Welcome to French Open Flashbacks, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable narratives from Roland Garros over the past 20 years. After recapping Charleston's classics, Stuttgart's standards, Madrid’s magic moments, and Rome's records, our retrospective heads to the culmination of the clay season in Paris - up next is Maria Sharapova's Career Grand Slam fulfillment at the 2012 French Open.
For more classic moments, check out our other French Open Flashbacks:
1999: Graf wins 22nd and final Grand Slam title
2000: Pierce fulfills destiny, rings in millennium with Roland Garros double
2001: Capriati confirms comeback with brave battle in record-setting final
2003: Henin fulfils lofty goals with first of four Roland Garros crowns
2004: Myskina makes history, ushers in Russian dynasty
2008: Gutsy Ivanovic claims World No.1 ranking, Roland Garros title
2011: Li becomes Asia's first Grand Slam champion in historic triumph
2012: Sharapova reclaims World No.1, completes Career Slam in Paris
2014: Halep serves notice in run to first final in Paris
2016: Mladenovic, Garcia delight home fans with fairytale triumph in Paris
2017: Ostapenko powers to Roland Garros title out of left field
2019: Kenin announces intent with Serena stunner
THE MOMENT: Both Venus and Serena Williams were Grand Slam champions when they teamed up for the 1999 French Open, but at Roland Garros that year, the world witnessed the birth of the most successful combination of their generation.
In 1998, the sisters had twice tasted glory in majors, with Venus winning the mixed event with Justin Gimelstob in Australia and Paris before Serena replicated those achievements by picking up the Wimbledon and US Open titles with Max Mirnyi.
They arrived in France as teenagers, Venus a matter of days away from her 19th birthday and Serena 17, and as No.9 seeds were not necessarily among the favorites, despite having reached the semifinals in Australia a matter of months earlier.
To complicate matters, this was their first appearance on doubles on Paris’ clay courts, though Serena had progressed through to the second week of the singles on debut 12 months previous, while Venus made it to the quarterfinals in ’98, her second foray in France.
Indeed, this was just their second senior clay court doubles match as a combination, though the previous outing had been encouraging as they had reached the semifinals of Rome in 1998, where they lost out in three sets to Virginia Ruano Pascual and Paola Suárez.
The draw, too, was a strong one, headed by Jana Novotna and Natasha Zvereva, the outstanding combination at the time, and backed up by Martina Hingis and Anna Kounikova, who were the self-proclaimed ‘Spice Girls’ of tennis, coming into France as Australian Open champions, having dropped just a single set on their route to glory in Melbourne.
While the Williams sisters dismantled their quarter of the draw, they were boosted by the first-round exit of No.3 seeds Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs to Vanessa Menga and Elena Wagner. By the time they eased past the Brazilian-German combination for the loss of just four games, the Americans had already swept away Amanda Coetzer and Ines Gorrochategui (6-2, 6-3), and Amy Frazier and Katrina Schlukebir (6-3, 6-2).
Unseeded pairing Els Callens and Rita Grande were bageled in the opening set before providing more resistance in the second but were ultimately overcome, 6-0, 7-5, while the powerful form of the two rising stars continued with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Lindsay Davenport and Mary Pierce in the semis.
With Hingis and Kournikova still standing, the final was hotly anticipated and it would live up to its billing as four of the game’s highest profile stars produced an encounter that ranks as one of the great doubles clashes in Roland Garros history.
The sisters oozed confidence from the beginning of the match, refusing to be overawed by being on court with Hingis, who was set to ascend to WTA World No.1 in singles having reached the final of the draw. Nevertheless, it was Kournikova’s serve that was brutally attacked and broken in the early stages, providing the platform for Venus and Serena to show a combination of reflexes, technique and unparalleled power to close out the opening set, which was fittingly sealed by a fierce overhead from the elder sibling.
An early break in the second set from the North American combination suggested that it could be a quick afternoon, but as the bright sunshine gave way to rain, the match slowly began to turn around, though not until after Venus sent her return from a modest Kournikova serve into the net at match point.
Hingis had won the previous five women’s doubles majors and showcased the craft required to achieve such a feat as the Swiss and Russian somehow worked their way back into the match from a 5-1 deficit.
Twice the Williams sisters were denied when serving for the championship, then again after Kournikova was broken to put them 6-5 up, Hingis winning a crucial rally inhumane hand speed at the net.
More sharp volleying from the Swiss helped to secure the tiebreak for the loss of only two points, yet the mental strength of the sisters was amply displayed in the decider.
Having three times been denied when serving for the match in the second set, they withstood Kournikova when she served for the title then broke the Russian decisively in the 14th game to seal their first Grand Slam title together.
THE MEANING: Since picking up the Coupe Simone Mathieu 21 years ago, 14 has proven the magic number for the pair, who have won exactly that number of major titles to date in their career.
It places them firmly in the bracket of the all-time great combinations, behind only Martina Navratilova and Pam Shriver, who picked up 20 major titles together, and on a par with Gigi Fernández and Natasha Zvereva. Indeed, no other pairing since 2000 has won more than five Grand Slams.
Richard Williams famously proclaimed ‘Welcome to the Williams Show’ when the sisters had met in the singles final in Miami only a matter of weeks earlier. In Paris they proved that together they could make a blockbuster, setting them up to be the greatest sibling act in sport for more than two decades.