Roland Garros without Nadal: from Guga Kuerten to Gato Gaudio, the life of the Paris Open in the years before the arrival of King Rafa

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It is difficult to conceive a Roland Garros without Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard made his French Grand Slam debut in 2005, when at just 19 he won the first of his 14 trophies, and hasn’t lost a single edition since. Until this 2023, which he won’t play after deciding to take time away from tennis to try to come back with everything in 2024 and bring the curtain down on his career in the best possible way.

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So, as difficult as it is, we will have to think about a Roland Garros without Ref. And without a clear favorite. Because every time he stepped on the Parisian brick dust, even if he came in with physical problems or a losing streak, he was the great candidate to the title. And the loss of him has left a stage more open than ever, with several candidates to inherit his crown.

How to imagine a “great” Frenchwoman without her undisputed monarch? Perhaps it will serve to erase the memory and review what happened in that tournament in the seasons preceding the beginning of his reign. Why yes, even if it surprises some, there was life – and good tennis – inside Bois de Boulogne before Christmas.

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the brazilian guga Kuerten he was the first Roland Garros champion of the new millennium. He won the titles in 2000 and 2001, starting fifth and top seed respectively, surprising no one. The last third of his personal account (he was crowned in 1997) came in the same season in which Nadal began to take his first steps in professionalism. After that double, there have been three editions with different winners.

From Brazil to the world.  Guga Kuerten amazed tennis with his sympathy and talent of him on brick dust.  Photo: AP Photo Dusan Vranic.

From Brazil to the world. Guga Kuerten amazed tennis with his sympathy and talent of him on brick dust. Photo: AP Photo Dusan Vranic.

In 2002 there was a surprise, because whoever was celebrating was Alberto Costa, who broke all predictions and lifted the first and only trophy of his career in that category. The Spaniard landed in Paris as the 20th seed and without celebration in the previous tour (his best result had been the final in Barcelona). His record in Grand Slams didn’t invite you to imagine a performance like the one he had in the French capital. In almost ten years of his career he had played 25 “big” and none of him had managed to pass the quarterfinals.

Costa broke predictions and was crowned in 2002. Photo AP Photo/Dave Caulkin

Costa broke predictions and was crowned in 2002. Photo AP Photo/Dave Caulkin

Costa did not appear in the lists of candidates, in which he did appear Lleyton Hewitt AND Marat Safinone and two of the world; Andre Agassi, 4th and winner in the previous Masters 1000 in Rome; Juan Carlos Ferrero, 11th and champion in Montecarlo; AND Roger Federer, 8th and arrived after being consecrated in Hamburg; among others. But he ended up giving the surprise.

He beat a teenager Richard Gasquet, who was making his debut in the category, invited by the organization; to Nikolay Davydenko, Andrea Gaudenzi, Kuerten, Guillermo Canas and Alex Corretja to reach the final. In the decisive duel he beat Ferrero 6-1, 6-0, 4-6 and 6-3, who suffered greatly from physical illness, and won his 12th title and the last of his career.

What was Nadal’s life like in those days? At 15 he was ranked 589th when he started Roland Garros. He still moved between the (ex) Futures and some Challengers, but he had made his debut on the ATP circuit a few weeks earlier, after receiving a joker card for the main draw of Majorcawhere he lost in the second round.

A year later, Rafa had already made a big leap. He had entered the top 100 at the end of April 2003, after having reached the round of 16 in Montecarlo, with a victory against Costa, 7th, and dealt a heavy blow in the Hamburg Mastersin which he defeated in the second round Carlos Moia, four in the world. At the age of 16 and on the 74th step of the table, he was preparing to play for the first time in Paris. But three days before the start of the tournament, he suffered a broken right elbow when he crashed while training in Manacor and had to dismount.

