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French Open, career closed!

Last updated on: May 21, 2010 09:49 IST

Image: Roland Garros, Paris
Photographs: Reuters

Call it coincidence, a curse or even a jinx, for that matter.

But a comparative analysis of the four Grand Slam tournaments in tennis suggests that a triumph at the French Open is definitely a tough act to follow.

Tennis history is replete with examples of players whose careers have gone kaput after making their breakthrough at Roland Garros. Many who won their maiden Grand Slam title in the French capital have failed to add another major trophy to their cabinets.

Statistics point out, in the Open Era (since 1969), 10 players who won their first major title at the Australian Open failed to replicate that success and had to retire with without further success.

That number comes down to six when one takes into account the All England Championships at Wimbledon and comes further down, to just four, when the year's final major, the US Open, comes under the scanner.

However, when you list the players who failed to win another major, having sealed their maiden triumph at the red clay in Paris, the number goes up to a whopping 16.

As the world gets ready for yet another edition of the year's second major (starting on Monday), Associate Editor Bikash Mohapatra goes through the careers of a few players whose successes at Roland Garros hastened their decline on the international scene.

N.B. The analysis is limited only to the last 20 years and therefore, doesn't include the players who have won in Paris before 1990.

A perfect swansong

Image: Andres Gomez
Photographs: Reuters

Andres Gomez (Ecuador)

Coming into the 1990 French Open, Andres Gomez was in the twilight of his career.

Having played professional tennis for a good 11 years, the then 30-year-old didn't have a kind of resume to be particularly proud of.

Having never hitherto progressed beyond the last eight of a Grand Slam, having just two major titles so to speak at the Italian Open (1982, 1984), Gomez's best results had come in the doubles.

However, they say when opportunity knocks on your door, you should be prepared to grab it with both the hands.

And that is precisely what the Ecuadorian did.

Benefitting from an easy draw the veteran reached the semi-finals, where he faced ninth seed Thomas Muster.

A straight sets win meant Gomez was a win away from the biggest prize of his career and standing in between both was a youngster named Andre Agassi.

The young American happened to be the crowd favourite but the Ecuadorian had something that his rival didn't have (at least at that time): experience.

Gomez used that attribute to good effect to eke out a four-set win, a result that became the hallmark of his career.

And a perfect swansong as well.

She flattered to deceive

Image: Iva Majoli
Photographs: Reuters

Iva Majoli (Croatia)

In the early nineties, Iva Majoli was considered a promising prospect, particularly on clay.

So it didn't surprise many when she upset an in-form Martina Hingis of Switzerland in straight sets (6-4, 6-2) to win the women's singles title at the French Open in 1997.

The loss ended Hingis's 37-match winning streak.

And many believed Majoli had arrived big time.

They were proved wrong -- the Croat's career suffered a massive decline immediately after.

Majoli did reach the quarter-finals at Paris the following year, but failed to reach the third round of any subsequent Grand Slam tournaments she played.

Thereafter, her game went on a downward spiral.

His lone moment of glory

Image: Albert Costa

Albert Costa (Spain)

Considered a good player, at least on the red dirt, Albert Costa had only a couple of big titles (at Barcelona and Hamburg) to showcase his credentials.

However, going into the French Open in 2002, he had not won a tour title in three years.

A shocking statistic that.

But he ruled at Roland Garros that year.

An upset win over two-time defending-champion Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil in the fourth round was followed by a similar result over two-time finalist and compatriot Alex Corretja in the last four.

Despite his two upset wins, it was Costa's rival in the final, another Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero, who was considered the favourite for the title.

However, Costa won 6-1, 6-0, 4-6, 6-3 to claim what was not only his maiden major title but also his final ATP title.

The following year, Costa spent a total of 21 hours and 15 minutes on court, winning four five-setters while defending his title before being knocked-out in a semi-final by eventual champion Ferrero.

That defeat hastened the end of the Spaniard's career.

Too much to handle

Image: Anastasia Myskina

Anastasia Myskina (Russia)

In 2004, Anastasia Myskina created history.

When she won the French Open, beating compatriot Elena Dementieva 6-1, 6-2 in the decider, she became the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam title, in what was the first all-Russian major final.

However, the title also marked the beginning of the end of her career.

A year later, she became the first defending champion in Paris to lose in the opening round when she was beaten in three sets by Spaniard Maria Sanchez Lorenzo.

For that matter, as a former champion, Myskina probably has the worst ever singles win/loss record at Roland Garros (11/7), with five first round exits.

The Russian did make it to the last eight stage at Wimbledon on two occasions (2005-06) but there was a gradual decline in her performance and she soon called it quits.

Probably the pressure of being a major champion was too much to handle for the Russian.

A surprise success, a quiet exit

Image: Gaston Gaudio

Gaston Gaudio (Argentina)

Not many might remember this name.

However, in 2004 Gaston Gaudio did become the first Argentine to win a Grand Slam title since Guillermo Vilas (in 1977) when he defeated compatriot and favourite Guillermo Coria 0-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 8-6 in an all-Argentine final.

The first set bagel also ensured he became the first man ever to win a major after losing the first 6-0.

For someone who came into the tournament ranked 44th, it was quite an achievement.

In 2005, Gaudio won as many as five titles on the red dirt but thereafter went into oblivion.

When the Argentine (then ranked 359th) turned up at Roland Garros in 2009 as a wildcard hoping to relive the best days of his life, he was sent packing (6-3, 6-4, 6-1) by Czech Radek Stepanek.

A shocking 'slump' story

Image: Ana Ivanovic

Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)

Ana Ivannovic's career (thus far) can be summed up in two parts: one before her triumph at the 2008 French Open and one after that.

The first part would be the story of a young Serbian girl who fought all odds to rise to the top of the women's game.

The second would be the story of a star who let the success get to her head.

In 2008, Ivanovic was living a dream. A straight sets win over Russian Dinara Safina in the French Open final gave the Serbian her first major title in her third final appearance she had lost in the final at Roland Garros in the previous year.

Soon she would take over as the best player in the world, the No 1. And it seemed she seemed destined for greater glory.

However, the dream was ephemeral.

A year on, at the same venue, Roland Garros, Ivanovic was having nightmares.

She relinquished her title after self-admittedly suffering "dizzy spells" in a 6-2, 6-3 defeat by Belarussian teenager Victoria Azarenka.

And the defeat summed up the Serbian's decline in the intermediate period, throwing up statistics that hardly do anything to elevate the stature of a player who was heading for greatness only a year back.

Since her triumph in Paris last fall, Ivanovic suffered a slump in form that witnessed her finish 2008 with a 11-9 singles record after the French Open (38-15) overall and her ranking plummet from number one to eighth in the world.

The statistic (11-9) becomes more morbid when one considers the fact four of those wins came during her title run at Linz, her only triumph after that success in Paris.

Ivanovic's slump has continued thereafter as well.

In 2009, she finished the year with a 24-14 match record, her worst since she turned pro, and with no titles.

And there has been respite thus far in this year as well.