Since the Open era started in 1968, the France Open has produced some exceptional winners. While some players have struggled on the clay of Roland-Garros, others have excelled and made it their favorite place to play. With the 2023 edition of the French Open starting on May 28 and the tournament missing its most successful player, Rafael Nadal, through injury, it’s worth revisiting some history.
Brief History of the French Open (Men’s Singles and Women’s Singles)
The French Open is a major tennis tournament that holds at the Stade Roland-Garros in Paris, France, from late May each year. The tournament is also known as Roland-Garros, inspired by the venue where it is played. Besides being the first clay court championship in the world, it is the only Grand Slam tournament played on this surface.
The tournament’s first edition, then known as the French Championships, was won by H. Briggs, a British man living in Paris, in 1891. Six years later, the women’s singles tournament premiered.
The winner of the men’s singles gets the Musketeers’ Cup, which pays tribute to the four Musketeers of French tennis: Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra, and Rene Lacoste. The cup has been awarded since 1981.
On the other hand, the women’s singles champion takes home the Suzanne-Lenglen Cup, which features the name of a legend of French tennis who won Roland-Garros six times before the open era. The cup has been awarded since 1979.
Best French Open Winners
Here are the best winners of the French Open:
Rafael Nadal (14-time Roland-Garros winner)
Rafael Nadal is the undisputed King of Clay. He has won the tournament an astonishing 14 times since his debut in the 2005 edition. He embodies everything people love about the Roland-Garros in the modern era. As a 19-year-old, Nadal pronounced himself to the world of tennis with the French Open title on his first try. He got the better of Mariano Puerta in the final.
Nadal beat world No. 1 Roger Federer, known to be brilliant on clay, in the 2006 final. The Spanish repeated the same feat against Federer in 2007, declaring Federer was no match for him. He picked up his 14th victory in June 2022, beating Casper Ruud at 36.
Chris Evert (7-time Roland-Garros winner)
Chris Evert follows Rafael Nadal in the all-time list of most Roland-Garros titles. The American former No. 1, one of the most successful women’s players in history, won her titles in the women’s singles category. She won the tournament in 1975, 1978, 1980, 1983, 1985, and 1986 — all in the Open era.
Her first victory in 1975 came against Olga Morozova in the final, who she beat 6–1, 6–2 to clinch the title. She beat Martina Navratilova 2–6, 6–3, 6–3 for her last title in 1986.
Bjorn Borg (6-time Roland-Garros winner)
Bjorn Borg is another player known for his exceptional success on the clay surface at Roland-Garros. In eight visits to Roland-Garros, the Swede won 49 matches and six titles. Borg overcame the disappointment of a fourth-round exit in his 1973 debut to become the first teenager to bag a Grand Slam in 1974. He got the better of Manuel Orantes from two sets down in the final to clinch the title.
He won his last French Open title in the 1981 final, beating Ivan Lendl in five sets.
Steffi Graf (6-time Roland-Garros winner)
While Borg ruled the men’s singles clay court six times, Steffi Graf made her mark on the women’s singles surface. Regarded by many as the greatest women’s tennis player of all time, Graf was a monster on any surface. She won the Roland-Garros in 1987, 1988, 1993, 1995, 1996, and 1999.
The German tennis legend won her first French Open beating two-time champion Navratilova 6-4, 4-6, 8-6. She bagged her last in 1999, defeating Swiss Martina Hingis 4-6, 7-5, 6-2.
Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander (3-time Roland-Garros winners)
Lendl and Mats Wilander have won three Roland-Garros titles each. In 1985 and 1987, they beat each other to clinch the title. The first encounter resulted in Wilander taking the title, beating Lendl, the defending champion, in four sets. Two years later, revenge was on the cards as Lendl beat his Swede rival in four sets.
Moreover, Wilander won his first Roland-Garros title in 1982 as an unseeded 17-year-old, becoming the youngest men’s singles Grand Slam winner in history (Michael Chang at 17 years, 110 days beat the record with the 1989 French Open title).