Roland Garros facts and figures
The French Open is played on clay, which owes its red color to the crushed brick which forms the upper layer of the surface. There are three layers in all—one of limestone, one of clinker and one of stone—as well as drainage pipes. Clay is the slowest of surfaces and much revered by Spanish and South American players who grew up playing on red dirt and know all its secrets inside and out. The first ever clay courts were constructed in Cannes in the south of France in 1880 by Ernest and William Renshaw, who were top players in that era. Whilst European clay courts are red, the Americans play on (quicker) green clay, with the WTA tournament in Charleston, S.C. every April being the highlight of the green clay season.
The “Sunday Start”
Ever since 2006, the tournament has been spread over 15 days, rather than 14 days and started on a Sunday. May 25 will be the opening day this year, with 32 first-round singles matches scheduled for what is called the "Sunday Start.” The first round of singles competition stretches over three days, and one half of the draw plays on Sunday and Monday, the other half on Monday and Tuesday. As has always been the case, any player involved in matches at other tournaments on the Friday or Saturday before will not be scheduled to play before Monday.
In the city
For the sixth year in a row, the "Roland Garros in the City" event will be set up on the esplanade outside Paris city hall throughout the French Open. The aim of this special event is to bring all the emotion of the tournament to the heart of the French capital. There will be all sorts of tennis-based activities offered as well as a giant screen showing all the main matches from the tournament—all free of charge, with the French Tennis Federation's main aim being to share its love of the sport with as many people as possible. This special event is organized every spring in conjunction with Paris city hall, and will culminate with the Men's Singles Final.
Way back when …
The stadium that stages one of the world's four major tennis tournaments was built in 1928, but the French men's singles championship goes back much further than that. Originally reserved for members of French clubs, it was first held on the courts of Stade Francais Club in Paris in 1891. The women's singles were added six years later, it was not until 1925 that the French Tennis Federation decided to open the event to the best foreign players. Thus, the French Internationals were born, and staged alternately at Stade Francais and Racing Club de France until the Roland-Garros stadium came into being in 1928.
Nadal: The undisputed king
Today, the tournament is fully deserving of its reputation as the world's premier clay court event. It is furiously competitive each year, to such an extent that French successes have been few and far between. Since World War II, only Nelly Landry (1948), Françoise Durr (1967) and Mary Pierce (2000) among the women, together with Marcel Bernard (1946) and Yannick Noah (1983) in the men's event, have lifted the supreme title. Will a Frenchman be able to re-write the history books? To win at Roland Garros, it almost seems to be a prerequisite for a player to speak Spanish. Most of the current clay court specialists are Spanish, including of course the current holder, Majorcan left-hander Rafael Nadal, who has won no fewer than eight times in nine appearances!
Rafael Nadal: The 2014 favorite … but is he at risk?
Rafael Nadal might be the greatest clay court player in the history of the game, but this French Open might see him at risk from both other players and himself. Nadal had trouble at the 2014 Australian Open with back problems and aside from the physical issues, there are several men ready to keep him from another trophy at Roland Garros.
Nadal is always Nadal, which means that he’ll always have issues with his body, but it also means that he’s able to fight through it and hoist numerous awards in the process. This last Australian Open though was a tough one for the Spaniard with Stanislas Wawrinka beating him in an impressive four-setter. Nadal was plagued by back problems in the match, but at the end of the day, admitted that Wawrinka deserved the win with his inspirational playing.
Hot on the heels of the world’s number one is Novak Djokovic who, at the end of March, beat Nadal easily in the finals of the Sony Open. Nadal and Djokovic have created a new rivalry that is approaching the level of his previous rivalry with Roger Federer. Something that is good for both players and fans alike. Hopefully, we can see another epic clash between the top two ranked players in the finals, but there are a few others that might have something to say about that which puts Nadal at risk.
Roland Garros contenders
Is Stanislas Wawrinka ready to fill the shoes of his fellow countryman Roger Federer and win a French Open? He’s got a good chance. Wawrinka has always been a great player with good decision-making and explosive power, but he has lacked confidence in himself, perhaps from playing in the shadow of arguably the greatest tennis player of all time.
