• Rewind to 1983

Dreaming of grass, dazzling on dust

Jo Carter May 26, 2011
Jo Durie: 'Nobody really expected me to do well on clay - it was my worst surface' © Getty Images

Clay is not traditionally British tennis' stronghold, but as Andy Murray bids to make his mark on the red dirt at the French Open, we rewind to 1983, the last time a British female reached the semi-finals at Roland Garros.

In 1983, Jo Durie arrived in Paris with few hopes for success. Having won just one match in her previous three visits to Roland Garros, the Brit had reached her first grand slam quarter-final at the Australian Open earlier that year.

With one eye already on the grass court season and Wimbledon, Durie was determined to make the most of her underdog status. Unseeded and with little support in Paris, there was absolutely no pressure on the Brit.

"Obviously I loved Wimbledon and the grass it was a great surface for me but there was always the added pressure that came with playing there and it was difficult to cope with," Durie told ESPN.

Durie was drawn against the American Candy Reynolds in the first round. The pair had met twice the previous year, with Durie winning on carpet and Reynolds on the hard court, but on the clay Durie proved too strong for the American, wrapping up a routine 6-4 6-3 win.

I couldn't quite believe that I was in the semi-final of a grand slam. I remember laughing to myself.

After dispatching Alycia Moulton with relative ease in the second round, a distinctly tougher opponent was awaiting Durie in the third: fifth seed Pam Shriver, to whom Durie had lost all seven previous meetings.

If playing the American wasn't a daunting enough prospect, it was to be Durie's first appearance on Court Philippe Chatrier.

"It was the first time I had played on the main court," Durie said. "It was a fantastic atmosphere - I really enjoyed it. It is completely different to Centre Court at Wimbledon."

After winning the opening set, Durie was gifted her place in the fourth round when the injured Shriver offered her hand. Then, after seeing off No. 12 seed Kathy Rinaldi-Stunkel in the last-16, Durie's quarter-final opponent was fourth seed Tracy Austin, and with her coach Alan Jones, Durie composed her game plan.

"Together with Alan we decided to slice to her forehand and try and break it down," Durie recalls. "That was my tactic and it worked as her forehand really fell apart."

After five American opponents, Durie met Mima Jausovec, with top seed Martina Navratilova having crashed out in the fourth round by Jausovec's quarter-final opponent Kathy Horvarth.

'The added pressure that came with playing at Wimbledon was difficult to cope with' © Getty Images

While Durie needed all three sets to navigate her way past Austin with a 6-1 4-6 6-0 win, Jausovec had a decidedly easier time of things, strolling to a 6-1 6-1 win over Horvarth.

With Navratilova out of the running, Durie must have had one eye on the final, and when she took the opening set and went a break up in the second, it looked like Durie was on course to reach her first grand slam final.

Durie took her eye off the ball, and Jausovec took the second set to force the match to a decider. The Brit took an early lead, but Jausovec battled back to take 3-6 7-5 6-2 victory.

"I was ahead in the third set and I served two double faults," Durie said. "I couldn't quite believe that I was in the semi-final of a grand slam that was going through my head at the time. I remember laughing to myself. You get scared but you also get a huge thrill running through you at the same time."

Jausovec was well beaten in the final as second seed Chris Evert took full advantage of Navratilova's absence to clinch her fifth French Open crown with a 6-1 6-2 victory, while Durie could only wonder what might have been.

"I was a set and a break up in the semi-final...maybe the enormity of the occasion got to me," she admitted. "Jausovec was a good player, but two weeks later who am I playing at Eastbourne? And I beat her in two sets."

Durie continued her impressive form, and reached the semi-finals at the US Open later that year, where she got her match against Evert, only to be beaten in straight sets.

Durie never made it past the third round at Roland Garros again, but her success in 1983 was the beginning of a run which saw her climb to No. 5 in the world the following year.

"That result at the French was a big break for me," Durie said. "I had been playing quite well up until that point but nobody really expected me to do well on clay - it was my worst surface."

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Jo Carter Close
Jo Carter is an assistant editor of ESPN.co.uk