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.
Yevgeny 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!
Who 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.
Agassi’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.
Greg 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.
Five 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.
And 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?
Gustavo 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.
Stop 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.
Agassi’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.