Stan the “Iron” Man
When Stan Wawrinka hit his 60th winner (yes, that’s right, double the number of his opponent’s) on Sunday to triumph over Novak Djokovic, he finished 5 weeks of straight ATP events on very high note. Nowadays, you rarely come across a top player who plays one of those the week before a Major, let alone end up winning the Major. For example, when Brad Gilbert became Andy Roddick’s coach, one of his first rules was not to let Andy play in an event prior to the Majors. Andy did previously do just that, before 2013 French Open. Although he won the St. Poelten event, it did not serve him well as he lost first round in Paris. The last two players to accomplish Wawrinka’s feat were Lleyton Hewitt and Thomas Johansson, both in 2002. I should remind that Patrick Rafter played a whopping seven weeks straight in 1998, leading into the US Open that he won. He also won three of the five events before, two of those wins coming in the Masters 1000 events (called Masters Series back then) in Toronto and Cincinnati. Although Wawrinka only played two matches in each Madrid and Geneva, his vctory still put into question one of the taboos in high-level play, the refusal to play the week preceding a Major.
Tennis: Part of the Parisian Bar scene
Watching sports in bars is an established activity in the American life. Yes, Europeans do it too, especially for football (ok, fellow Americans, I mean soccer), but the term Sports Bars is a common theme in the U.S. and the idea of watching a sports event in a bar often supersedes the choice of doing the same thing in the comfort of your home. One thing is for certain: tennis is not included in this activity. College Bowl games, NBA playoffs, the Super Bowl, the Stanley Cup, yes, but heavens forbid if a bar were to announce having a tennis match on TV, and still expect a big crowd. This is not the case in Paris. Throughout the two weeks, you can see tennis regularly on the TV screens in bars. People watch it, discuss it, argue about the players, and comment on points. Below is a scene from a bar on the 16e arrondissement, on a week-day afternoon.
And yes, they even advertise the fact that Roland Garros will be shown on the screens of the establishment, although this particular bar on 18e arrondissement seems to have forgotten how to spell France’s sacred tennis arena, on the day of the men’s final.
Crowds and Circulation, Never-ending Headache
I know I have harped on this endlessly in the past and in my earlier post during this tournament, so I will try to keep it short this time. Roland Garros organizers got a big boost from the government who declared that they are behind the new project for the expansion and modernization of the site. Tournament director Gilbert Ysern proudly announced that the permits are on their way, although he faced more urgent matters during the two-week run, such as the metal panel on a scoreboard collapsing on spectators. Yet, the projected completion date is now 2019. It was in 2011 that Roland Garros won the vote to keep the tournament at its current site, and the authorities have been promising the modernization ever since. During the campaign for the vote, 2016 or 2017 were the projected finish dates. Following struggles with the ecologists and various organs of the government questioning the expansion, the turtle-slow French bureaucracy showed its teeth and delayed its commencement.
Nevertheless, it is still the only Major that does not possess a covered court or lights. The other three Majors are not only far ahead of the French Open in terms of space (the US Open and the Australian Open are more than three times the size of Roland Garros), but they have also gotten busy covering a multitude of courts – each already has covered courts – and have had lights on courts for a long time.
But more importantly, the circulation inside the site is a nightmare for spectators. It is obvious that too many tickets are being sold, leading to lines to get in the outside the courts that make the spectators miss a multitude of games, or even sets, while they wait in line. And entertainment like the one below in the alleys temporarily help distract the stifling effect, but does not suffice.
For example, the two ladies in red that you see below, got in this line when the score was 2-1 in the Anna-Lena Friedsam vs. Alexa Glatch 1st round match. At the time this picture was taken, Friedsam just closed out the first set 6-2.
This was the case for a first round match between two unseeded players, both ranked below the top 100 on that day (Friedsam is 97 in this week’s rankings). I will let you imagine the case for seeded players competing on the outside courts. When it rains, the amount of limited covered space guarantees that many spectators will be left outside in the rain. It often leads to scenes like the one below, under the stadium stands of the two show courts, Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen (this one is from Chatrier).
I did say I would try to keep it short, but apparently I failed. I promise to hold myself back the next time this endless issue, unique to Roland Garros among the four Majors, agonizes my mind. Now onto a more pleasant topic…
Roland Garros Musée – A Gem
If you ever get to attend Roland Garros in person, you do have one choice if the crowds stifle you: a visit to the RG Museum. You will not be disappointed. On your way down the stairs to the museum area, you are welcomed by a wall displaying past champions.
Once you are downstairs, the first thing you perceive is the row of rackets from all periods of tennis, stashed on your left.
Once past that, there is the history of tennis with authentic paraphernalia in front of your eyes. If you are an ardent student of the history of tennis, like me, make this visit your priority. This year, there was also an impressive exhibit on the evolution of style and fashion in tennis. Yes, tennis players such as Max Décugis and Hugh Laurence Doherty (wearing the manteau de tennis in the picture) wore items such as the ones below, in the early 20th century.
Here Comes the Grass-Court Season!
Now that the grass-court season has started, with an extra week to enjoy prior to Wimbledon, one of the best calendar-related decisions the people in charge of our game have ever made, our attention turns to a different style of play, different stories to follow. Some players that have been forgotten during the clay-court season may shine through during the next five weeks. My next stop will be the culmination of this period, none other than Wimbledon. In the meantime, I will try to post up more articles (assuming life lets me do it). Until next time!