May 30, 1995: The day Virginie Buisson and Noelle van Lottum played the longest women’s match in Roland-Garros history

Every day, Tennis Majors takes you back in time to relive a tennis event which happened on this specific day. On this day in 1995, two Frenchwomen played the longest women’s match in Roland-Garros history

What happened exactly on that day?

On this day, May 30, 1995, Frenchwomen Virginie Buisson and Noelle van Lottum played the longest women’s match in Roland-Garros history. After four hours and seven minutes of combat, Buisson, who had saved a match point in the second set, finally prevailed, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, to qualify for the second round, where she would be eliminated by the the No 9 seed Kimiko Date (6-2, 6-1).

The characters involved

  • Virginie Buisson – the local wild card

In May 1995, Virginie Buisson, born in 1969, held the best ranking at the time as world No 177. So far, she had never participated in a Grand Slam main draw, but her recent good results on clay courts (including a semi-final in Bordeaux) earned her a wild card into the Roland-Garros main draw.

  • Noelle van Lottum – the French Dutch citizen who played under the Tricolour 

Noelle van Lottum, born in 1972, held both French and Dutch citizenship, and although her younger brother, who was also a tennis player, played under the Dutch flag, Noelle represented France. She broke into the top 100 for the first time in 1992, after having her first and only WTA title in Wellington (defeating Donna Faber in the final, 6-4, 6-0). Known for her defensive game style, she obtained her best Grand Slam result at the 1992 US Open, where she reached the third round (lost to Carrie Cunningham, 2-6, 6-4, 6-0). In 1995, at the start of Roland-Garros, she was ranked No 162 in the world.

The place: Roland-Garros

Roland-Garros, located in the west of Paris at the edge of the Bois de Boulogne forest, had been hosting the French Major since 1928. However, the French Championships on clay court had been held since 1871 at the Racing Club de France, and it was only when France was to host the Davis Cup Challenge Round that the Roland-Garros venue was built.  It was the first and now the only Grand Slam to be played on clay, the slowest surface, which made it the hardest tournament to win from a physical perspective. As Roland-Garros was also home of the National Training Center, it was for many French players the opportunity to play in front of their friends and family.

The facts

When Frenchwomen Virginie Buisson and Noelle van Lottum faced each other in the first round of the 1995 Roland-Garros Championships, no one thought that their match would become a milestone in tennis history. Both young women had entered the main draw thanks to a wild card, and, while van Lottum had already been ranked in the top 100 and had reached the US Open third round in 1992, it was Buisson’s Grand Slam debut. 

This all-French clash between two very defensive players soon turned into a mental and physical battle from the baseline. Van Lottum seemed to have taken a hold on the match when she won the first set (7-6), but Buisson was determined to make the best of her first main draw experience. The world No 177 kept fighting, and even though she faced a match point in the second set, she kept her composure. Buisson won the second set, 7-5, and she cruised through the last set against an exhausted opponent to finally prevail, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, after four hours and seven minutes of play. They didn’t know it at the time, but the two Frenchwomen had just set a new record for the longest female match in the history of Roland-Garros.

“I’m going to stretch for maybe half an hour, and then rest at the hotel”, Buisson said as she was leaving the court, unaware of the record and focused on her following match against the No 9 seed, Kimiko Date. Years later, she would recall this first-round match as her greatest tennis memory.

“This match against Noëlle is a great memory. I was down one set and a match point, but I didn’t overthink it, I played every point with great concentration, and I finally prevailed. I remember that when I was facing a match point some spectators had already left, as they thought it was over. In the end, I wasn’t particularly tired because I was really well-prepared… As for the record, it’s not something I was really hyped about at the time, because I was used to playing very long matches, but it was mentioned to me many times in the following years.”

As one can expect, remembering  that particular day is not as sweet for Noelle van Lottum.

“Winning or losing obviously changes your perception”, she said. “ I lost with a match point, which was quite hard, and I had been involved in a car accident a few days before, so I was not feeling great. With time passing by, it’s nice to hold a record though. I’ve been contacted several times about it. A fun fact is that, two years later, in the first round, I played on the same court, Court No 8, which has now become Court No 5, and I lost 12-10 in the third set (against Laura Golarsa, 4-6, 7-5, 12-10). I would be surprised to see such a long match nowadays, the game has become so much faster, probably for the best.”

What next

In the following round, Virginie Buisson would be defeated by world No 9, Kimiko Date (6-2, 6-1), who would go all the way to the semi-finals. Her first-round win, the longest match in Roland-Garros history, would also remain her only appearance in a Grand Slam main draw. “I was seriously injured the following year, with a rupture of the Achilles tendon. I stopped for one year and I was back two years later in the Roland-Garros qualifications, but after that I never came back to my best level”.

Noelle van Lottum would briefly come back into the top 100 in 1997, after reaching the Australian Open second round. After another epic loss at Roland-Garros in 1997, she would appear in the Paris main draw for the last time in 1998, defeated in the first round by Anne-Gaelle Sidot (2-6, 6-2, 6-2).

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