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5 youngest men's singles winners at Roland Garros

Phillipe Chatrier Arena - the primary court at Roland Garros
Phillipe Chatrier Arena - the primary court at Roland Garros
Arjun
ANALYST
Modified 19 Jul 2020, 04:49 IST
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Roland Garros or the French Open is the only Grand Slam tournament on the tennis calendar that is played on clay. The tournament dates back to 1891 and is the oldest Grand Slam tournament behind Wimbledon (1877) and US Open (1881).

In 1968, Roland Garros became the first Grand Slam tournament to open its doors to professionals, followed by Wimbledon and US Open in the same year and the Australian Open the next year.

Like Wimbledon which has always been played on grass, Roland Garros is the only other Grand Slam tournament that has been played on the same surface - clay - since its inception.

The Roland Garros men's singles title has been won by 65 different players during the history of the tournament, with 25 of them triumphing in the Open Era; two players have won Roland Garros in both the amateur and Open Era.

Because of the nature of the surface where it is played on, Roland Garros is generally regarded as the most physically demanding of all the four Grand Slam tournaments as points on clay generally last longer than on grass or hardcourt.

Perhaps, it is not surprising that players like multiple Grand Slam champions like Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker could never conquer Roland Garros due to the unique demands of the surface.

Roland Garros has the lowest average age (24.6 years) of men's singles winner among all the Grand Slams. Since the start of the Open Era, four of the seven teenaged men's singles winners triumphed at the claycourt major.

On that note, here's a look at the five youngest players to have lifted the Roland Garros men's singles title.

Five youngest Roland Garros men's singles champions


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#5: Ken Rosewall (18 years, 209 days) - 1968

Ken Rosewall
Ken Rosewall

Ken Rosewall beat American Victor Seixas in a four-set final in 1953 to win his first of two Roland Garros men's singles titles. In the process, Rosewall emulated compatriot Jack Crawford (1933) to become only the second Australian player to win the Roland Garros men's singles title.

Incidentally, Rosewall became the first men's singles Grand Slam champion in the Open Era when he beat compatriot Rod Laver in the 1968 Roland Garros final. That triumph made Rosewall one of only two players to win the Roland Garros men's singles title in both the amateur and Open Era, Rod Laver being the other.


#4: Bjorn Borg (18 years and 10 days) - 1974

Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg

Bjorn Borg became the first teenager in the Open Era to win Roland Garros when he overcame a two-set deficit against Spain's Manuel Orantes in the 1974 final.

After straight-set wins in his first three rounds, Borg lost at least a set in every other match at the tournament, requiring respective five-set wins over Eric Dillen in the fourth round and Raul Ramirez in the quarterfinal.

A four-set win over Harold Solomon took the third seed to his maiden Grand Slam singles final where he recovered from a slow start to create history.

The 18-year-old Swede, who lost in the fourth round on his Roland Garros debut the previous year, beat Guillermo Vilas in the 1975 title match to become the first of only two teenagers in the Open Era to successfully defend a Grand Slam title.

Borg's shy demeanor and long locks made him look like a rock ‘n roll star attired in tennis clothes. Borg's remarkable temperament earned him the monicker 'Ice Man'.

The Swede suffered his only other Roland Garros defeat in the 1976 quarterfinal to eventual champion Adriano Panatta before reeling off four successive titles from 1978 to 1981. Borg's 49-2 (96%) match-win record at Roland Garros is only bettered by Rafael Nadal (93-2; 97.9%) among players who have won at least 40 matches at the claycourt major.

Borg won the Roland Garros - Wimbledon double in three consecutive years from 1978 to 1980, a feat that was not achieved for another 28 years till Rafael Nadal (2008, 2010) and Roger Federer did so.


#3: Mats Wilander (17 years, 288 days) - 1982

Mats Wilander
Mats Wilander

Another Swede on the list of the youngest Roland Garros men's singles winners is Mats Wilander. Much like his Borg, Wilander had an excellent temperament and was primarily a baseliner. The duo put Sweden on the global map of tennis in the 1970s and 1980s.

