The French Open has begun in a blaze of sunshine, red clay and Parisian fervour on the tour's one and only first Grand Slam Sunday. As 2010 finalist Sam Stosur opened Philippe Chatrier Court for the first Grand Slam match since Novak Djokovic's five hour and 53 minute epic in Melbourne in January, here's the year's second Grand Slam in six steps.
1. Five weeks since the clay court swing started off by the turquoise Mediterranean sea at Monte Carlo, players, public and press have travelled to slightly less picturesque waters of the Seine. Having begun as a national tournament in 1891, the French Championships opened itself up to international competitors in 1925.
Back then the tournament was played on (would you believe?) grass, at the Stade Francais club. But in 1928, the Stade Francais offered three hectares of land at Porte d’Auteil to the tennis authorities, with the condition that the new stadium be named after a certain World War I pilot. Thus Roland Garros was born.
In 1968 the French tournament became the first of the four Grand Slams to go ‘open,’ allowing amateurs and professionals to compete together. Last year, the French Tennis Federation agreed to keep the French Open at the Roland Garros site, and instigated a whole host of building work that is due to be completed in 2017.
2. Roland Garros has 20 outdoor red clay courts, including the three show courts. The main court (the Philippe Chatrier court) can accommodate 14,884 spectators, No.1 court (Suzanne Lenglen) holds 9,983 people, while Court 1 has room for 3,792.
Our personal favourites, though, are courts No.2 and No.3. Designed much like the new No.2 Court at Wimbledon, these two are sunk into the ground, creating an amphitheatre-like atmosphere. They’re great for getting up close to the action. If you’re interested in doing a little star spotting, the best place to hover is by the players’ entrance under Tribune J. Brugnon in the Court Philippe Chatrier. You might get lucky.
3. From the ‘four musketeers’ (four French men – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste – who reigned supreme in the 1920s and 1930s) to Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert’s domination of the 1970s and Ivan Lendl and Steffi Graf’s ruling the roost in the 1980s, Roland Garros has a rich and varied history of champions.
The person everyone’s eyes are on, is of course, Rafael Nadal. Can the defending champion notch up a record seventh Roland Garros crown? Or will something, or someone get in the way. Novak Djokovic, looking to complete the first run of four straight Slams since Serena Williams in 2002-3? Or a certain Roger Federer maybe?
On the women’s side, the form players are Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, with defending champion Li Na also back in form, and 2010 champion Francesca Schiavone arriving with a title under her belt. Or, will the tour's younger guns, world No.1 Victoria Azarenka or Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova make their mark? Or someone completely different, just like Schiavone and Li.
4. The habitual Brit-watch. With Andy Murray aiming to repeat or improve on his semi-final showing in 2011, GB also celebrates having the most women in the main draw since 1991, back in the days of Jo Durie and Sarah Gomer.
While Elena Baltacha and Anne Keothavong made it through on ranking, Heather Watson came through qualifying, and Laura Robson, so close to qualifying, nipped in as a lucky loser. Don't forget the doubles too, the likes of Jamie Murray and Ross Hutchins, and of course, the juniors, which will feature Liam Broady, Kyle Edmund, and more.
5. Unsurprisingly, the French Open offers many opportunities for fine dining. There’s a plethora of eateries around the event, from sarnies to salads to good old-fashioned chips. Further afield, Richard Gasquet recommends Le Murat, while the women’s champion will often eat at the world-famous Brasserie Lipp after the final (but they don’t take bookings so you’ll have to queue). Meanwhile, a certain Spaniard likes to celebrate his victories at Café de L’Homme, which has stunning views of the Eiffel Tower.
6. Paris is a hop, skip, and a jump away, and you can still queue up to buy tickets on the day of play, or take a look at Viagogo, the official second-hand ticket exchange. So if you fancy a day or two-day trip, it's well worth it.
For all the reports and results from Paris, visit the official Roland Garros site
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