Chris Evert, Justine Henin, Steffi Graf and six 'Queens of clay'
Last Updated: 19/05/15 6:03pm
Chris Evert is without doubt the greatest women's clay-court player in the tournament's history after winning an unprecedented seven French Open titles.
With seven different winners of the French Open in the past eight years, the clay-court event is regarded as the most wide-open of the four Grand Slams, such is the nature of the surface.
Justine Henin, Ana Ivanovic, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Francesca Schiavone, Li Na, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams have all had their names engraved on the famous Suzanne Lenglen trophy since 2007.
Pre-tournament favourite Williams will be looking to secure a second title in three years in Paris and land her third overall, but there are a whole host of players determined to upset the odds.
As the hopefuls prepare to battle it out at Roland Garros this year, we take a look back at some of the clay-court queens of yesteryear.
Raised on the clay courts of her native Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Evert's consistent and precise style from the back of the court made her perhaps the greatest ever to grace the red dirt. Her trademark double-handed backhand was unfailing and there was no fiercer competitor - just ask Martina Navratilova. The pair enjoyed one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history between 1973 and 1988. Of her 18 career Grand Slams, the American won a record seven French Open titles, beginning with back-to-back titles in 1974 and 1975, with Navratilova her victim on three of those occasions. Evert also won an astounding 125 consecutive matches on the surface from August 1973 to May 1979 before hitting another amazing winning streak - only 72 this time - before losing in a semi-final at the 1981 French Open.
Delving into the history books and it is impossible to ignore the legend of Suzanne Lenglen, born May 24, 1899. Bursting on to the scene by making the French Championship final, as it was known then, aged just 14, the development of the Parisien's promising career was delayed by of the First World War. Her all-court game - typified by rhythmic groundstrokes - showed no sign of having suffered after peace was finally declared, though, and she went on to change the nature of women's tennis with her domination of the sport between 1919 and 1926. Known as much for her celebrity as the quality of her classical style of play, Lenglen won the French Open title six times as well as earning the honour of having the women's singles trophy named after her. She is one of just eight French women to win in Paris, the last of which was Mary Pierce in 2000.
The appropriately named Court boasts a stunning 62 Grand Slam titles to her name, including 24 singles, 19 women's doubles and 19 mixed doubles. Eleven of those singles crowns might have come in her native Australia, where they have now named an arena at Melbourne Park after her, but her supreme skills were not confined to the Southern Hemisphere. Lesley Turner Bowrey, Maria Bueno, Ann Haydon-Jones, Helga Niessen Masthoff and even the great Chris Evert all fell to her in finals at the French Open and she held a 47-5 win-loss record at the tournament. She was the first Australian woman to win the competition in 1962 and in 1970 became the first woman during the Open era to win all four Grand Slam titles in the same year.
Second only to Court in the all-time grand slam winners' list is Graf, with 22 crowns to her name. Equally adept on all four surfaces, the German's stunning all-round play blended power and touch as well as boasting one of the fastest serves in the female game. She remains the only player to have won all four Grand Slam singles titles at least four times each and enjoyed a career bookended by victories at the French Open. A three-set triumph over Martina Navratilova set the youngster on her way in 1987 before she rounded off a scintillating career with success against Martina Hingis 12 years later.
Precocious youngster Seles twice got the better of Graf in French Open finals in winning three consecutive titles from 1990 to 1992. She became the youngest-ever champion at the 1990 French Open, aged just 16, before her career was sadly interrupted when a German spectator knifed her in the back at a 1993 tournament. She enjoyed some success after bravely making a comeback but was never the same player, bowing out at Roland Garros in 2003. Although it is impossible to know the course of her career had the attack not occurred, her trajectory in the early 90s suggested she could have gone on to rewrite the history books. During the height of her career, she won eight of the 11 grand slam singles tournaments she contested and will therefore go down as one of the greats.
Henin won her first title in Paris in 2003 and went on to replicate Seles' achievements of three consecutive French Open singles titles between 2005 and 2007. Her speed, array of strokes and seemingly never-ending arsenal of winners saw her conquer all before her. Described as "pound-for-pound the best tennis player of her generation" by Billie Jean King, the diminutive Belgian was a master of the clay. She enjoyed a 19-month spell in retirement - quitting when world No 1 in May 2008 - before returning to the game in 2010. However, things didn't go quite according to plan as Sam Stosur became only the second player to defeat Henin on the Roland Garros clay since 2002 - she had lost to Italy’s Tathiana Garbin in the second round of the 2004 championships. A lingering elbow injury sustained weeks later at Wimbledon would prove too difficult to overcome and she quit for good in January 2011.