Sport is often unpredictable – and unfair.

Stuff happens that can barely be imagined. Just last week the Pittsburgh Penguins were playing the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup playoffs when Penguin players accidentally shot or deflected the puck over the rink-side glass for penalties three times in two minutes and two seconds in the third period. You might get a shooting over the glass penalty once every four or five games, but three in a 122-second span is almost beyond imagining.

Along the same lines, in 1993 the Montreal Canadiens won 10 sudden-death overtime games on their way to winning the Stanley Cup. Patrick Roy was a brilliant goaltender but 10 in a row – with all the ways a puck can go into the net (bad bounce, deflection or screen) – is truly incredible. Three, four or five, maybe even seven times…but Las Vegas odds on 10 overtime victories in a row without a puck crossing the Canadiens’ goal line in the Stanley Cup playoffs would be astronomical.

All that to say that the great Bjorn Borg at the US Open in the 1970s and early 1980s, and tennis’ current maestro Novak Djokovic at his recent French Opens, have been extremely unlucky – jinxed is another adjective that comes to mind.


Borg on clay was Rafael Nadal before the muscular Spaniard was even born. He won six French Opens and only lost once at Roland Garros – to stylish Italian Adriano Panatta in 1976 – between his first triumph in 1974 and his last in 1981. He was unable to play in 1977 because he had committed to play World Team Tennis.

Here are years when Borg should have won the US Open because he was indisputably the best player.

  1. In 1977, the last of three years the US Open was played on clay at the Westside Tennis Club in Forest Hills, N.Y., Borg was the dominant clay-court player in the world. His main rival Jimmy Connors never even reached the final at Roland Garros. But before the US Open that year Borg injured his shoulder water-skiing and wound up having to retire in the round-of-16 to good but not great American player Dick Stockton.
  2. The following year on hard courts at Flushing Meadows, Borg played Connors in the final having beaten him in their two previous matches and before winning the final 10 they would play over the rest of their careers. But somehow he developed a blister on his right thumb during his semifinal against American Vitas Gerulaitis and could barely hold the racquet during the final. Story has it that Borg didn’t even want to try to play the match but CBS, the network covering the tournament, insisted. With the racquet slipping from his grasp a couple of times, Borg lost 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.
  3. A year later, in 1979, Borg was fit but had to face big-serving American Roscoe Tanner, whom he had beaten in five sets in the Wimbledon final two months earlier, in a night match in the quarter-finals. The Swede never liked playing under the lights, particularly against a server like the left-handed Tanner, and he went down 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6(2).
  4. By 1980 and 1981, John McEnroe had emerged and Borg lost to him in the final at both those US Opens. In 1981, after the Swede got past Tanner in the quarters and Connors in the semis, McEnroe beat him 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3. The 22-year-old American probably deserved to win but Borg may have been distracted by a death threat and chose to leave the court immediately after the match and not participate in the trophy presentation ceremony. At just age 25, that turned out to be the last Grand Slam match of his illustrious career.

In 1978, 1979 and 1980, he had triumphed at both the French Open and Wimbledon and would have gone on to the Australian Open (then played in November-December) to try for the calendar year Grand Slam if he had won at Flushing Meadows.


As for Djokovic, he has certainly had his share of misfortune at the French Open. An argument can be made that he has been the best player entering Roland Garros in at least three of the last five years. He has been ranked above clay monster Nadal in three of those five.