After turning professional at the tender age of 16 in 1980, Wilander made his third Grand Slam appearance - first at Roland Garros - in 1982 and created history.

Seeded 18th, few gave the Swede a chance against much fancied opponents like top seed Jimmy Connors and number two Ivan lendl despite the absence of his illustrious compatriot and four-time defending champion Borg who had announced a shock retirement.

However, Wilander made his intentions known by beating Lendl in a pulsating 5-set contest in the fourth round. Sceptics started to take note when Wilander continued his fine run in the quarterfinals where he took out fifth seed Vitas Gerulaitis.

In the semifinal, Wilander beat 4th seeded Argentine Jose Luis Clerc to move into the Roland Garros final where he faced his biggest test against clay-court specialist and number three seed Guillermo Vilas.

In a match that lasted 4 hours and 42 minutes, Wilander was slow off the blocks and dropped the opening set where he won just one game. But the young Swede recovered by winning the second set on a tiebreak and did not look back from there, conceding only four more games to become the youngest men's singles Grand Slam winner in the Open Era.

The triumph made Wilander only the second player in Roland Garros history to win the men's singles title at the tournament before turning 18.

The Swede won further Roland Garros titles in 1985 and 1988; he is one of 12 players to have won at least three titles at the claycourt major.


#2: Michael Chang (17 years, 95 days) - 1988

Michael Chang
Michael Chang

American Michael Chang was a prodigious player right from his junior days winning many USTA Championships as a teenager playing in older age divisions. In 1988, aged just 16 years and 7 months, he won his first ATP tour title in San Francisco.

Playing in the same era as fellow American legends like Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier, it was the 5-foot-6 Chang who created ripples first.

Heading into 1989 Roland Garros, Chang had already announced himself on the big stage when he became the youngest ever player to be ranked in the top-5 of the ATP charts.

Making his debut at the claycourt major, the 15th seed thumped compatriot Sampras 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 in the second round. In the fourth round, despite trailing by two sets and suffering from leg cramps, the teenager resorted to unusual lobs and even an underarm serve to rattle the top-seeded Lendl and take the match in five sets against all odds.

The youngster managed to recover in time and after two gruelling four-set victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals respectively squared off against number two Stefan Edberg in the final.

In the biggest match of his young career, Chang was slow off the blocks and fell behind two sets to one. But just as he showed steely resolve in his previous matches, the American refused to throw the towel and fought back to triumph in five sets.

The win gave Chang his first and only Grand Slam title at the age of 17 years, 95 days, making him the youngest ever Grand Slam men's singles champion in the Open Era.

During the tournament, Chang spent 21 hours on court, which is an all-time Roland Garros record.

Six years later, the American reached another Roland Garros final but went down to Austrian Thomas Muster in straight sets.

#1: Andre Vacherot (17 years, 30 days) - 1894

Andre Vacherot
Andre Vacherot

Andre Vacherot was the first teenager to win the Roland Garros men's singles title when he triumphed in the fourth edition of the competition in 1894.

Vacherot beat compatriot Gerrard Brosselin 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 to win the first of his four Roland Garros titles. He successfully defended his title in 1895 by beating Lourent Riboulet and then beat Brosselin again in the 1896 title match to win his third title at the tournament before turning 20.

The three-time champion triumphed for a fourth time at Roland Garros in 1901 after beating Paul Lebreton in the final. That year, Vacherot won his second men's doubles title at the tournament, doing so with his brother Michel Vacherot.

More than 120 years after his first win in 1894, Andre Vacherot remains the youngest men's singles winner at Roland Garros.

Apart from his four singles titles, Vacherot also won two men's doubles titles at the tournament, doing so for the first time with Germany's Christian Winzer in 1895.

Published 19 Jul 2020, 04:49 IST
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