Perhaps I fooled you? You may think I am talking about the Grand Slam of Golf or a Bridge tournament. Yes, I have been to several U.S. Opens, as well as the Masters. But I have not been to the British Open (though I played at Carnoustie just a week after van de Velde imploded) and have played many courses used by the PGA tournament (Kohler, Pinehurst, Harding).
I am referring to tennis this time. I have attended Wimbledon (7 days of tennis), and the U.S. Open at Flushing. I am heading out to Stade Roland Garros in Paris for my third leg of the Slam. And you know that Paris is one of my least favorite places in the world. Yet, I trudge onward and upward.
The French Open began in 1891 and was originally called the French Championships. The tournament was (in the first 34 years) open only to French players, and players who were a member of a French club. The first tournament was won by a Brit, Mr. H. Briggs.
Today, the French Open is a two-week tournament, held at Stade Roland Garros in Paris. Beginning in late May, it is the second leg of the Grand Slam tournaments. It is the only Grand Slam tournament held on a clay surface. Until 1975, it was the only Grand Slam tournament not played on grass.
Seven rounds are needed to win the tournament, with men playing the best of five sets, while the women play the best of three sets. As such, it is considered the most demanding of the Grand Slam tournaments since the ball stays in play longer. Clay courts tend to slow the ball down and produce a higher bounce. Hence, it favors players with solid ground strokes, and all-around court play, rather than the hard serve and volley types.
I have actually played on a clay court several times, both back home in the Bay Area, as well as in Mexico. And I have played on grass courts at Wailea Tennis Club on Maui, but I have not made it onto the grass courts at Wimbledon…..yet! And I doubt I will attend the Aussie Open in January, since it takes place in the middle of the summer heat.
All the greats have played here, but not all have won here. Noted top ranked players who have not won here include Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, John Newcombe, Martina Hingis, Venus Williams, and Boris Becker. Only seven players have won the French, as well as a grass court major: Rod Laver, Roger Federer, Andre Agassi, Rafa Nadal, Jan Kodes, Bjorn Borg, and Novak Djokovic.
An American male has not won since 1999, when Agassi won. The women’s singles was last won by an American, Serena Williams in 2015. The Bryan brothers won the men’s doubles for the US in 2013. And back in 2010, the Williams sisters won the women’s doubles.
But I really don’t care who wins, though I enjoy seeing some young Americans move up the tennis hierarchy. And I will always root for Naomi Osaka from Japan. I am here to experience the craziness and weirdness of the French Open. It seems the most vocal of the four majors, and the fans are both loud, and partisan.
I am most interested to see how much this tournament differs from both Wimbledon and the US Open. They say each Slam event has a different feel. Wimbledon has the tradition, and the British attitude. The US Open is a typical New York style event, bold, brash, but knowledgeable. The French Open, at least on television, appears to be a raucous event, very provincial and loud!
Sadly, I was unable to see the great Naomi Osaka from Japan play, as she lost in the 1st round to young American, Amanda Anisimova. But I did get to see many others, including, Coco, Tsitsipas, Zverev, Shapavalov, Switek, many young American players, and some fast mens doubles.
But I am deeply disappointed in the food here, as Wimbledon has far surpassed the French with food and drink at the Slam. But the French put on a first class event, with great safety and efficiency.