  1. In 2011, Djokovic started year 41-0 and ended it 6-0 versus Nadal (including wins on clay in the finals of both Madrid and Rome) and 4-1 with Roger Federer. But it seemed like the burden of carrying that 41-match win streak into his Roland Garros semifinal had built up too much pressure and he fell victim 7-6(5), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(5) to a strong effort by the then 29-year-old Federer.
  2. The following year in 2012, his first French Open final with Nadal was interrupted by rain and concluded on the Monday. Djokovic lost the first two sets but took the third 6-2 and led 2-0 in the fourth before play was eventually halted at 2-1. Nadal assumed control when the match resumed on Monday winning 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 for his seventh Roland Garros title.
  3. Most bizarre of the Djokovic–Nadal matches at Roland Garros was the 2013 semifinal. Leading the fifth and final set 4-3 and serving at deuce, Djokovic went to the net and tapped a put-away shot off the court for an easy winner. Unfortunately for him, he stumbled into the net on his follow-through and lost the point. Instead of him being a point from a 5-3 lead, Nadal had a break point and went on to break serve and win a thriller against snake-bitten Djokovic by a 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7(3), 9-7 score. David Ferrer reached the final that year and Djokovic was 4-0 in his most recent matches with the Spaniard on his way to stretching the unbeaten run to 10 in a row.
  4. Djokovic is always vulnerable in hot, humid weather and those were the conditions that suddenly cropped up for the 2014 final as he took the first set and then seemed to fade in a 3-6, 7-5, 6-2, 6-4 loss to Nadal.
  5. Last year Djokovic accomplished something only he and Robin Soderling (2009) had ever done at Roland Garros – he beat nine-time champion Nadal. It was a conclusive 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 result in the quarter-finals and seemed to set him up for a break-through French Open title – until mother nature intervened. His semifinal match with Andy Murray was scheduled second on the Friday and ended up being pushed over to Saturday by darkness and inclement weather with him leading by two sets to one and the score knotted at 3-3 in the fourth set. Upon the resumption, Murray took that set before Djokovic closed it out 6-1 in the fifth. Still, he had to prepare on Saturday as he would for any normal match, play at a very high level against a tough opponent and not have a complete day off before the final as Stan Wawrinka did. Much as Stan The Man played well on Sunday, we will never know how a fresher Djokovic would have fared. Coach Boris Becker later said about his man having to play three days in a row, “even Novak needs time to recuperate.” How would Wawrinka have done if he had been the one to play Saturday while Djokovic rested? Again, we will never know.


Borg still might have had a chance to finally win the US Open, which he played 10 times, if he hadn’t left tennis so young. Djokovic has played Roland Garros 11 years in a row and will hope that No. 12 beginning next week will prove to finally be the successful one. With him turning 29 on the opening day of the tournament on Sunday, the pressure to complete a career Grand Slam keeps compounding every year. He has seemed more irritable and anxious at his last two events in Madrid (a win) and Rome [a loss to Murray in the final after beating Nadal 7-5, 7-6(5), and Kei Nishikori 2-6, 6-4, 7-6(5) in the quarter-finals and semifinals].

In Rome he was not quite himself in his first outings – struggling to beat grizzled journeyman Stéphane Robert 7-5, 7-5 and then dropping the first set 6-0 to Thomaz Bellucci before rebounding to take their third-round encounter round 0-6, 6-3, 6-2.       

He and Serena Williams will be the big stories at this year`s French Open as he goes for the career Grand Slam and she attempts to tie German great Steffi Graf with 22 Grand Slams overall.

And let’s not forget Nadal – a win for him and he would do what no man has ever done – reach double figures in titles at a single Grand Slam event.

The French Open line-up


The picture above shows officials and reporters entering the Tenniseum at Roland Garros for last year’s draw ceremony.


This year’s will take place on Friday and there will four Canadians in the main draws – Genie Bouchard and Aleksandra Wozniak (using a protected ranking) as well as Milos Raonic and Vasek Pospisil.

Bouchard reached the semifinals in 2014 and lost in the first round last year while Raonic was a quarter-finalist in 2014 and did not play last year following foot surgery.


There’s some doubt, after his recent back troubles, about whether Roger Federer will enter this year’s event. If he does not his record streak of 65 consecutive Grand Slams would come to an end. If he does play it would be his 68th in total and mean that he could tie Fabrice Santoro for a record 70th at this year’s US Open.

Mats & tennis wanderlust

Highly-respected and well-liked, seven-time Grand Slam champion Mats Wilander has spent parts of the last few years travelling in a bus taking his WOW (Wilander on Wheels) tennis experience to players all over North America.

Here’s an interesting 12-minute look at Wilander and his peripatetic enterprise.

Tennis player as tourist

It’s nice to see tennis players getting out to visit the sights where they’re playing tournaments. Here’s Milos Raonic and girlfriend Danielle Knudson along with his thoughts on the Roman Forum experience.

NOTE: We will have a blog from Roland Garros on Friday following the draw with pictures and observations as we head into the second Grand Slam of 2016.