The Australian Open is the first cab off the rank when it comes to Grand Slam tennis tournaments. Now as it turns to summer in Europe, tennis lovers turn their attention to Paris to watch their favourite players battle it out at Roland Garros aka the French Open!

Who is Roland Garros?

You may be surprised to learn that the eponymous man was not actually a tennis player. In fact, Roland Garros was a French pilot! He was the first person to cross the Mediterranean sea, the inventor of the first on-board machine gun, and a trailblazer in many other ways. As the tournament states, he was a ‘person who showed so much drive, intelligence and courage’. This certainly justifies, in and of itself, the decision to stage the event in his name.

When did the French Open start? 

Once upon a time, the French Open – or Championnat de France as it was known at the time – was only open to French tennis clubs. The competition began in 1891 but it wasn’t until 1925 that Non-French tennis club members were only allowed to enter the tournament. Now players from all corners of the globe converge on Paris to try to win a Grand Slam title.

What  surface are the matches played on?

The tournament is played on a surface typically called ‘clay‘ or in a more figurative manner – ‘the red dirt‘. In France, one would say la terre battue which, though eloquent sounding, literally translates as ‘beaten earth’. 

Like ‘red dirt’, the term clay is quite misleading, modern clay courts are actually made of crushed brick on top of a base of limestone (or a similar material). Another type of clay court is what we in Australia call ‘en tout cas‘. Pronounced like ‘onto car’, the term is derived from the French expression meaning ‘in any case’. This is a subtle nod to being able to play on this surface in most weather conditions. Don’t go around using  ‘en tout cas‘ with francophones, they won’t know what you mean! The British commandeered the expression in 1909 for their new court drainage innovation. An en tout cas court tends to have a coarse top layer, changing the bounce and speed of the ball off the surface. So, even if they’re not exactly the same thing, better to say terre battue to avoid unnecessary confusion!

The men’s single cup

The tournament has a connection to French literature: the men’s single cup is called the Coupe des Mousquetaires. This is a reference to the legendary French tennis players – Jean Borotra, René Lacoste, Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet – who dominated the competition in the late twenties and early thirties. The moniker is a reference to the novel Les Trois Mousquetaires by Alexandre Dumas. Winners of the men’s singles do not get to take the cup, instead, they are instead given a miniature replica of the trophy. The Coupe des Mousquetaires is considered so precious it has its own custom trunk made by Louis Vuitton! The current champion is Rafael Nadal; he is the most successful player in history on clay courts and has won 13 French Open tennis titles!

The women’s single cup

The women’s singles cup takes its name from a French Female tennis player from the same era as the Mousquetaires: Suzanne Lenglen. One of the first sporting superstars, Lenglen was considered a national hero in her time; the press dubbed her notre Suzanne (our Suzanne) and La Divine (the Goddess). She was also a fashion icon and an early adopter of sportswear. Her tennis outfits were specifically designed for her by courtier Jean Patou. How chic! In 2019, Aussie Ashleigh Barty took home the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen. Let’s hope she can do it again this year!

What can I watch before the tournament starts?

For those who want to learn more, why not watch Final Set? This film featured in this year’s Alliance Francaise Film Festival. It tells the story of an ageing player’s struggle with injury after having been France’s new tennis hope in his adolescence. You’ll be taken through his return to the French Open, his mental turmoil amongst trying relationships, and the impact of surrounding publicity from the media. Something to get you in the tennis mood before the competition starts.

Don’t forget to watch the tournament itself, which starts on Monday 24th of May and can be watched on Channel 9. Get your racquets ready!

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