Roland Garros is an immense tournament. In my view the most skillful, hardest on the body and most entertaining to watch of the four grand slams.
This is the place of romance, even in tennis and in a day and age of accelerating athleticism. The place where players have opportunities to stand tall and create a name for themselves. Look back to 1989 for instance when young Michael Chang took the tournament aged 17.
In recent years it has been owned by one man, Rafael Nadal.
Rafa has lost only one match in his senior career here and having recovered from injury and in ridiculous form coming into Paris can’t be overlooked.
Let’s face it the guy missed loads of tennis, re-enters the game and wins five out of seven tournaments prior to coming here. Who does he think he is?
Anyway the write up is not about Rafa, it’s about this magic red clay at Roland Garros (and magic it is).
To play here you have to be great. Just playing on the tour would put you in that bracket. Not many make it this far, it’s not an easy road even if the life the players make for themselves is the envy of most of the rest of us.
Time, skill, dedication, fitness, focus and talent are only some of the qualities required to get this far. To excel once here, you need that something extra.
Yet once players get on the red clay here they prepare to go to battle. Long matches are the order of the day and give spectators reason enough to chant.
The clay is soft and so heavier to play on and as it gives slows the balls down and so let’s itself to a skillful, crafty game if not coupled with power and precision.
Balls bounce differently than on the faster surfaces, rallies tend to go longer, and players tenacity and fitness are challenged. As games go on attrition sets in. If you have ever played you will know that if your head gets to you, it’s all over; it’s such a mental game.
What sets it apart is players integrity is on the line. They are virtual lines-people. As balls land they leave marks on the surface making technology of Hawkeye void as the chair umpire gets off their chair to find their mark and make decisions on the fly.
No need to rely on technology as ‘linees’ are afraid to make decisions. God help you if you’ve used all your challenges and you get screwed by a line call.
Still the tennis is the winner in the end.
If tennis is not the winner then it is the dry cleaners and linen cleaners. There’s nothing like white socks turned red.
But seriously, year after year classic games are played on a surface that many have yet to work out. Roger Federer won the year Nadal had a gap year. He can count himself lucky. The great Pete Sampras never won here.
Perhaps, well no, it is clear the Europeans have the advantage. It is a mystery why the rest of the world does not invest in building clay facilities given so much of the pro tour is played on this surface.
Tennis Australia, are you reading?
Although not there in person, again, one day the dream of seeing it first hand will become real. I only hope that Rafa is still dominating when that day comes around.