What Is The Best French Open Match Ever In Tennis?
The French Open, commonly called Roland-Garros after the venue outside of Paris where it is held, is the world’s premier tennis competition on clay. The only Grand Slam still played on the surface, and the clay courts make the French Open the most physically challenging tournament on the tennis calendar.
The distinctive reddish-brown clay courts of Roland-Garros have hosted some of the most thrilling battles in history between the best tennis stars in the world. Have you ever wondered, what is the best French Open match ever in tennis? Keep reading to find out all about the most epic and exciting match on clay.
Some of the best and most memorable matches in tennis have happened at the French Open, with most occurring in the finals. Historic examples include René Lacoste’s defeat of Bill Tilden in 1927, Margaret Osborne’s win over Pauline Betz in 1946, and Rod Laver’s grueling 1962 come from behind victory over Roy Emerson.
More recently, Steffi Graf’s 1995 win over Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and Roger Federer’s incredible rebound to defeat Tommy Haas in 2009 were two of the best matches ever played at the French Open.
However, the best French Open match ever in tennis was the semi-final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in 2013.
Although Rafael Nadal is older than Novak Djokovic by less than a year, Nadal was very much the established veteran fending off a usurping Djokovic in this matchup. Nadal, already dubbed the “King of Clay” had seen massive success as early as his teens, and especially at Roland-Garros: between 2005 and 2012, he won the French Open singles title seven times.
On the other hand, Djokovic was only beginning to achieve victory at the highest level. In 2011 he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open, followed by another Australian Open title in 2012. By 2013 the only Grand Slam tournament Djokovic had not won was the French Open. Going into the tournament, Djokovic was ranked No. 1 in the world.
In their prior four meetings, Djokovic won each match. However, the last time the pair had faced each other in a major was in the final of the 2013 US Open, which Nadal won in four sets.
The semi-final match between Nadal and Djokovic took place on a searing hot day in June. The heat made the four hours and 37 minutes it took to decide the match all that much more of a challenge for the two players to endure.
Nadal looked strong early, handily winning the first set 6-4. This was the only time the outcome seemed certain. Nadal sustained his momentum, going up 3-2 in the second set, until Djokovic rallied, winning the next four games and the set. The fans reacted positively to Djokovic, seemingly eager to see a new champion at Roland-Garros.
The tide quickly turned again in Nadal’s favor in the third set, as he crushed a stumbling Djokovic 6-1. However, the fourth set showed that it was truly either player’s match. Nadal jumped ahead by breaking Djokovic’s service, but Djokovic returned the favor, breaking back and eventually winning the set in a tiebreaker, forcing a fifth and final set.
The fifth set started similarly, with each player breaking and reaching a tie at 4-4. In the 16th game of the set, Djokovic made multiple unforced errors, allowing Nadal three match points and the eventual victory. Although Nadal had maintained his dominance on clay, the crowd also applauded Djokovic for his grit and endurance.
Speaking to the press after the win, Nadal credited his love for the game in helping him endure the marathon match. He also noted the similarities to his meeting with Djokovic in the 2012 Australian Open final. That match lasted five hours and 53 minutes, and was eventually won by Djokovic in the fifth set.
Djokovic congratulated his opponent and praised him for showing the courage when needed to win the match. He also blamed a breakdown of his own technique in the fifth set for his loss. Reflecting on the level of competition, tennis legend and commentator John McEnroe called it the best match ever played on clay.
Two days after the match, Nadal defeated David Ferrer in an anticlimactic final, winning his eighth career Coupe des Mousquetaires (the French Open trophy). Djokovic managed to defeat Nadal on clay two years later in the quarterfinal of the 2015 French Open.
The following year, he finally achieved his dream of a Career Slam, winning the 2016 French Open. Djokovic repeated that performance in 2021, winning his second French Open and ending a four-year streak of wins by Nadal. Now, it seems, the King of Clay’s crown is either player’s for the taking.