Bienvenue au Paris
May 24, 2009 -- The drought is over: The French Open has started. We haven't had the pleasure of watching players step-up their games, bear down harder, and rely on the mysterious mind game, since the Australian Open closed in mid January. But what is it about Paris and Roland Garros that sets it apart from other Grand Slams?
Simply stated... everything.
From every viewable angle, The French Open personifies France, tennis, and a certain something that is difficult to define unless, of course, you are French.
Take, for example, the clothing worn by people involved with the championship. Lacoste is the official supplier for linesmen, chair umpires, volunteers, ticket takers, et al. It also sponsors many players, ironically Andy Roddick plus almost all of the French pro players. There is really no finer example of fashion, in the name of tennis and France, than Lacoste.
Rene Lacoste began the company in 1933 as La Societe Chemise Lacoste. Since then, its name has been shortened and ownership passed down to sons and grandsons, remaining an integral part of international sport fashion and, at a deeper level, a true representation of French tennis. Remove the alligator from Lacoste, or as the French call it la cro-ka-dill (like the herb), and an essential element of the entire French tennis savoir faire is missed, transforming its untouchable quality to an ordinariness surely not suited for the French. Voila!
Even the web site for The French Open exemplifies quality a la France. You are greeted with a tasteful composite of color, information, and history upon opening the site (www.rolandgarros.com). Pick your language and enter all that is The French Open from stats, to history, to interactive games having nothing to do with this Grand Slam but all to do with entertainment. It's fun at the electronic French Open. And, why not... this is Paris in the springtime. This is the second Grand Slam of the year. This could be the year Rafael Nadal wins his fifth straight title. Even though he is Spanish, the French have adopted him as their own because, and but of course, he mastered the terre battue in Paris!
And what would a French championship be without the food. No one in their right mind could think that Wimbledon's strawberries and cream, or New York's cheeseburgers, or Australian beer could compare to the flavors and tastes served around the grounds of Roland Garros. We can be sure The French Open restaurants offer just the right touches for those visiting these hallowed grounds.
Without a doubt, it is the red clay that makes the French Open so very special. The simple sight of it is wonderful. Adept players slide to shots, gracefully meeting the ball at the precise moment necessary to keep a point moving forward in their favor. The European players seem to have an innate sense of the red clay, which many have described as something akin to ordinary baking flour -- silky and slippery -- depending on the weather conditions.
Players today were greeted with blue skies and warm temperatures -- mid 70s. The clay was fast. Ivo Karlovic hit fifty-five aces over the course of his five-set loss against veteran Lleyton Hewitt. That number of aces is an absurdly high number for a clay court match. If temperatures had been lower, gray clouds hung low, and a misty rain hung in the air, the number would have been cut in half. The 10-day forecast for Paris looks sunny, with temperatures similar to today's temperatures.
How does that effect results? Should the oddsmakers recast their calculations? No one can be sure. However, Roger Federer, the #2 seed, certainly likes a faster game while Rafael Nadal could grind away for hours on a slower wetter clay, and be happy.
Finally, The French Open is the only Grand Slam that starts on a Sunday and ends with the men's final on a Sunday. Viva la difference!
Today's results: Amelie Mauresmo lost in her first round match to Anna-Lena Groenefeld of Germany 64 63, disappointing French fans, yet again, and Amelie. Veteran Marat Safin forged his way to round two, defeating another Russian Alexandre Sidorenko 64 64 64. Ernest Gulbis put an end to Sam Querrey's dreams of a run at "The French," sending the likeable American home in four sets: 76 (1) 61 36 61. Andy Murray, #3 seed, made a brilliant debut when he defeated Juan Ignacio Chela 62 62 61. It hasn't been a good year for the lanky Argentine.
American Robbie Kendrick pulled out a five-set battle against qualifier Daniel Brands 67 (7) 75 76 (11) 46 63. Robbie will need the day's rest to recover. Unfortunately, another American Wayne Odesnik was not as fortunate against the #7 seed Frenchman Gilles Simon. Odesnik won the first and fourth sets, but didn't have enough in the tank to earn the "W." Gilles Simon has never been farther than the third round of any Grand Slam. An early exit here would've been quite humiliating for the seed. His steady approach, lightning-fast foot-speed, and his fitness make him a threat, no matter the weather conditions for the day.
Day two is a few hours away. All the courts will be busy. The excitement will build. Get ready to be surprised and disappointed. Get ready to delve into all that is French, tennis, and the second Grand Slam of 2009.