The French Open Tennis Championship has always been my favourite tournament for one reason or another but I believe that it may just be in the way that it asks the ultimate physical question of a professional. Not only that but it also demands a mind that only a few tennis players own, a mind that never accepts defeat no matter how hopeless the situation seems.
If you read through the results of this year's matches you will notice that the man who finally put Andre Agassi's career to bed, Benjamin Becker defied his ranking and logic to make the third round. After being down two sets to one against Bemelmans in the first round Becker scraped through a fourth set tie breaker before finding another gear to win 6-2 in the fifth.
Becker's second round match was rather outrageous as the score line suggests against Fernando Verdasco , the number 32 seed. After claiming the first set 6-4 against a player ranked 16 places higher and of a reputation that is to be respected the wheels fell off for Becker, big time. In fact Verdasco won the next two sets 6-0, 6-1, not unlike what Hewitt did to Becker in this year's Australian Open.
Hewitt smashed Becker in the first two sets 6-2, 6-1 before Benjamin finally woke up and realized he was in a tennis tournament then found a way to win the match in five.
Benjamin Becker finds another gear when he is down in a match, a trait of any top 50 tennis professional and one that is taken for granted by many who simply read a score but don't read the fine print. The man from Germany is nearly 34 years of age but is not retiring without leaving a legacy of a refuse to give in attitude that will see him walk into a coaching job no doubt when his time is up.
His longevity in the game is testimony to the fact that he is a player who will be respected for hanging around when many would have packed the rackets away for fear of failure.
So his effort in coming back from the two set obliteration from Verdasco was nothing short of a show of fighting spirit that cannot be taught by a coach, it comes from owning a heart as big as the forehand. The final two sets from Becker will go down in French Open history as a refusal to go away without a fight that ultimately turned into a victory, 7-5, 10-8.
Sometimes a player who is losing badly may just dig in enough to win enough games to make the score look better than the effort actually was. A score of say 6-1, 6-2, 7-5 is typical of a player who was outplayed for the majority of the match yet dug deep to extract some respect from both his opponent and himself. It's something to bring the player back for another crack at it the following year, a personal victory when things aren't going according to plan.
One of the greatest French Open come back wins in the history of the tournament came in 1984 when Chilean Hans Gildemeister took on the number nine seed Henrik Sundstrom of Sweden in round three. Gildemeister lead by the score of 6-2, 6-0, 5-1 and had 0-30 on Sundstrom's serve before making twelve unforced errors in a row. The Swede went on to win six games in a row to take the third set and won the final two sets 6-3, 6-4. How does that happen at that level ?
Ask Johnny McEnroe the same question as in that same year he lead Ivan Lendl by the score of 6-3, 6-2 and was up a break in the third set before losing it 4-6. He then lead 4-2 in the fourth and the match was on his racket at deuce in the very next game yet Lendl won the set 7-5 and the fifth by the same score.
It was another miracle recovery at the French Open in 1984 that typified the nature of clay court tennis, not just a physical and tactical surface to win on but without a doubt the toughest mentally to close out a match on. Whether it be the slowness of the court or the physical demands of the constant slide to the ball the matches in Paris bring out some remarkable efforts of human endurance.
Andre Agassi in 1999 came back from a deficit of 1-6, 2-6 to win the final against Andrei Medvedev 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 which finally completed his Grand Slam accomplishments. It was an amazing come back by Agassi and one that typified an attitude of a refusal to give up.
When Bjorn Borg was just 18 years of age he came back from two sets to love down against the Spaniard Manuel Orantes, 2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1 to win the final. That type of win at such a young age typified a mind beyond it's years as many would have put the toys back in the toy box after the second set and went home. To lose just two more games for the match showed a true test of character that not enough tennis players own.
Some are happy to put up a good effort measured personally by games won whereas the champions of tennis do not look at anything but a win. Second place and 'respectable performances' are not in a champion's vocabulary.
I remember 1984 in Paris because I used to ride my push bike up to the local newsagency just to buy the Daily News Newspaper that published all of the French Open Tennis results each day with ridiculous detail. It was almost part of my training routine as a kid;
Do the bike ride, buy the paper, get inspired, hit against the garage wall at home until it was dark, read the paper again, cut out the article, stick it to the wardrobe door.
Dream of Paris........