That’s it, Roland Garros is over. The courts are covered for one year. The Philippe-Chatrier court sounds empty. Although, if you listen carefully, you can hear the roars of a Spanish player who is still writing the history of this tournament.
But there is no time to be nostalgic. The circuit does not stop. May. And as soon as Rafael Nadal had lifted the Copa Mousquetaires, the big tennis circus took his clicks and slaps to settle on the grass for a few weeks. The transition is as beautiful as it is violent. Ocher clay is replaced by bursting green grass (at least at first), long rallies by short rallies, and slides by volleys.
The last two individual Grand Slam victories have been on grass.
Suddenly, as we move away from this surface made in France (too), the tricolor players shine much less. Well no, absolutely not! Paradoxically, although there are very few lawns in France, the results of the French on this surface are, historically, surprisingly good. In fact, since the Open era, five French players have reached the last four at Wimbledon (for a total of eight semifinals played) and one of them has even played the final (Cédric Pioline 1997) . By comparison, there were seven semi-finals with one French player in Melbourne and only four in New York. Roland-Garros remains in the lead with 11 semifinals, including a Franco-French one in 1983, although since that year and the title of Yannick Noah, only seven semifinals have concerned the “blues”.
When we look at French women’s tennis, we simply realize that the last two individual Grand Slam victories were on the turf and to that must be added two finals.
How to explain this ease on the pitch for French players? Why is it that at least a third of the thirty-three players who have qualified since the Open era have at least one title on this “so British” surface?
Several reasons, but two of them seem more interesting to me.
They reach the green with a free mind and a light arm.
First, the turf season comes historically as a result of Roland-Garros, except when the tournament is played in September, which, since 1891, has only occurred once, the pandemic requires. Suddenly, when the French arrive at ‘s-Hertogenbosch or Stuttgart (or the turf tournament that starts the day after Roland-Garros), they breathe. It’s not that the Paris Grand Slam is a task or a punishment, much less, but it is a great pressure that, after fifteen days, weighs on the subconscious. They are requested in all directions, whether from the media, family, friends, sponsors … It’s non-stop.
So certainly playing a Grand Slam at home is a great luxury that all future champions want to taste. But not only that. If you ask any French player, regardless of generation, which Grand Slam he dreams of winning, he will tell you without hesitation that he is Roland-Garros. Of course it’s okay. Obviously there is nothing better, but it is exhausting. This weighted superhero layer disintegrates as soon as they board the plane to leave Paris and hit their first balls on British, German or Dutch grass. They reach the green with a free mind and a light arm.
Another argument that arises and adds to the mood of the French on the turf is their style of play. In fact, if we look more closely at the identities of the 11 French graduates, we realize that this is a specific profile. What do Richard Gasquet, Nicolas Mahut, Sébastien Grosjean, Henri Leconte, Fabrice Santoro, Michaël Llodra or even Adrian Mannarino have in common? They all have, as they say, “one hand.” They are players with a more developed ball touch than the others. This ability to be very technical is especially effective on grass where exchanges are short and minor play is a must. Of course, having a great service is also a great advantage, but with the slowdown in the surface, it is increasingly neutralized, while pure talent is uncontrollable. Do you have it or not. And it turns out that many French people have them.
The test, of the 16 players competing today in the quarterfinals in Stuttgart and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, almost 20% are French. It is simply the most represented nationality.
I hope it’s fun …