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Past becomes present at Roland Garros 2023

  • Vivienne Christie

Twitter was several years from its public launch date, Facebook and Instagram weren’t yet concepts, while “Google” was some time away from becoming a common verb. We listened to new music – Beyoncé had only just emerged as an independent artist – on fancy iPods and indulged a growing love for boxed TV series on DVD. 

The year was 2003, and it was clearly a very different era – including in the tennis world. Andy Roddick and Justine Henin claimed the coveted year-end world No.1 rankings, with both also lifting a Grand Slam trophy for the first time.

But as the 127th edition of the French Open is contested at Roland Garros, there are also some powerful parallels to that time.

Here are some ways the 2023 tournament links to the memorable 2003 event.

Stan’s span

It’s perhaps no surprise that Stan Wawrinka, a five-set winner over Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a marathon first round, would work so hard in his 17th main draw appearance at the clay-court Slam. The Swiss first tasted Grand Slam glory on the famed terre battue, when he won the boys’ singles title in 2003.

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Going on to lift the men’s singles trophy 12 years later, the 38-year-old Wawrinka has life-changing memories of this event. “It was a long time ago, that's for sure, but it was amazing experience for me. (It) was my first and only Grand Slam as a junior, and I won it here,” said Wawrinka after battling for four-and-a-half hours in the first round.

“For me, the whole experience was amazing also to see all the main draw men's matches. I was watching a lot of players playing and was always special to be here as a junior.”

Henin makes history

After victory over Kim Clijsters in an all-Belgian final, Justine Henin became a history-making force. Counting four Roland Garros titles among her seven majors in total, the 167-centimetre champion now provides inspiration to others following her path.

Leylah Fernandez, who upset Australian Open semifinalist Magda Linette in her first match of the 2023 tournament, recalled Henin’s single-handed backhand as a dream. “To be able to control a heavy, fast ball the way that she did, it was incredible,” the similarly-diminutive Fernandez said of her idol.

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“I think it's inspiring to see a player who technically isn't that big, that tall, being able to put taller and powerful players uncomfortable.”

Carlos’ connection

Having only just celebrated his 20th birthday, Carlos Alcaraz won’t remember the 2003 tournament, but can claim a strong connection via his high-profile coach.

Juan Carlos Ferrero made his Grand Slam breakthrough as the 2003 men’s champion and boosted by that performance, was also US Open runner-up in the same year. The fellow Spaniard now provides wise counsel to his young charge.

Juan Carlos Ferrero (R) works with Carlos Alcaraz during a practice session this year at Roland Garros, a tournament Ferrero won 20 years ago. (Getty Images)

“Carlos has played better than anyone during the clay season, but you have to do that every day at every tournament, as I tell him,” Ferrero told media ahead of Roland Garros this year. “We saw that in Rome; you have an average day, your opponent plays well and you lose.

"Everything points to Carlos as the favourite, we’ve heard it many times.”

Mauresmo’s mark

A first quarterfinal appearance at her home Grand Slam is arguably a bittersweet memory for the French former world No.1. Serena Williams allowed the crowd favourite just three games in a straight-sets demolition, with Amelie Mauresmo reaching that stage of the tournament only once more (the following year).

Still, there’s no doubting the mark that the now 43-year-old still makes at Roland Garros; 20 years on from that quarterfinal run, she now serves as tournament director.

“I started dreaming about tennis thanks to Roland-Garros,” said Mauresmo of her milestone position, which followed significant coaching roles on the men’s tour, and as captain of the French Davis and Fed Cup teams. 

Dutch dominance

Martin Verkerk had never won a Grand Slam match before a first main draw appearance in Paris, but with wins over three seeded opponents – including 1998 champion Carlos Moya – to reach the final, he became the feel-good story of Roland Garros 2003.

Another Dutchman, Raemon Sluiter, made a first-round exit from that tournament, but as a recently appointed coach to the resurgent Elina Svitolina, he could well influence the 2023 event.

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Clijsters doubles up

While Henin became the first non-American woman to lift a major singles trophy in 12 Grand Slams, the influence of countrywoman Kim Clijsters would eventually prove equally profound.

Alongside her runner-up performance in singles, the then 20-year-old celebrated a first major title in doubles (alongside Japan’s Ai Sugiyama).

Kim Clijsters (R) and Ai Sugiyama celebrate their 2003 women's doubles triumph at Roland Garros. (Getty Image)

Clijsters has since supported other players – including as coach to Elise Mertens, who has a realistic shot at replicating Clijsters’ doubles success 20 years on as the No.3 seed alongside Australia’s Storm Hunter.