I went to the French Open for the first time since 2011 at the weekend, but was only there for a total of six hours, way down on my usual length of stay at a Slam. What can be achieved in such a short space? A hell of a lot, even if it’s not made easy by poor organisation 😉 How does a ground pass in Paris match up to my other Slam experiences? Let’s see
First of all, the positives of which there are plenty. The logistical proximity of this Slam meant that I could commute from my own home and come back in the same day, no need to intrude upon friends or homestay accommodation. A dream realised! Roland Garros has excellent transport links with the centre of Paris and you can get from Gare du Nord to the tennis club in 35 minutes by any means of transport.
An admittedly underwhelming order of play was soon forgotten about. It’s great having favourites and when none of them line up on your one day that you’re there it can lead to a feeling of emptiness. But what I found was it freed me up. I wasn’t tied to a particular court, sitting through a match I didn’t want to see waiting for a later one. I went where the smell of good tennis led me. This can lead to disjointed affairs, coming into match halfway. But you ask Radek Stepanek if he likes the idea of me arriving at his match. The Czech veteran was two sets to love down when I arrived at his match. He came through in five, no doubt inspired by my ringing endorsement from my 2013 Player awards. That said, I think another veteran Mikhail Youzhny was happy to see me go. He came back to win after I left his match with him losing and ranting and raving in very-audible Russian.
The good thing about moving around and not being tied to your favourites is you can watch matches more clearly with no strong affinity to either player, thus allowing you to recognise newer players on the block. Neither Facundo Arguello nor Pablo Carreno-Busta were included in my tennis knowledge prior to Sunday, but I’ll be sure to follow their careers with a little interest from hereon due to their stellar efforts against seasoned pros.
On a pure indulgent note, eating an ice-cream watching tennis on a warm sunny Parisian day with one of my best friends has to be one of the best feelings in the world. Not even the presence of Conchita Martinez (her Wimbledon win put me off tennis as a child, dull dull dull) can spoil that sensation.
However, Roland Garros has its drawbacks. Firstly, the signage is poor. They tell you that you can enter one place with your ticket, but then when you arrive there, you are redirected, thus wasting time. In addition to this, I waited 45 minutes in a queue of seven people for two coffees. Yeah yeah, I know I should have quit earlier but it becomes a matter of principle and anyway I enjoyed complaining with the others in the queue, chance to practice my cantankerous French skills! As we got closer to the front of the queue, the reason for the delay became apparent. At certain of the catering facilities, you have to scan your ticket, like you do in duty-free at the airport! Why? I mean, if I manage to skip past security into a tennis event, the first place I’m going to head to is the coffee stand! As well as this, the price lists didn’t include the additional 1Euro charge for an Eco Cup so the sales assistant was having to FULLY explain the system to each customer. Cracking stuff, especially for those that don’t speak French or English. A single line on the price list would have changed this.
Also, there’s no communication between the stewards working on the ‘smaller show courts’. Thus you have confusion leading to the man at the bottom of the chain thinking the stand is full because the woman at the top of the chain isn’t communicating with him at all due to distance between the two of them. Walkie-talkies have not yet reached Courts 2 and 3 at Roland Garros. This can lead to a quick toilet dash taking an hour.
Three-day first-rounds do nothing for tennis, I’m afraid. I’ve been of this opinion for a while but when a show court has Amandine Hesse v Yvonne Meusburger on Day 1 of Grand Slam, they have to take a long hard look at the idea behind it. Yes, money is important, but that is short-selling anybody who paid big money in advance for that court. It’s wrong. And it can turn the causal punter away from tennis. I hope that the Australian Open and Wimbledon look at that and vow never to change their winning formulas.
So, there were resounding pluses to my six hours at the French Open, and a few minor niggles from a Slam veteran which could seriously put off a less-experienced person. My personal highlight came after exiting though, when we randomly bumped into one of my favourite players, Jarka Gajdosova in an adjoining street. And no, there is no suggestion of stalking here – she doesn’t look the type! Chatty and happy to pose for a photo, it’s good to have her back on the tour after almost a year missed through illness. Looking forward to seeing her at her home slam, the Australian Open, next year: on the court, not off it!