Also called Roland-Garros, the French Open is among the major tennis tournaments on the sports calendar and is held over two weeks towards the end of May. The tournament is the second of the four Grand Slam tennis tournaments; the other three are the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open. Of these tournaments, the French Open stands apart; it’s the only tournament held on clay, a slow-playing surface that demands a lot from players.
The 2017 French Open was the 121st edition of the tournament, taking place at Stade Roland Garros and consisting of events for players in doubles, singles and mixed doubles play. There were also wheelchair and junior players who took part in the doubles and singles events. It was a tournament that, for the first time, didn’t feature the reigning champions of the first Grand Slam event of the year (the Australian Open). Serena Williams and Roger Federer both withdrew before the French Open started.
Typically, with such an event, players and fans from around the world will tune in to watch the top players battle it out for glory. Othman Louanjli, a private banker based in the United Arab Emirates, is among many fans that play tennis and cheer on their favourite players during this tournament.
The French Open traces its roots back to 1891 when the French Clay-Court Championships tournament was created for members of French clubs. The event was held at various venues, including Parc de Saint-Cloud, Stade Français and the Croix-Catelan grounds. During this early era, Max Decugis was one of the top players who won no less than eight titles in the period between 1903 and 1914.
In 1925, big changes came to the tournament, with the first being the welcoming of international players. It also became a major championship, a designation that was approved by the International Lawn Tennis Federation (ILTF). On the court, however, domestic players dominated play, ushering in a golden era that featured Suzanne Lenglen – a six-time women’s singles winner who was acknowledged as a genuine star – and male players such as Rene Lacoste, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Jean Borotra, who between 1922 and 1932 won ten singles titles. The highlight of this group of players was the Davis Cup win in 1927, a feat that brought about the construction of a stadium to bolster their title defence. This stadium was named Roland Garros.
During the Second World War the tournament was still held, but these editions were not recognised officially. In 1946, the French Championships resumed and were held after Wimbledon. By 1968, the tournament became the first to go open, allowing professional and amateur players to compete. This turn of events gave the tournament more importance, with players such as Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert dominating the men’s and women’s singles respectively. The stadium underwent an expansion in 1979, increasing the number of courts to 10. Further expansion in 1986 and later in 1992 saw an increase to 20 courts, with two show courts (Suzanne-Lenglen and Philippe-Chatrier).
Considered one of the toughest tournaments in the tennis calendar, the French Open has eluded some of the sport’s biggest names. Players such as Maria Bueno, John McEnroe, Pete Sampras, Venus Williams and Martina Hingis all retired without having won this tournament. On the other hand, Spanish players such as Carlos Moya, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Albert Costa and Rafael Nadal have won big. Nadal, in particular, has redefined what can be achieved at the French Open with his record-extending 10th title coming in 2017. He is also among a handful of players in the open era who have found great success on the slower clay surface.