- Richard Pagliaro, Tennis.com
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The French Open features one of the softest surfaces in Grand Slam tennis, but the American men continue to take a beating on the terre battue.
When it comes to making a mark at Roland Garros in recent years, American men have had as much staying power as the chalk outline at a rainy crime scene. Since the 1999 French Open final when Andre Agassi fought past Andrei Medvedev to complete the career Grand Slam, only four American men -- Agassi (2001, 2003), Michael Russell (2001), Andy Roddick (2009) and Robby Ginepri (2008 and 2010) -- have reached the fourth round or better in Paris. Both the 36-year-old Russell and 31-year-old Ginperi, who won a wild card, will join American No. 1 John Isner in next week's French Open field.
Hard courts enhance American strength; clay courts expose their weakness.
"We all tend to run pretty hard and not slide so well and hit the ball to finish the point in three or four shots," Agassi once said of the annual American slog on dirt. "I think to get Americans here, we need to start by learning how to recreate this back home. Nobody's been able to really pull it off yet. That's where you're going to learn it. If you come over here to learn, you're just taking painful lessons. You're not building on anything. You're sort of revealing where you are more than building unless you have a chance, which not too many Americans have ever gotten too comfortable out there -- including me."
The Bryan brothers are the lone success stories, winning the Roland Garros doubles title in 2003 and again last year, but Paris' clay has served as a sink hole for American singles hopes. To commemorate the 15th anniversary of Agassi's French Open triumph here's our list of the top 10 American singles highlights in the City of Light since 1999.
1. Andre Agassi d. Paul-Henri Mathieu 4-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3 in 2002 fourth round
In a match between the oldest man still standing in the draw and the youngest, the 32-year-old Agassi fought back from a two-set hole for the fourth time in his career by reminding himself of one fact. "I was thinking the good news about being down two sets to love and a break is that it can't get any worse," said Agassi, who would fall to Juan Carlos Ferrero in a four-set quarterfinal.
2. Andre Agassi d. Franco Squillari 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0 in 2001 fourth round
The left-handed Argentine, who grew up idolizing compatriot Guillermo Vilas, reached the French Open semifinals the previous year. Facing the world No. 16, he called "an absolute beast on clay," Agassi earned 29 break points and drained the strong-legged Squillari in the decider.
3. Gustavo Kuerten d. Michael Russell 3-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 6-3, 6-1 in 2001 fourth round
In his Roland Garros debut, the 5-foot-8 Detroit native wasn't exactly devising giant-killer plans against the 6-3 world No. 1. Beating the two-time French Open champion seemed as likely as sneaking into the Louvre to swipe the smile from the Mona Lisa's face. "When I held serve first game, I was actually thinking to myself, 'Hey at least I can't lose 6-0, 6-0, 6-0,'" Russell recalled years later. When the American qualifier earned match point, he was on the verge of one of the most monumental upsets in tournament history -- that is before Kuerten saved it with a forehand winner to ignite a memorable comeback en route to his third Roland Garros title.
4. Robby Ginepri d. Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-4 in 2010 third round
Former US Open semifinalist Ginepri arrived in Paris with just one ATP main-draw win in 2010 (over world No. 8 Robin Soderling on a hard court), but played one of his most dynamic matches on dirt in defeating the 2003 French Open champion and world No. 18. Ginepri, who has only 14 career clay-court wins, reached the fourth round for the second time in three years, taking a set from third-ranked Novak Djokovic before bowing.
5. Michael Russell d. Xavier Malisse 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 in 2001 third round
World No. 122 Russell surprised two-time French Open champion Sergi Bruguera in the second round then dug in with defiance, fending off 20 of 25 break points against the X-Man, who would partner Belgian compatriot Olivier Rochus to win the French Open doubles title three years later. "We played on Court 2, which holds about 2,500 people, and I think there were 3,000 Belgians there!" said Russell, who made history at Roland Garros as the first man to qualify for all four Grand Slam tournaments in succession.
6. Andre Agassi d. Mario Ancic 5-7, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 in 2003 second round
Facing a two-set deficit and down a break at 2-3 in the third, Agassi relied on his survival skills rallying past an opponent 14 years his junior, who had upset Roger Federer at Wimbledon the previous summer. "You have to dig deep and come up with the goods against guys that are out there competing," Agassi said after roaring back from a two-set hole for the third time in Paris.
7. Robby Ginepri d. Igor Andreev 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-2 in 2008 second round
The Russian with the massive inside-out forehand defeated third-ranked Andy Roddick in reaching the 2007 quarterfinals, but that didn't faze the 88th-ranked Ginepri, who punished the world No. 27's weaker backhand wing on pivotal points.
8. Andy Roddick d. Michael Chang 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-5 in 2001 second round
Playing just the second French Open match of his career, the 48th-ranked Roddick fired 37 aces and erased 14 of 17 break points in an all-American clash. Roddick did not win another Roland Garros match until sweeping Todd Martin in the 2004 first round.
9. Andy Roddick d. Marc Gicquel 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in 2009 third round
The score line shows a routine Roddick win, but it was a milestone moment for the 26-year-old American, who reached the round of 16 for the only time in 10 career French Open appearances.
10. Rafael Nadal d. John Isner 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-7 (2), 6-2, 6-4 in 2011 first round
The King of Clay carried a 38-1 record at Roland Garros into this opener, surviving a scare from Long John, who pushed Nadal to five sets for the first time at the French Open. Nadal, who faced only one break point in the four-hour battle, raised his level and intensity to find the finish line. “The way he played in the fourth and fifth set -- I haven’t seen tennis like that, ever,” Isner said. “That’s why he’s No. 1 in the world, and one of the greatest ever.”