Confidence abounds now with recent successes, culminating in a win in the 2014 Australian Open finals. His first major title came only after beating both Nadal and Djokovic, a feat not to be easily dismissed.
While watching the French Open this year, look for Wawrinka’s tattoo, ''Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.'' a quote by Irish poet Samuel Beckett. With so much of the buzz being about Nadal, Djokovic and even Andy Murray, Stanislas Wawrinka is a great contender and a breath of fresh air in a scene that is looking for new stars.
The only Frenchman to ever win on their home turf of Roland Garros was Yannick Noah. Is this the year they have another hometown hero in Jo-Wilfred Tsonga? With four of the top 25 players being French, there is a chance. Tsonga is the best of the bunch. He was a semifinalist in 2013.
Roland Garros pretenders
As much as we’d like to think that American tennis is on the rebound, we might have to wait a bit longer to hear the U.S. National Anthem at the conclusion of the Men’s Singles Tournament. John Isner started the year strong by winning the Heineken Open and has, as of March, regained his career high ranking of ninth in the world. That didn’t help him against Tomas Berdych in the Round of 16 at the Sony Open in Miami, nor against Djokovic at Indian Wells. John Isner will always be in our hearts, but until he finds a way to consistently beat his peers in the top 10, we probably won’t see him get past the fourth round.
Big serves are great, but the slow clay will neutralize Milos Raonic’s big serves at Roland Garros. Raonic is not well-rounded enough at this point to overcome his serve not being dominant.
Roland Garros sleeper
Currently ranked 22nd in the world, Alexandr Dolgopolov of the Ukraine is moving up the rankings and playing much better than he did a year ago. Clay is his best surface which gives him a chance to make another rankings jump at the French Open. He has never been past the third round at the French Open, and last year, lost in the opening round to Dimitri Tursunov, but look for him to be a player the top guys want to avoid in 2014.
Serena looks for French Open title defense
Current world number one Serena Williams is the favorite in France. If she plays her best and is on her game mentally and physically, there is no beating her. However, that is not always the case as we learned two years ago when Serena fell to Virginie Razzano of France in the first round. Last year, she rebounded to defeat Maria Sharapova in straight sets to win the French Open title and is looking to make a big run again in 2014, while defending her title.
Roland Garros pretenders
Our favorite Russian candy magnate (Sugarpova) will probably have to wait another year as her chances to win the French dwindle amongst tough competition. The thorn in Maria Sharapova’s side, Serena Williams, has not gone away and doesn’t seem to be eying retirement just yet. This year, Maria had trouble at the Paris Open, falling to fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in early February, and more recently, lost again to Serena at the Sony Open in Miami. Maria has an amazing skill set and confidence, but has yet to equal her rival in terms of the mental side of the game. Serena is not the only threat that Maria faces, as Azarenka, Na Li and Agnieszka Radwanska will surely have something to say about their chances at Roland Garros.
With Venus Williams, the name is there, but the game is no longer. While Venus has played well of late, expecting to get through six matches against top players may be too much to ask. She may win a few rounds, but the WTA’s 24th-ranked player will have trouble making it through to the second week.
Roland Garros sleepers
While she has slipped a bit in the rankings this year, the current world number 11 will be playing on her favorite surface at the French Open. She was the runner-up in 2012, falling to Maria Sharapova in straight sets, and lost in the 2013 semifinals to Serena in dominant fashion, 6-0, 6-1. In doubles, she won the 2012 title with her partner Roberta Vinci and they were the runners-up in 2013 to the team of Ekaterina Makarova & Elena Vesnina. Maybe this year, she takes that final step in both in singles and in doubles.
Who? That’s what everyone was saying, but young Canadian Eugenie Bouchard has some tennis chops. The 20-year-old made it into the semifinals of this year’s Australian Open and made waves at the Family Circle Cup by beating both Venus Williams and Jelena Jankovic earning her a place in the semifinals where she eventually fell to eventual winner Andrea Petkovic. Ranked 20th in the world, Bouchard would surpass fellow North American Sloane Stephens in overall points if she makes it into the finals. Keep an eye on her to upset a few familiar faces at Roland Garros.