Ferrero, one of the favourites, took the title in 2003. AP Photo/Michel Euler

Ferrero, one of the favourites, took the title in 2003. AP Photo/Michel Euler

On brick dust Bois de Boulogne, ended up celebrating, once again, a Spaniard, Ferrero, who took revenge for the final he lost a year earlier and fulfilled his dream of being crowned his favorite “great”. He Mosquitowho had also been a semi-finalist in 2000 and 2001 and was third in the standings, was one of the favourites, alongside Hewitt, Agassi and Moyá, but came into doubt.

Champion in Montecarlo and Valencia, he retired in the semifinals in Rome when he lost in the second set against Federer due to severe pain in his right arm. He decided not to play the following weeks – Hamburg was lost, won by Coria – to make up for Roland Garros.

In the second Grand Slam of the season he won against the Swiss Michel Kratochvil, Nicolás Massú (by retirement), Tim Henman, Felix Mantilla, Fernando González, one of his great rivals and the only one who forced him to play five sets, and Costa ; and he reached the final, in which he crushed the Dutch 6-1, 6-2 and 6-3 martin verkerk, 46th of the ATP. It was the only celebration at this level for the current coach of the Carlos Alcaraz. Months later, after losing the final of US Openclimbed to number one.

Even Nadal could not make his debut at Roland Garros in the following edition, despite having continued to rise and was already among the best 50 in the standings (he was 49th at the start of the tournament, but shortly before he had come close to 34th place). . The Spaniard – who had played his first final in January in auckland– He missed the race due to a cracked scaphoid in his left foot (which will end up becoming a constant headache in his career). He had been wounded in Estoril and had no choice but to cancel Paris-and the Athens Olympics– from your calendar. He returned to court in late July, in Toronto, and in August inaugurated his record by winning the Sopot ATP; but he was left wanting to play in the 2004 French Grand Slam, which ended up being a blue-and-white party.

Coria, Vilas and Gaudio at the awarding of the best Roland Garros in the history of Argentine tennis.  Photo EFE/Sergio Carmona

Coria, Vilas and Gaudio at the awarding of the best Roland Garros in the history of Argentine tennis. Photo EFE/Sergio Carmona

Because in that edition, with the legion in full, the Argentines shone. Eight entered the main draw: one, John Monkafter topping the table- and four ended up making it to the quarter-finals. Juan Ignacio ChelaSeeded 22, he lost in that event to Briton Henman. David Nalbandianeighth, reached the semifinals and said goodbye Gaston Gaudio, 44th in the standings. And the Cat she then prevailed in the only albiceleste final in the history of the event against Guillermo Coriathird favorite and with whom he had already had some spicy crossings.

Gaudio was, like Costa, an unexpected champion. Until his consecration in Paris he had won just two titles (Barcelona and Mallorca in 2002) and had reached the round of 16 in a Grand Slam just two years earlier, precisely at the Parisian event. He hadn’t achieved great results even in the previous tour: Barcelona, ​​where he lost the final against Robredo, was the only tournament in which he had won more than two games. But he was discovered on French brick dust.

“Everything that happened was science fiction”, the Temperley native once said, who started with wins against Cañas, Jiri Novak, Thomas Enqvist, Igor Andreev and Hewitt. And after bringing Nalbandian down, he defeated Coria, that year’s Monte Carlo champion and, at that time, the best slow court player in the world, in a duel full of tension and drama.

It was three and a half hours of an epic and exciting battle. The man from Santa Fe, potential number one, started with everything and won the first two sets. But when his rival started to tie the match in the third, his nerves ate his head and he started suffering from cramps (all psychological, as he later admitted). Gaudio saw his chance and didn’t hesitate: he took the next three sets -in the fifth Coria wasted two match points-, he finished the match 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 and 8- 6 and lifted what would be his only Grand Slam.

He Cat He was the last Roland Garros champion before the start of “It Was Christmas”. Ref He was able to debut in 2005 and has won 14 of the editions held since then. Only Federer in 2009, Stan Wawrinka in 2014 and Novak Djokovic in 2016 and 2021 have broken their hegemony. In 2023, the Majorcan will not be in Paris for the first time in 19 years. He will be missed in the tournament, but, as before his arrival, there will continue to be good tennis overall Bois de Boulogne.

Source: Clarin

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