The ten best French Open men’s matches this century: Gaudio-Coria, final, 2004
The all-Argentine encounter between clay-court specialists Gastón Gaudio and Guillermo Coria may be the most dramatic French Open showpiece of the century so far. The last final before the onset of the Nadal Era, the three hour, 31 minute match featured two young players in their first and last Grand Slam finals and an ending no-one could have foreseen – at least not after the opener.
22-year-old Coria was the red-hot favourite, the third seed having recently won the Monte-Carlo Masters in some style. Gaudio, meanwhile, had scraped through five-setters against Guillermo Cañas and Jiří Novák en route to the final. The form book proved accurate early on, as Coria cruised to the first set without losing a game or even facing a break point. The second was almost as easy, Coria securing an early break then racing to a 5-2 lead only for Gaudio to break back for the first time. When Coria returned the favour straightaway, bullying his man all over the court then brushing a drop shot over the net, the writing seemed to be on the wall.
Only it wasn’t. Coria’s spectacular downfall began in the third set when cramp set in alongside unforced errors. Up 40-15 on serve at 4-4, he lost a thrilling 24-shot rally when Gaudio – on the run for most of the point – repaid his drop shot with a better one. The crowd roared, Gaudio grinned broadly in response then proceeded to break serve before consolidating to take the set. As Coria shuffled disconsolately around the court, his countryman had started, at long last, to enjoy himself.
“It cost me a lot when he came back to 4-4,” Coria remembered later. “I absolutely knew I had to win that third set.”
Despite his physical problems continuing in the fourth, which he surrendered 6-1, Coria somehow clawed his way back into the match during a nervy, error-strewn finale, going up 4-2 then serving for the Championship at 6-5. On the first of two match points, he lost a gruelling 15-shot rally by sending a backhand wide. On the next, he miscued a routine forehand. Gaudio flashed another grin after breaking moments later, and played with energy and verve in two subsequent games to bring the curtain down on a gonzo final, sealing the victory with a sumptuous single-handed backhand winner. Incredible.
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