Everything you need to know about Roland Garros

By Simon Mundie

french open 2010

So it’s less than two weeks until the start of the second Grand Slam of the year: the French Open — and here’s everything you need to know about it.

The tournament is known as ‘The French Open’ outside of France, yet within the country it is always known simply as Roland Garros. It is so called because the event moved to its current venue in 1928 when the then all-conquering French Davis Cup team needed somewhere suitable to defend their crown.

The owners of the land offered the tennis authorities three hectares on which to locate the site on the condition that it was named after the famous First World War pilot Roland Garros; thus the new ‘Stade de Roland Garros’ was born.

There is concern, however, that the name Roland Garros may not survive as a Grand Slam venue for many more years, as the site is already creaking at the edges and is unable to be further renovated, which could result in a new one being sought for the French leg of the Grand Slams.

The tournament itself is far older than Roland Garros though, first played back in 1891, although it wasn’t until 1925 that the French Championships opened itself to international competitors. Fast forward 43 years to 1968 and the French Open became the first major event in tennis to open its doors to all competitors, both professional and amateur; Wimbledon following suit just a few weeks later.

The French Open is widely agreed to be the most demanding of the Majors to win, both mentally and physically. That’s because the clay surface upon which it is played slows the ball down considerably, turning matches into a war of attrition.

It takes away many of the advantages enjoyed by the games big hitters, players like Andy Roddick whose serving advantage is significantly nullified. That’s also why the likes of Pete Sampras, a contender for that illustrious ‘greatest player of all time’ crown, never even reached the final.

So players who are powerful yet consistent from the back of the court, who can run all day and have the patience of a saint excel. The greatest French open champions of the modern era are Bjorn Borg, who won the title on a record six occasions, and the current King of Clay Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard has won the title on four occasions, and is a big favourite to win his fifth in a few weeks.

If he does win the title as expected, Nadal will pocket a cool £950,000, as will the women’s champion. They were given parity in prize money in 2007, again just weeks before Wimbledon decided to pursue a similar course of action.

Whilst there are many things that make the French Open stand out as a Grand Slam event, it is the unpredictable nature of the crowd that is perhaps its most enjoyable factor. There is none of the polite stuffiness of SW19 in Paris, indeed the crowd has been known to help change the course of matches.

Back in 1999 when Steffi Graf won her last Grand Slam event beating Martina Hingis in the final, the crowd were so incensed by the Swiss prodigy’s childish antics that they barracked her at every opportunity. By the end of the match, Hingis was in tears and had to be led back to the court by her mother for the prize giving ceremony.

Getting the crowd on your side is ultra important as it can be an unpleasant experience if they decide to give you a hard time. Unbelievably, even being French is no guarantee that they will support you. Henri Leconte famously lost to Mats Wilander in 1988 when the crowd supported the Swede, something that Leconte said he found hard to stomach for many years after the event.

So the action this year gets underway on May 23, although the qualifying event, where players try to battle through to earn themselves a crack at the main draw, starts a week earlier. But it is not until June 6 when the Champion of Roland Garros 2010 will be crowned.

Most people agree that the dream final would see Roger Federer and Nadal square off, which would be their fourth on the final Sunday in Paris. Nadal has won all their French finals to date, including a thrashing in 2008, but it is the Swiss man who returns as world number one and defending champion.

Another classic Grand Slam duel would be the ideal end to what promises to be a superb tournament, and if it did happen, you could be sure that the crowd would cheer both players to the rafters.

Reproduced with permission from betting.betfair.com. © The Sporting Exchange Limited

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