The much-anticipated clay court season is here. Whether you’re a tennis enthusiast or a casual fan girl of Nadal and Djokovic, here are some fun facts behind one of the most broadcasted tennis championship in the world.
A rose by any other name
The French Open is home to many unforgettable moments in sports history. Much like the stadium’s namesake, the Roland Garros – or French Open – has blazed trails over the years with history-making events that cement its importance in the annals of sports history.
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- Although it is better known internationally as the French Open, the natives simply refer to it as the Roland Garros. But it is officially known as Les Internationaux de France de Roland-Garros.
- The venue, where the Grand Slam championship takes place, is named after a French fighter pilot who was acknowledged as the first man to fly over the Mediterranean Sea. Ever the tennis enthusiast, he was known to religiously play tennis at the stadium while he was a student in Paris.
- It opened its doors to allow international competitors from non-French clubs in 1925.
- Althea Gibson became the first African-American player to win a Grand Slam event when she won the French Open’s women’s singles title in 1956.
- In 1968, it became the first Grand Slam tournament to allow amateurs and professionals to compete on equal terms.
- In 2011, Li Na became the first Chinese national to win a Grand Slam tournament.
The iconic terre batteu
Aesthetically, the orange-red clay courts are arguably the most distinctive feature of the French Open. But they also play a huge role in the athlete’s performance and preventing injuries.
- Despite its name, the clay court is not really clay. It is made up of a meter-deep layer of sand, six inches of volcanic rock, three inches of white limestone and powdering of red brick dust to get its famous colour.
- Playing on clay is notorious for being physically demanding on the players. Balls fly higher and slower, requiring the players to exert greater stamina to keep up with the game.
- Given the nature of the surface, serve-based players find it hard to dominate on the clay court. This is why some talented names in tennis with the best serves fail to win at the French Open.
- The Roland Garros is the smallest of the Grand Slam venues, clocking in less than half the size of the other three tournaments, the Australia Open, Wimbledon and the US Open.
- The ball kids chosen are often between the ages of 12 and 16. They must be at least 1.75m tall with perfect vision and must be a member of the French Tennis Federation. They then undergo a five-day training where only 220 out of 2,500 will make the cut based on physical stamina, picking up rolling balls, throwing accuracy, concentration, endurance, dexterity and speed.
Leave it to the French to lead the pack in sartorial choices. With the rising trend in athleisure – fashionable sportswear that can be worn casually - the French Open has become the fashion reference point for what’s chic in sportswear.
- Unlike the straitlaced Wimbledon, where players must adhere to a strict dress code (no more than a single trim of colour around the neckline), the French Open allows players to exercise creativity in their outfit choices.
- Tennis apparel worn by players displays a harmonious blend of fashion and function. While the colours used may include all the shades of the rainbow, the pieces are designed with breathability and to allow the range of motion needed for the players to compete at their best.
- Colours selected for the athletes are carefully chosen with the court’s surface in mind. This is to ensure that the outfit doesn’t clash or blend in with the Roland Garros’ iconic brick-red courts.
- Renowned luxury sportswear brand, Lacoste, has a longstanding partnership with Roland Garros that spans over 45 years. As part of this partnership, Lacoste launches its annual capsule collection ahead of the tournament.
- The iconic panama hats that are so intertwined with the image of French Open are given as a complimentary gift to audiences in the box seats.
Stars of the stadium
Widely regarded as the most mentally and physically gruelling of all tennis tournaments, winners of the tournament are widely regarded as the best in the tennis world.
- Only five French nationals have won. The last man and woman to win the French Open were Yannick Noah in 1983 and Mary Pierce in 2000, respectively.
- Rafael Nadal found huge success on this difficult clay court, winning 38 out of 39 matches.
- Spanish players dominate the French Open with a total of 15 wins: Rafael Nadal (9), Juan Sergi Bruguera (2), Carlos Ferrero (1), Albert Costa (1), Carlos Moyà (1) and Andrés Gimeno (1).
- The youngest French Open winners were 17-year-old American Michael Chang (won in 1989, his only Grand Slam title) and 16-year-old Monica Seles (who would go on to win 8 Grand Slam titles before her 20th birthday).
- Daniel Nestor holds two French Open records: winning the most men’s doubles titles and the most consecutive men’s double’s titles.
Catch the 2017 French Open 'Live' on StarHub TV, FOX Sports (HD) Ch 208 and FOX Sports 2 (HD) Ch 209, ongoing till 11 June. Visit starhub.com/french-open for more information.