Roland Garros 2013 notes: the Fan Slam Club.
Guess what, bitches?
I MADE IT – all four grand slams, from Wimbledon 2010 to Roland Garros 2013.
Even though I never set out to specifically go to all of them, chance, obsession and a certain attitude of carpe diem has taken me from Melbourne to London, New York and now Paris, and I have tennis to thank for giving me an excuse to visit and revisit some of the most marvellous cities in the world.
And it has been marvellous. For some reason, Roland Garros has always had a bad rap as a tournament. Players complain about the facilities, the shocking lack of lighting once it starts to get dark past 9PM. Die-hard tennis fans tell you about how crowded the outer courts are, and how ridiculous that most Philippe Chartrier ticket holders do not turn up to watch the first two matches on centre court until around 2PM. God forbid anything should stand between a Frenchman and his lunch. The press describes the boorish crowd, the dirty, gritty and dusty style of play on this surface, the long endless days and non-existent night sessions.
But what they don’t tell you, as a first time visitor, is the sheer visual beauty of it. You first see it as you walk into Philippe Chartrier – the burnt caramel-coloured court – like a sandpit in a Colosseum, surrounded by the green seats and light grey advertising boards that envelop the court. High up on the Borotra wing of the stadium, you see the Eiffel Tower peeping over the top, an ever-present reminder of where and just how lucky you are. Pigeons soar through the air, looking for a safe place to land and a quick peck from someone’s lunch. On the outside courts, you hear things you never notice on TV – the soft brush of a player’s feet against “beaten earth”, like an artist drawing a charcoal sketch. The crowd groans, gasps and cheers, making French noises at the players with a level of expressiveness frowned upon at the tennis in other parts of the world.
They’re possessive about players in this part of the world. Get the crowd on your side, and they’ll root for you with like an adopted son. Turn them against you, and you may suddenly find yourself playing against the world, veins popping, eyes bulging, screams of “ALLEZ UP YOUR FUCKING ASS” drowned in a sea of boos and wolf whistles. Gael Monfils roused his home crowd with a dramatic five-set upset over Tomas Berdych; Serena Williams prepped them for her seemingly inevitable crowning as the Queen of Paris by conducting her post-match interview in French.
Roger Federer, for whatever reason, became the adopted son who could do no wrong. And attending one of his matches at Roland Garros was like sitting in a stadium full of various versions of yourself – swooning, cheering and grinning at the man like a bunch zealous cougars.
This was in contrast to Nadal’s match, as Daniel Brands garnered most of the support from the French. This is not to say that the French disrespect Rafa – there was no lack of applause and standing ovation for the man who has dominated at Roland Garros in a way that no other man has. But it felt like there was an unbridgeable gap between Nadal and the French crowd, a gap filled by Federer, Djokovic and the dreams of other men whose chances at Roland Garros have been thwarted by Nadal’s sheer brilliance on this surface.
Yesterday on Chatrier however, we were faced with a slim possibility that someone out there, someone low ranked, hard hitting, and brave or kamikaze, might be able to thwart Nadal’s dreams for a change. For the majority of the first two sets, Brands played tennis like he had no regrets - crushing his forehand and aiming for the lines whenever he got the chance. He led 3-0 in the second set tiebreak as the crowd moved to the edge of their seats, knees shaking at the possibility of an upset.
But there comes a moment when a lower-ranked player has a top seed at their mercy, and fails to deliver the final blow. Brand went on to lose the tiebreak. The match flipped, and Nadal got consolidated a stranglehold on the match so fast it was almost as if all of Brands’ previous good form was but an illusion, a glimpse into an alternative universe where life could have been extraordinary.
For me at least, life continues to be extraordinary.
After a few days at the tournament, I will be travelling on for three weeks, towards the edge of Europe where I will board that interminable flight back to Australia. So I’m afraid this is it from me for now. Enjoy Roland Garros, and as much as I would like to say “may the best man win”, we all know that for the French Open, or for any grand slam, my truest wish is for the Swiss man to win.