Editor’s Note: But for the COVID-19 pandemic, Roland Garros would now be underway. During the next two weeks ATPTour.com will look back on memorable matches and happenings at the clay-court Grand Slam, which tournament organisers are now hoping to stage in September
After maiden championship victories at Wimbledon in 2003 and the Australian Open earlier in the year, Roger Federer arrived at Roland Garros in 2004 seeking his third Grand Slam trophy in 11 months.
The World No. 1, who entered the event fresh from lifting his second Hamburg European Open trophy, avoided a third-straight first-round loss at the clay-court Grand Slam championship with back-to-back straight-sets wins against Kristof Vliegen and Nicolas Kiefer.
But in the third round, the Swiss’ title bid came to an abrupt end against three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten.
The Brazilian, who underwent arthroscopic right hip surgery in 2002, was competing for the first time since retiring from his Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell quarter-final showing with a hip injury. Kuerten began the tournament with a five-set battle against Nicolas Almagro, before moving past Gilles Elseneer to book a date with the World No. 1 on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
Supported by regular chants of ‘Guga! Guga!’, Kuerten played with aggression from the baseline and found consistent success on serve. Despite dropping his serve early in the first set, the Brazilian did not face a break point in any of his remaining 14 service games to complete a memorable two-hour, four-minute victory.
“I came here in bad shape, playing bad. But every time I go on the court, it seems something special happens with the love and passion I have for the tournament. That brings the best out in me,” said Kuerten.
Kuerten’s victory extended his streak of fourth-round appearances at the tournament to six years. The 2000 year-end World No. 1 ultimately advanced to the quarter-finals in Paris, where he was beaten in a fourth-set tie-break by World No. 8 David Nalbandian.
With Federer adding a second Wimbledon trophy and a maiden US Open crown to his resume later in the year, Kuerten was the only man to defeat Federer at a Grand Slam event in 2004.
“The last three years haven’t been the best for me here,” said Federer. “I just didn’t play like I can. This is a little bit of a disappointment for me. I can play better.”
Federer soon proved that he could achieve greater success on the Parisian terre batteu. The Swiss has reached the Round of 16 or better in each of his 12 appearances at the event since his loss to Kuerten. Federer has made five final appearances in Paris and, with his 2009 final victory against Robin Soderling, the Swiss became the sixth man to complete the Career Grand Slam.