The golden age of French men's tennis is almost a century old, with Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra, Rene Lacoste and Jacques Brugnon battling against the mighty Americans all over the world, and dominating in the home Major between 1922-32!
In the first edition after the Second World War, Marcel Bernard claimed another Roland Garros crown for France, but things didn't look well for the home nation in the decades to come, with just 1 player in the final until 1983. In that year, 23-year-old Yannick Noah, a charismatic player with Cameroon origins, went all the way to lift the beloved trophy in front of the partisan crowd, remaining the last French winner of the Roland Garros title up to date. In the final match, on June 5, Noah defeated 18-year-old title defender Mats Wilander by 6-2 7-5 7-6 in 2 hours and 24 minutes to become the national hero and the last player who conquered Paris with an aggressive serve&volley approach.
Noah was the 6th seed and he played an inspired tennis during the fortnight, reaching the quarter-final without a set lost and beating Ivan Lendl there 6-0 in the 4th set to enter the last 4. In the first all-French semi-final since 1946, Noah took down Christophe Roger-Vasselin 6-3 6-0 6-0 in just an hour and 22 minutes, and it was clear he has a shot of going all the way, despite facing the toughest possible rival in the title match. Swede was the player to beat on clay that spring, with 20 straight wins before Noah stopped him in the quarter-final of Hamburg, and that match helped the Frenchman to prepare the right tactics in Paris as well.
Carried by the frantic partisan crowd, tall athlete with Rastafarian hairstyle was the dominant figure on the court, pushing Wilander out from his comfort zone with constant net attacks and he never allowed the Swede to draw him into long and slow rallies where he would be in subordinate position. Of course, Mats had a lot more groundstroke winners, especially from his backhand wing, but Yannick responded with some 35 volley and overhead winners, using every opportunity for the slice approach and to finish the point with a volley. Frenchman lost his serve 3 times from 9 chances Mats had and he broke his rival 6 times from 17 opportunities, using the slower serve from Wilander to impose his shots and get the advantage in the exchanges.
Noah won the first set with comfortable 6-2 scoreline but the rest of the match turned into a real battle. He did well to grab the second set by 7-5, moving just a set away from the triumph. That final set turned out to the most difficult for him, with cramps and fear of triumph, but he managed to overcome all that and celebrate in straight sets. Mats had 3 break points in game 4 that could put him 3-1 up (they exchanged breaks at the start of the set) but Yannick somehow stayed in touch, and he got a late break to serve for the match at 6-5. Wilander broke back to remain in contention, only to drop the tie break by 7-3, and his dreams of title defense were crashed when Noah landed another service winner to seal the deal and start a huge celebration.