Five unexpected men’s French Open champions including Mats Wilander

Mats Wilander 1982 French Open
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Since 2005, the French Open men’s singles event has been won by just four different players: Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Stan Wawrinka. Prior to then, though, there had been a number of surprising male champions at Roland Garros since the Open started in 1968.

Here, we look at five unexpected French Open men’s singles winners in the Open Era:

Mats Wilander – 1982

Prior to the 1982 French Open, Mats Wilander had reached the semifinals at the 1982 Italian Open but had not won an ATP title. The 17-year-old, who was ranked 18th and making his Roland Garros main draw debut, had won the French Open boys’ singles title a year earlier.

Wilander defeated Alejandro Cortes in straight sets, Cassio Motta in four sets and Fernando Luna in straight sets in the first, second and third rounds respectively. In the last 16, the unseeded Swede stunned No. 2 seed Ivan Lendl 4-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 to reach his first Major quarterfinal.

The 17-year-old then saw off two more top 10 players – Vitas Gerulaitis and Jose-Luis Clerc – in four sets in the quarterfinals and semifinals. In the final, Wilander upset No. 3 seed and 1977 champion Guillermo Vilas 1-6, 7-6(6), 6-0, 6-4 to win his maiden Grand Slam title in just his third main draw Major appearance.

The Swede became the youngest male Major champion at the time at just 17 years and nine months.

Michael Chang – 1989

At the 1989 French Open, Michael Chang made his fifth Grand Slam main draw appearance and second at Roland Garros. The American was ranked 19th in the world and had claimed one ATP title.

Chang downed Eduardo Masso in four sets and both Pete Sampras and Francisco Roig in straight sets in the first, second and third rounds respectively. The 15th seed then came back to shock World No. 1 Ivan Lendl 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in a famous four-hour-and-37-minute fourth round encounter.

The 17-year-old battled past Andrei Chesnokov in a four-set semifinal to set up a title match against No. 3 seed Stefan Edberg. In the final, Chang recovered to triumph 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 – completing a remarkable run to his only Major title.

The American became, and remains, the youngest-ever men’s Grand Slam singles champion at the age of 17 years and three months.

Gustavo Kuerten – 1997

Gustavo Kuerten won the Curitiba ATP Challenger title in his native Brazil prior to the 1997 French Open, but he had not reached a tour-level final. The 20-year-old, who was the World No. 66, was making just his third Major main draw appearance and second at Roland Garros.

Kuerten downed Slava Dosedel in straight sets and Jonas Bjorkman in four sets in the opening two rounds, before stunning No. 5 seed and 1995 champion Thomas Muster 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 in a thrilling third round match.

The Brazilian then overcame World No. 20 Andrei Medvedev 5-7, 6-1, 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 in the last 16 to set up a quarterfinal with defending champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov. In the last eight, the unseeded 20-year-old upset the No. 3 seed 6-2, 5-7, 2-6, 6-0, 6-4 to win a third consecutive five-setter.

Kuerten then defeated Filip Dewlf in a four-set semifinal, before seeing off No. 16 seed and two-time former champion Sergi Bruguera 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 in the final. The Brazilian became the first unseeded Major champion since Mats Wilander at the 1982 French Open – whose record of winning a Grand Slam title at the third attempt he also tied.

Albert Costa – 2002

Prior to the 2002 French Open, Albert Costa had won 11 ATP singles titles (all on clay), but had not won a title since 1999. The Spaniard, who was seeded 20th, had reached the Roland Garros quarterfinals twice in his eight previous appearances, but had lost in the opening round the previous year.

Costa beat Richard Gasquet in four sets in the first round, before downing Nikolay Davydenko and Andrea Gaudenzi in straight sets in the second and third rounds. The 26-year-old then upset No. 7 seed and two-time defending champion Gustavo Kuerten 6-4, 7-5, 6-4 in the fourth round.

The Spaniard outlasted 15th seed Guillermo Canas 7-5, 3-6, 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-0 in the quarterfinals, before defeating 18th-seeded compatriot Alex Corretja in a four-set semifinal. In the title match, Costa overcame another fellow Spaniard – No. 11 seed Juan Carlos Ferrero – 6-1, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 to win his only Grand Slam and last career singles title.

Gaston Gaudio – 2004

Gaston Gaudio had only reached the last 16 of a Grand Slam tournament once going into the 2004 French Open, where he was unseeded. The Argentine had won two ATP titles (both on clay in 2002) and was ranked 44th at the time.

Gaudio needed five sets to hold off World No. 72 and countryman Guillermo Canas in the opening round, before prevailing in five sets again over 14th seed Jiri Novak in the second round. The Argentine then defeated Thomas Enqvist in four sets in the third round, and both Igor Andreev and Lleyton Hewitt in straight sets in the last 16 and quarterfinals respectively.

In the last four, the 25-year-old cruised past No. 8 seed and compatriot David Nalbandian in straight sets to set up an all-Argentine title match against Guillermo Coria. In a memorable final, Gaudio edged No. 3 seed Coria 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6 – saving two championship points and surviving his opponent serving for the match twice. Gaudio did not reach another Major quarterfinal in his career.

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