The current tennis season is in the middle of its clay court stage which will culminate in the 2014 French Open on the 25th of May. The French Open is the second Grand Slam tournament on the calender and the only one played on clay. The tournament was created in 1891 and has been played at Roland Garros since 1928. Playing on clay offers different challenges than other surfaces and many great champions have often struggled to win the French Open. American Pete Sampras has won 14 Grand Slam titles but never made a final at Roland Garros. Roger Federer has won 17 Grand Slams but has only managed to win the French Open on one occasion. This article lists the ten greatest male tennis players at the French Open. Only professional players after 1968 and the beginning of the Open Era of tennis were considered for this list. The list took into account the amount of match wins at Roland Garros as well as the number of titles won. Seven of the ten players listed have won the French Open on multiple occasions.
10. Jan Kodes – Champion in 1970 and 1971
First on the list of great French Open players is Jan Kodes. Jan Kodes was a player from the Czechoslovakia who won two French Open titles in 1970 and 1971. Kodes only won one other Grand Slam event, the 1973 Wimbledon title and only a total of eight singles titles. Khodes played at the French Open from 1968-1981 and has won a total of 39 matches at Roland Garros which ranks 11th all time. Kodes was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1990.
9. Andre Agassi – 1999 Champion
Andre Agassi is one of four male tennis players in the Open Era to have won all four Grand Slam tournaments (and one of three on this list). He is considered one of the greatest tennis players in history and has won eight Grand Slam tournaments. He is perhaps the best returner of serve to have played. Most observers felt Agassi would win the French Open before he won any other Grand Slam event. Surprisingly, Agassi struggled to win the French Open and won it in 1999 after he had won titles at every other Grand Slam. Agassi had previously lost in the Finals at Roland Garros in both 1990 and 1991. Agassi has won a total of 51 matches at the French Open, which ranks fifth all time.
8. Jim Courier – Champion in 1991 and 1992
Of Jim Courier‘s four Grand Slam singles titles, two of them were French Open titles. Courier won the French Open in consecutive years in 1991 and 1992 and lost in the finals in 1993. Courier holds the record for being the youngest man to have reached the finals of all four Grand Slam singles tournaments, at the age of 22 years and 11 months. Courier won a total of 40 matches at Roland Garros which is tied for eighth all time with Yannick Noah and Jimmy Connors. Courier retired from tennis in 2000 and was subsequently inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2005.
7. Guillermo Vilas – 1977 Champion
Guillermo Vilas was one of the best tennis players on clay. The left handed Argentine was the first tennis player to have reached the 900 win plateau. He held the record for most consecutive match wins on clay with 53 (since broken by Rafael Nadal). Vilas won 56 matches at Roland Garros which was a record until it was broken in 2013 by two players on this list. He appeared in four French Open Finals and won one of them in 1977. 1977 was a historic year for Vilas as he won 16 titles and 134 matches. Vilas was the second South American tennis player to have won a Grand Slam event when he won the 1977 French Open title.
6. Gustavo Kuerten – Champion in 1997, 2000 and 2001
Another multiple winner of the French Open to make this list is Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten. Kuerten won the French Open on three occasions, in 1997, 2000 and 2001. Of all the players on this list, Kuerten is the only one to have enjoyed no success at any other Grand Slam. Besides his three French Open wins, Kuerten has not won any other Grand Slam and has not advanced past the quarter finals in any of those tournaments. In 2000 and 2001, Kuerten led the ATP in prize money and was ranked as the year end number one player in 2000. Kuerten is one of five players to have won the French Open at least three times and has won 36 matches at Roland Garros which is tied for 13th all time.
5. Mats Wilander – Champion in 1982, 1985 and 1988
Mats Wilander is another player who won three French Open titles. Wilander won the title at Roland Garros in 1982, 1985 and 1988. Wilander made a total of five finals appearance at Roland Garros and won a total of 47 matches, which is seventh all time. Wilander is one of two players to have won at least two Grand Slam titles on each of the three tennis surfaces. Wilander never won Wimbledon, but won two Australian Open titles when the tournament was played on grass. In 2002, Wilander was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
4. Ivan Lendl – Champion in 1984, 1986 and 1987
In the past few years, Ivan Lendl has received attention as the coach of British number one Andy Murray. Lendl has been the coach during Murray’s most successful period and has helped the Scot win an Olympic gold medal and two Grand Slam titles. While Lendl has enjoyed success as a coach, Murray has a long way to go before he matches his exploits as a player. Lendl won over 1000 matches in his career including eight Grand Slam titles. Lendl is one of five players to have won over 50 matches at Roland Garros. Lendl managed to win 53 matches at the French Open including three French Open title wins. Lendl made five finals appearances at Roland Garros and was victorious in 1984, 1986 and 1987.
3. Roger Federer – 2009 Champion
Roger Federer is on the shortlist of greatest tennis players in history. Federer has won 17 Grand Slam singles titles which is a record for male tennis players. Of those 17 titles only one is a French Open title. Despite his lack of trophies at the French Open, Federer has to be considered one of the best players ever to play at Roland Garros. Between 2005-2013 Federer reached at least the quarter finals of the French Open with seven semi-finals and five finals appearances. His lone French Open title came in 2009 completing the career slam for Federer (one of four players since the Open Era to achieve this feat). Federer has won 58 matches at Roland Garros which is second all time and one away from the record. Federer would have more French Open titles if had managed to have even moderate success against the number one player on this list.
2. Björn Borg – Champion 1974, 1975 and 1978-1981
Björn Borg has won the French Open on six occasions which ranks second all time. Borg also won the French Open in four consecutive years between 1978-1981 which is tied with the number one player on this list. Borg’s record at Grand Slam events was impressive and he won 11 of the 27 major tournaments he entered, including six out of right French Opens. Borg ranks sixth all time in match wins at Roland Garros with 49 wins. Borg retired from tennis in 1982 at the age of 26. If he had continued to play, it is likely he would have added to his many accomplishments and probably won more French Open titles.
1. Rafael Nadal – Champion 2005-2008 and 2010-2013
Since the Open Era, Rafael Nadal is the best male tennis player on clay. He holds the record for most consecutive wins on clay with 81 and his record at Roland Garros is astonishing. Nadal has won 59 matches at the French Open which is the most of any player. Nadal has won the French Open four consecutive years on two separate occasions. He has won the French Open a record eight times and has only been defeated at Roland Garros once, in 2009 by Robin Soderling. While Roger Federer holds the record for Grand Slam titles at 17, he could have many more if he did not play in the same era as Nadal. Nadal defeated Federer in five French Opens including four finals in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2011 and a semi final in 2005.