The second Grand Slam tennis tournament of the year is upon us, with the French Open slated to begin on May 26 and run through June 9 in Paris. Since the Open Era began in 1968, nine different Americans have combined for 19 singles titles at Roland Garros, the only Grand Slam played on clay courts.
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Here is a look back at past U.S. singles champions in the event.
Michael Chang (1989): At 17 years and three months, he became the youngest man to win a Grand Slam singles title. In the fourth round of the tournament, he was a massive underdog as the No. 15 seed facing No. 1 seed and three-time champion Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia. Despite dropping the first two sets and enduring leg cramps mid-match, Chang battled back in dramatic fashion to win in five sets in one of the most memorable matches in Roland Garros history. Chang, a 1992 and 2000 U.S. Olympian, went on to beat Stefan Edberg for his lone Grand Slam title.
Jim Courier (1991, 1992): The former world No. 1 player was the youngest man to have reached the finals of all four Grand Slam singles tournaments. He won his first major title in 1991 at the French Open, defeating fellow American Andre Agassi in a five-set slugfest after defeating the top seed in the quarterfinals. As the top seed in Paris the following year, Courier — a 1992 U.S. Olympian — beat Agassi in the semifinals in straight sets and then routinely beat Czech Petr Korda in the final.
Andre Agassi (1999): After losing the first set to Andrei Medvedev in 19 minutes in the final, Agassi came back to win his lone French Open singles title in five sets. With the victory, he became just the fifth man at the time and first since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Grand Slam singles titles in his career. Agassi won eight Grand Slam tournaments in his career, in addition to the 1996 Olympic gold medal.
Nancy Richey (1968): After nearly 80 years, the French Open opened to everyone, yet protests and strikes raged throughout France that year with students and workers rallying against the established order. While Richey was the first champion of Roland Garros during the Open Era, she was still an amateur and did not accept the prize money for fear she might be banned from the Fed Cup. So all she received during the tournament was a $27 per diem per day.
Billie Jean King (1972): Now famous for being a pioneer in equality, King won 12 Grand Slam singles titles during her playing days, including three in 1972. In her lone singles win at Roland Garros — she won 39 total Grand Slam titles, including doubles and mixed doubles — King beat Australia's Evonne Goolagong in straight sets in the final to complete her career Grand Slam. She would go on to become an icon in the sports world, becoming the first woman in the history of sports to win $100,000 in a single year and the first to be named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year.
Chris Evert (1974, 1975, 1979, 1980, 1983, 1985, 1986): Known as America’s tennis sweetheart, Evert won at least one major singles title a record 13 years in a row and a record seven French Open singles titles that was only surpassed by Rafael Nadal in 2013. She was arguably the most dominant clay-court player of all time with a 94.55 winning percentage on the surface. Evert, a 1988 U.S. Olympian, might have won more at Roland Garros had she not skipped the tournament three times in the heart of her career, from 1976-78, to play in World Team Tennis.
Martina Navratilova (1982, 1984): No men’s or women’s player has won more singles tournaments (167) than Navratilova since the Open Era began. She won 18 Grand Slam singles titles in her career and also competed at the Olympic Games Athens 2004, and when she won the 1984 French Open she held all four major singles titles simultaneously. Of all the Grand Slams, Navratilova won the French Open the fewest times, which might have something to do with Evert. However, their 1985 meeting in the final is considered one of the best matches of all time, with Evert ultimately holding on to win 6-3, 6-7(4), 7-5.
Jennifer Capriati (2001): Capriati began her tennis career as a 5-year-old student of Chris Evert’s father, Jim Evert. At the 1990 French Open, she became the youngest player to reach the semifinals of a major tournament at 14 years, two months. Eleven years later, she finally won the event to become the first American woman to win since Chris Evert in 1986. Capriati, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist in women’s singles, beat Belgium's Kim Clijsters in three sets to win her lone French Open.
Serena Williams (2002, 2013, 2015): With four Olympic gold medals and 23 Grand Slam singles titles to her name, the record for the most in the Open Era, Williams is one of the most dominant athletes to ever play the game. She is also the most recent female player to have held all four Grand Slam singles titles simultaneously. Williams has won three times in Paris before, and in 2002 she won her first French Open by beating sister Venus Williams in the final. However, Serena will be entering this year’s tournament with a bothersome left knee and having played just one match on clay since last year’s event.
Additionally, prior to the Open Era, eight different American women and five men also won French Open titles: Helen Willis Moody, Margaret Osborne duPont, Patricia Canning Todd, Doris Hart, Shirley Fry, Maureen Connolly, Althea Gibson, Darlene Hard, Donald Budge, Donald McNeill, Frank Parker, Budge Patty and Tony Trabert.
Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the 2012 and 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.