first round. Also, Nicolas Lapentti vs. Thomas Muster in the first round? Epic.

French4Greg Rusedski made it to the fourth round of a French Open? He even got to play a qualifier at that point, but lost to someone named Marcelo Filippini. The Uruguayan had defeated Vince Spadea in the previous round…the same Spadea whose infamous 21-match losing streak came to an end against Rusedski one year later in 2000.

French5Five seasons before he would eventually triumph at Roland Garros, Gaston Gaudio had to qualify for the main draw. He did just that, then benefited from a Magnus Norman first-round loss and reached the last 32 by beating Bernd Karbacher. Alex Corretja had to be a heavy favorite to get through this relatively weak section of the draw, and he did–but not before holding off Fernando Vicente (who currently coaches Marcel Granollers, and maybe a few other Spaniards) in five sets. Also note Sebastien Grosjean beating fellow Frenchman Fabrice Santoro in a five-setter. Epic.

French6And there it is. Our first two 1999 French Open participants who are still active today. In fact, make it two: Tommy Haas and Roger Federer. Haas advanced two rounds but then clearly got outclassed on clay by Felix Mantilla. Federer, of whom nobody could have heard at this point, got a wild card into the main draw and drew none other than No. 3 seed Patrick Rafter. The 18-year-old Federer actually won the first set before going down in flames. We nearly had three current players in this section, but Xavier Malisse (who LLed his way into the main draw) finally retired last season. Also, check out the nice triple-pretzel first-round loss for Justin Gimelstob. Finally, does anyone know how Fernando Meligeni reached the quarters?

French7Gustavo Kuerten warmed up for his back-to-back Roland Garros titles in 2000 and 2001 by cruising into the 1999 quarterfinals. He lost only one set along the way (to Guillermo Canas) and did not come close to losing another. He took care of Galo Blanco, Milos Raonic’s former coach, in the opening round.

French8Stop the presses! Pete Sampras won a match at the French Open! Of course, it came against someone named Juan Antonio Marin of Costa Rica. Sampras then lost to eventual runner-up Andrei Medvedev in four sets. Rough loss, by the way, for Max Mirnyi in the second round. He blew a two-set lead over Arnaud di Pasquale, who probably should have been beating Mirnyi in easier fashion on clay. Also, Byron Black in the third round of a singles Grand Slam? Wow.

FrenchFinalAgassi’s triumph over Medvedev from two sets down is the well-documented stuff of legend. Quite frankly, not much else happened on the final three days of action. Agassi made mincemeat out of Filippini and got past Hrbaty after a minor scare in the first two sets. It’s worth noting that Medvedev’s surprising straight-set upset over Kuerten may have indirectly given Agassi the title–and with it the career slam. I would not have seen Agassi beating Kuerten in a French Open final, especially not with the way he came out so nervous against Medvedev. Then again, he may have started better with slightly less pressure on him as the underdog against Kuerten.

22 Comments on Throwback Thursday: A look at the 1999 French Open

  1. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Ricky. I remember crying with joy when Agassi finally prevailed. I was in Washington for a wedding which had to be delayed for two hours when the majority of guests refused to leave the hotel until the match had finished. The couple getting married were not amused.

  2. BTW: Congratulations on an awesome piece of research and the ‘where are they now’ updates.

  3. Wow! That was a trip down memory lane! Now why is it that I don’t even remember many of these guys? I know that I watched this tournament. How many matches, I just can’t remember. I do remember Agassi beating Medvedev in the final. That was some way to win the career slam, coming back from two sets down.

    Nice job, Ricky! I’d love to see more articles like this before other slams. It’s fun to go back in time. 🙂

  4. Just saw the thread and immediately knew it was one to keep! Will read it later at my leisure but I just want to add to the accolades: you have out-done yourself Mr. Dimon, thanks!

    Now you can go and pick Novak to win RG2014, I don’t care……Rafa will win anyway, hehehe!

  5. I’ll get this in before Naddy has a chance to he,he.

    An 18yr old Fed was not as good as an 18yr old Rafa. I only had eyes for Agassi at that time so have no recollection of Federer.

    • @ed,

      That comment made me laugh so hard! It’s too true! I actually don’t have a recollection of Fed. None at all. He never made an impression on me, even when he started dominating. 😉

      I enjoyed watching Agassi. He wasn’t a favorite, but whenever he and Sampras played I always wanted Agassi to win. I tend to favor the baseline players. I also loved the emotion and passion he showed on the court. Sampras never seemed to show much emotion, except for when he won his seventh Wimbledon title. I remember him just breaking down and running to his family in the stands. I was crying too. Happy tears!

      I also wanted to let you know that the tennis channel had a wonderful little piece on the great Ken Rosewall the other night. I just happened to tune in and watched to the end. I learned so much about him that I didn’t know. In those days the game was such that players could have longer careers, playing well into their thirties. Also, Davis Cup had so much more importance at that time. Also, tennis was such a mess back then before the open era with amateur and professional players. They showed him playing with Lew Hoad in Davis Cup. I was too young to remember Lew Hoad. I was still very young when I watched Rosewall, Laver and Emerson. But I gained even more respect for him after watching this retrospective of his career. The tennis channel always seems to come up with gems like this about players then and now.

      • Thanks for sharing your thoughts. We’ve both seen such enormous changes in the game and when I see some of the illustrious names from the past watching matches today I often wonder what they must be thinking. Did you spot John Newcombe at the final in Rome? Now there’s a dishy older man! He’s wearing a lot better than many of his generation. Darling Rosewall looks like a wizened monkey today but then he was never a pin-up to start with.

  6. Felix Mantilla!!!….and all those other long forgotten names!….that was a lot of fun to read, and Agassi’s win over Medvedev is truly legendary. Thx for throw back!

  7. I was happy for Agassi at the time as he was my favorite player. Then he wrote his book revealing that he was a meth head and I was so disappointed. They should take back all his trophies after 1997.

    • What he did, and the way it was covered up when he was caught, was wrong but he was NOT a meth head any more than Gasquet was a drug addict when he dabbled with cocaine.

      • Agreed. However the story is that the ATP covered it up. I only hope that we don’t hear about any cover ups 10 years from now about any of the current top players. I’d rather Andre carried that to the grave with him.

  8. Fantastic, Ricky. Thank you. I can’t say I recognize all the names. Some of them only had a few days in the sun and of course the internet was in it’s infancy then.

    Funny you should wonder what it would be like if there were still only 16 seeds with the chance of Rafa meeting Gulbis in the 1st round in a slam, I have to point out that Rafa did meet Gulbis in the 2nd round at Wim 2008, also Rafa met Isner in the 1st round at the FO 2011. Just shows the depth of the men’s tour today.

  9. I was at the women’s final between Graf and Hingis! I was cheering for Graf but the French crowd was incredibly rude to poor Hingis.

    I was hoping Sampras would be there but he went out in the second round. Sorry ed et. al., I was pulling for anybody but Agassi being a Pete fan myself. At least we’re on the same side now.

    Also got to watch the Williams sisters vs Hingis/Pierce in doubles and saw McEnroe in seniors doubles. Saw Kournikova’s practise session which was how shall I put it…. AWESOME!!!!

    My only visit to a major tournament! Ah, the good old days.

  10. OooEeee. Are we going to play the ‘I was there’ game? I have a head start on you all. I was taken to Wimbledon for the first time at the age of 14. You can all do the maths to work out how long ago that was 😀

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