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Tennis in France

France is home to one of the 4 major tennis tournaments: the French Open. Every year in late May and early June world tennis descends upon the Stade Roland-Garros for the only one of the four majors to be played on a clay surface. The slow surface means that the players have to show great stamina and patience to win matches. After 7 rounds, the eventual winner of the tournament will have to have shown great character to have come through both the mental and physical battle.

Rafael Nadal unstoppable on clay

There are certain players who are clay court specialists and they are the type who excel in Paris. The leading winner of the men’s tournament with 10 titles is Spain’s Rafael Nadal. In all, he has won 15 grand slams, but it is on clay that he feels most at home. His two great rivals, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, have both won it once each, but they are clearly more at home on faster surfaces.

The most successful ladies’ winner on clay surface has been Chris Evert with 7 victories. Steffie Graff managed to win 6 titles and of the modern day players Serena Williams has won on 3 occasions. However, Williams has managed to win 20 titles away from Roland-Garros, so clay is quite clearly not her favorite surface.

The French love their tennis and there are over a million registered players in the country. The crowd is not afraid to show its emotions at the event, and in 2017 the 2016 ladies winner Garbine Muguruza complained bitterly about the crowd’s lack of respect for her in her defeat of a local French player. The French are desperate for their own players to succeed, and the last players to do so were Mary Pearce, who won the ladies title in 2000, and Yannick Noah, who won the men’s title in 1983. During this long period of little success, the French have produced many fine players but none who could cope both with the difficult surface and the weight of expectation placed on them by the partisan home crowd.

Yannick Noah pictured with Mary Pearce

Mary Pearce won her title in 2000, having previously won the Australian Open in 1995. She also reached the finals of the French Open in both 1994 and 2005. Yannick Noah’s 1983 win was the first French men’s success for 37 years, which means that the home nation has only won the title once in the last 71 years. A player who did come close to winning the title was Henri Laconte. In the 1988 finals he lost to Ivan Lendl, but throughout his career he had many fans as a result of his style of play. He also reached the semi-final stages at Wimbledon and the quarter finals at Flushing Meadow, the home of the United States open.

Amelie Mauresmo was a fine player whose style was never suited to the clay surface. She only ever reached the quarter finals in Paris, yet in her career she won both Wimbledon and the Australian Open in 2006. Marion Bartoli was slightly better on the clay and in 2011 she reached the semi-finals. However, her greatest success came in 2013 when she won the Wimbledon title, having been the runner up the year before.

Today’s number 1 player is Jo-Wilfred Tsonga, who plays with the same panache and style as previous French players. On his good day he can beat any player in the world, but, sadly, he lacks consistency and a good tournament will often be followed by a disappointing one. So far, he has reached the semi-finals in both Paris and London, and in 2008 he made it all of the way to The Australian Open Finals before losing to Novak Djokovic. Maybe it won’t be too long before he becomes the next French winner of the Roland-Garros Open.