With the year’s second Grand Slam tournament looming, this article will take a trip down memory lane, as we flash back to the 2008 French Open.
While Rafael Nadal continued his dominance on the men’s side, the women’s side produced a new champion.
The men: Champion Rafael Nadal (fourth of seven and counting titles)
There was always going to be one favourite for the French Open title and that was Rafael Nadal, who to that point had never lost at the French Open since his debut in 2005.
The year 2008 was starting to become bigger for Nadal; earlier in the year, he had reached his first ever Grand Slam semi-final outside of Europe at the Australian Open, being stunned there by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
He had also reached the final in Miami, losing to Nikolay Davydenko, and started his clay court season with the customary Monte Carlo Masters title and winning Hamburg to complete the set of having won every major tournament on clay.
However, sandwiched in between those titles in Monte Carlo and Hamburg was a surprise second round exit to fellow former French Open champion and Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero.
What was otherwise a solid clay court season led to Nadal being considered one of the favourites for the French Open trophy.
Nadal would win the tournament without dropping a set, the first of two tournaments in which he would win without the concession of a set (the other occasion being the 2010 French Open).
Along the way, he destroyed Fernando Verdasco for the loss of just three games and defeated Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals, before saving his best for last in the final, losing only four games to Roger Federer.
Nadal’s performance in the 2008 tournament is considered to be one of his best French Open tournaments. As for Roger Federer, the French Open trophy once again alluded him, though he would only have to wait another 12 months to finally complete the set.
This title for Nadal would be the first sign of big things to come.
Four weeks later, Nadal would defeat Federer in the final of Wimbledon in what is considered to be one of the greatest tennis matches in history, and also went on to win the Olympic gold medal in Beijing and capture the World No. 1 ranking for the first time.
Federer would, however, arrest his slump by capturing the US Open title for a fifth consecutive year, defeating Andy Murray in the final. Murray had defeated the newly-crowned top-ranked Nadal in the semi-finals.
The top players aside, the tournament is also well known for the emergence of Gael Monfils. The withdrawals of French favourites Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Richard Gasquet robbed the tournament of two of their biggest hopes, and one man had to stand up.
That man was Monfils. He had a great junior career, almost sweeping the junior Grand Slams in 2004 (only failing to win the US Open).
Unseeded, he reached the semi-finals, knocking out the likes of Jurgen Melzer and David Ferrer en route, before being beaten by Roger Federer in the semi-finals.
Today, Monfils is still a fan favourite, however he is coming off an injury-ravaged season which has seen him drop to No. 99 in the world. He has received a wildcard into this year’s tournament, where he has since reached two quarter-finals, in 2009 and 2011, losing on both occasions to Federer.
The women: Champion Ana Ivanovic
The French Open was rocked pre-tournament by the shock retirement of four-times champion and seven-times major champion Justine Henin. It was a retirement that nobody saw coming, given the Belgian was still World No. 1 and had won the Sydney International earlier in the season.
Henin’s retirement left Serena Williams as the only former champion left in the draw, and accordingly, was the outright favourite to win the tournament, despite competition from the top four seeds (Maria Sharapova, Ana Ivanovic, Jelena Jankovic and Svetlana Kuznetsova).
Sharapova and Jankovic entered the tournament in prime form, having won titles in Amelia Island and Rome respectively; while Ivanovic and Kuznetsova both suffered poor form since contesting the final in Indian Wells earlier in the year.
Williams on the other hand, enjoyed a great build-up, having won 17 straight matches which included titles in Bangalore, Miami and Charleston.
It was during this streak in which she defeated Kuznetsova, Jankovic and Sharapova, adding to her favouritism for the tournament.
Her impressive records against each of the Top Four would have also been a scary prospect for fans of those top four players.
The draw which came out saw Williams placed into the same quarter as Ana Ivanovic, the 2007 runner-up. Williams had already beaten her once in straight sets at the 2006 US Open, and a quarter-final between the two was looking very likely.
It was thought that Williams would easily win the title, given the very easy draw she received, however, a third round loss to Katarina Srebotnik not only opened up Ivanovic’s draw, but also guaranteed a new champion in Paris.
Sharapova struggled to get through her own early rounds, almost being defeated in the first round by Evgeniya Rodina, and being pushed by Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Karin Knapp, before being dismissed in the fourth round by eventual finalist Dinara Safina.
On the other hand, Ivanovic, Jankovic and Kuznetsova all reached the semi-finals without the concession of a set between them. Ivanovic had shown the most impressive form, serving a double-bagel to Petra Cetkovska in the Round of 16.
Out of the eight quarter-finalists, only Kuznetsova had won a major title before, having won the US Open back in 2004.
The tournament was also well known for the emergence of Dinara Safina.
The 22-year-old sister of two-times major champion Marat Safin entered the tournament having won Berlin, defeating Justine Henin, Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Elena Dementieva en route to what would be the biggest title of her career to date.
Aside from defeating Maria Sharapova in a dramatic fourth round encounter, her rise also claimed two more victims, as she repeated the dose on Dementieva in the quarter-finals (saving a match point in the process) and then defeated Kuznetsova in straight sets.
This set up an improbable championship match between Safina and Ivanovic.
A first-time major champion was guaranteed, while for Ivanovic, she entered the match having claimed the World No. 1 ranking by virtue of defeating compatriot and rival Jelena Jankovic in the semi-finals.
Eventually, Ivanovic’s experience told as she scooped her first (and so far only) Grand Slam title.
The ghosts of her 2007 final defeat were all but killed off, as well as a defeat in the Australian Open final earlier in the year, as she won the title at the third time of asking.
To this day, many people continue to insist that Ivanovic was very lucky to win the title, given the early exit of would-have-been quarter-final opponent Serena Williams.
In the five years that has almost passed since, Ivanovic’s career has taken a hard tumble down, and by July 2010 she had dropped to No. 65 in the world.
A continued change of coaches, as well as injuries and poor form led to her downfall, and even today she is still struggling to rediscover her past glories which could have made up for all those lost years she spent at the bottom.
However, she did reach the quarter-finals at last year’s US Open, and did beat Caroline Wozniacki at Indian Wells last year, two highlights from an otherwise disappointing season in which she failed to reach a single championship match.
Next, I will flashback to the 2009 French Open, a tournament which saw both the defending champions crash out within two hours of each other, and have a look at how Roger Federer complete the Career Grand Slam, as well as the title run of Svetlana Kuznetsova.