The French Open: not just a Wimbledon warm-up
For tennis fans in the UK, Wimbledon plays such a huge part in our sporting calendar that we often forget about the three other Grand Slam tournaments. In fact, the Australian Open, the US Open and the French Open are just as widely watched around the world. The French Open is particularly interesting, as it precedes Wimbledon and acts as a partial forecast of who will do well at the All England Club.
I didn’t know much about the French Open until quite recently, but I’ve been following the build-up to the 2012 tournament with eagerness.
The history of the French Open
Like Wimbledon, the French Open has its roots in the late nineteenth century, when a French national tennis tournament was established. In 1925, these championships opened to international amateurs as well as home grown ones. But it wasn’t until 1968 that the tournament became an ‘open’ – i.e., it allowed both amateurs and professional tennis players to compete.
Though the event is known as the French Open in English, in French it is always referred to as Roland Garros or Tournoi de Roland-Garros, after the World War One pilot who gives his name to the Open stadium.
In the history of the French Open, there have been many high profile winners. The record for the most gentlemen’s singles titles is shared between legendary player Bjorn Borg and Rafael Nadal, with six wins each. Chris Evert holds the women’s singles record, with seven wins.
Today, the French Open is one of the biggest events in France’s sporting life, attracting sports fans from around the continent and the globe. There are lots of great Paris hotels near Roland Garros, though they get booked up fast, and trains direct from St Pancras means travelling from the UK is straightforward.
Roland Garros versus Wimbledon
And yet, there are still many people who attend Wimbledon religiously every year who would never dream of going to Roland Garros. The obstacle isn’t so much monetary – there are great travel and hotel deals available on the internet – but cultural.
There are certainly significant differences between the French Open and Wimbledon. The Open is played on clay, the only Grand Slam tournament to do so, and doesn’t play a tie-break in the men’s singles games if it goes to five sets. This makes it a much more physically demanding game – and this, I’ve come to believe, makes it much more entertaining to watch.
The 2012 tournament, to be held from May 22 to June 10, promises to be one of the most exciting of the century. Nadal, last year’s winner is still the favourite to win. However, 2011 Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic could take the prize too, and Serena Williams looks set for success after her recent win at the Madrid Open. So it’s anyone’s guess who will emerge triumphant and set themselves up as a frontrunner for Wimbledon in the weeks that follow.
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