Although only three unseeded players have ever succeeded in winning the French Open crown, the tournament is generally perceived as the bastion of ‘Dark Horses’. It is at the French Open that we see World Number Ones struggling to find their feet and being handed defeats by journeymen.But, French Open, which is currently the sole Grand Slam being played on clay, evokes a certain visceral desire in the tennis fan that no other Grand Slam does. It is at Roland Garros that we witness tennis players indulge in rallies that last over 30 strokes on a regular basis.While ‘The Championships at Wimbledon, owing to the death of the serve-and-volley game, has lost some of its lustre, the French Open has not only survived but has retained its most enchanting allure, seemingly immune to the many changes in tennis technology.Let us now take a look at the five most successful French Open Champions in the Open Era.
#5 Gustavo Kuerten (3)
Gustavo Kuerten was the first Brazilian to win a Grand Slam title in the Open Era, a feat he achieved in 1997, when he took out two-time French Open champion Sergi Bruguera in the final.
Kuerten was ranked 66 in the world, heading into the 1997 French Open and was not on anyone’s list of favourites to take the cup that year. But, en route to the final, he took out defending champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov and former French Open champion Thomas Muster to set the Roland Garros tennis complex abuzz with his feat.
With a wiry backhand that he fired with effortlessness and a forehand which he brandished like a whip, Kuerten was, as the cliché goes, a delight for sore eyes.
Kuerten’s victory at Roland Garros in 1997 was rendered so much sweeter since it was his maiden ATP tour title. It was a classic case of the underdog beating the champion.
After below-par performances at the French Open in ’98 and ’99, Kuerten renewed his affair with the tournament at the break of the millennium, in 2000, beating Alex Corretja in the final to clinch his second French Open crown. In a replay of the 2000 title match, Kuerten emerged triumphant again in ’01, winning his third and last French Open, Grand Slam crown.
Of the 20 ATP tour titles that Kuerten won, 14 of them were won on clay, making him one of the most successful players on the surface in recent times.