The French Open is one of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments held annually on clay courts in the western outskirts of Paris. Let’s examine the tournament, its history, and those who have claimed victory at The French Open.
The French Open
The French Open (also called Roland Garros, named after the French aviator) is the second tennis Grand Slam tournament of the calendar year, usually starting early to mid-May. The French Open is held in Paris, France, at the Bois de Boulogne (park on the city’s outskirts). The event is traditionally the only Grand Slam event played on clay.
After the Masters 1000 hard-court tournaments of Indian Wells and Miami in March, the period of clay-court tournaments launches in Europe with well-known tournaments like Rome and Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Madrid. The highlight and conclusion of the clay-court season is the French Open.
What Exactly Is Roland Garros?
Roland Garros is the second of 4 annual Grand Slam tournaments, the others being the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open.
These four Grand Slams are regarded as the pinnacle of professional tennis, with only a few players able to boast a Grand Slam title on their resume. The prize money ($2,355,000 if you win) and ranking points (2,000 if you win) awarded reflect the importance of these tournaments.
As a Grand Slam tournament, the French Open is held over two weeks and is played in the best-of-five sets format for the men and the best-of-three sets for women. There is a junior competition, men’s and women’s singles, doubles and mixed competition, plus three qualifying rounds before the main tournament even starts. Everyone, including the number one seed of the main draw, has to win seven straight matches to win the tournament.
The French Open is played on clay, which is noteworthy because the slower surface differs considerably from hard and grass courts. It is especially important to players who know they are not as good on any other surface as on clay. A defensive baseline player will have trouble winning Wimbledon, but he has a good chance of lifting the trophy at the French Open.
Why the name Roland Garros?
The alternative name for the French Open, “Roland Garros,” is derived from the tournament venue. The stadium is named after the French World War I pilot Roland Garros, an avid tennis fan.
Clay is a significantly slower and more bouncy playing surface than others. It effectively reduces the speed of the ball after it bounces on the surface and lends itself more to certain styles of play, with baseline rallies and drop-shots more common than in non-clay court tournaments. The surface is also less skiddish than grass or hard courts, allowing the ball to bounce high and, therefore, suit a player’s high topspin-based game, for example.
Due to the hard surface and the relatively loose sand on top, the courts are slippery and suitable for a topspin-centered game. The French Open is also known for its long, energy-sapping clay court duels. Many French Open favorites had had to spend so much energy that the following match became physically too difficult and was lost before it even began. As a result, several tennis stars were able to win all the important tournaments except the French Open, i.e., Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker (Federer & Djokovic each only won it once). On a positive note, one can enjoy many tactically and technically exciting match-ups as a fan. Hence the longer duration of matches and the increased physical intensity make the French Open potentially the most demanding event on the tour calendar.
The French Open’s History
The tournament’s roots date back to 1891, still called the “French International Tennis Championship.” Six years later, women were allowed to compete in the tournament also. Participation was almost exclusively limited to Frenchmen until 1925. That’s why the event was initially called the “French Competition.” However, this was bound to change with the admission of non-French players, which is how the name “French Open” came about. Naturally, only French players won the title in the first forty-three years, with one exception in the first year. During these years, the tournament was still played on grass. However, this changed when they moved to the new stadium in 1928.
The tournament was renamed Roland Garros after aviator Roland Garros in 1927. On May 19, 1928, the first match under this name was played at the newly built Stade Roland Garros. For the first time, the tournament was played on the distinctive red clay, which is still its main feat today. The stadium is located in the 16th district, one of Paris’ most affluent neighborhoods.
Previously, tournaments were held alternately at the Stade Francais and the Racing Club de Paris. However, these were insufficient venues, which is why, in a nutshell, the Stade Roland Garros was built. The Court Suzanne Lenglen was put in place in 1994 as the second-biggest stadium, and it, along with the Court Simonne Mathieu (2019), increased the number of courts at the Stade Roland Garros. The organizers used the 2020 pandemic to renovate Court Philippe-Chatrier with a retractable roof, allowing play to continue while providing consistent playing conditions.
French Open Records
Many of the world’s best tennis players have played in the French Open, but none have had greater success than the King of Clay and “Greatest of All Time” contender Rafael Nadal. Nadal holds a record 14 titles in the tournament’s history. Chris Evert presently holds the record for the most wins in women’s singles competition with seven titles.
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- Founded: 1891
- Location: Paris, France
- Venue: Stade Roland Garros (since 1928)
- Surface: Clay (since 1928)
- Ball Brand: Wilson
- Prize Money: $47,000,000 (2022)
- Sponsors: Accor Live limitless, The Adecco Group, JC Decaux, Hesperide, Lavazza, Magnum, Mastercard, Moet Hennessy