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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The French Open is on - something about Roland Garros

Have you heard of :  Les internationaux de France de Roland-Garros or Tournoi de Roland-Garros
the stars of Yesteryears - Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and Steffi Graf

Games and the way they are played are changing.  Today morning was browsing some statistics of French Open that is on now.  With only a few of the First round matches completed, there was this list of most no. of aces served which had M Ilhan of Turkey at no. 1 with 25 aces followed by I Karlovic [22]; V Troicki [20]; T Berdych [16]; T Haas [15]; T Kamke [14]; S Stakhovsky [13] – stop – other than Ilhan and Karlovic, I have not heard the names of any other…. Clearly a sign that I have not been following or are there so many new faces ?  - far cry from the days of Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Ivan Lendl,  Becker after the days of Bjorn Borg, John Mcenroe, Jimmy Connors.
the top seed at the Draw of lots
This is a big prize money tournament – 128 players are in the fray in the Men’s singles.  Rafel Nadal is the top seed, followed by Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Robin Soderling, Tomas Berdych &…. The total Prize money is E 17520000 [Rs.111.65 crores].  The winner in Mens section, would take home E 1206000 [Rs.7.68 crores] – the player who returns empty handed being defeated in the 1st round would take E 15000 [Rs.9,55,800/-] – there will be 64 of the first round exits. 

The French Open is a major tennis tourney held over two weeks between late May and early June in Paris, France.  It is the premier clay court tennis tourney and is one of the four annual major tournaments known as Grand Slam – the other 3 being Australian Open, US Open and Wimbledon.  Clay is considered slow playing surface and the Event with five-set men's singles matches without a tiebreak in the final set is widely considered to be the most physically demanding tennis tournament in the world.  Considering that this a slow surface the no. of aces in a single match, displays the way the game is played now. 

Grand slams garner most public attention, ranking points, prize money and traditionally considered most prestigious.  Grand slam is winning of all the four by a single player in the same year.   Though these tournaments have a cherished history, it was only from 1968 that they involve professional players competing.   Winning the four Majors and a gold medal in tennis at the Summer Olympics has been called a "Golden Slam" since 1988,[ when Steffi Graf became the only person to accomplish that feat in a single calendar year. Andre Agassi, and Rafael Nadal have accomplished a "Career Golden Slam", winning all five events but not in the same calendar year, while Roger Federer has achieved a Career Grand Slam, winning all four Majors but not in the same year.    In olden days, Donald Budge [1938] and Rod Laver [1962 & 69] have won all four in the same year. 

French open is held in Roland-Garros stadium which was built in 1928.  Its history has it that during those times,  the team of Jacques "Toto" Brugnon, Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste pulled off one of the biggest shocks in 20th century sport. The famous foursome upset all the odds by winning the Davis Cup on American soil, and in doing so set up a rematch in 1928, in Paris.  Meriting the victory, 3 hectares of land was given to French Tennis Federation and the new stadium was sought to be named after Roland-Garros,  an aviation pioneer.  In the late 1970s & 1980s, the matches of Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert Lloyd were charming everyone.  Björn Borg won the French open a record six times.  In the Women’s Chris Evert was prevailing over Martina Navratilova and then came Steffi Graf and Monica Seles.  The French were delighted when Yannick Noah won the title in 1983.  Most of the current clay court specialists are Spanish, including of course the current holder, Majorcan left-hander Rafael Nadal, who has won five times in six appereances.

A lot would change in the coming years as the French have plans to modernise and extend the existing Roland Garros site at the Porte d´Auteuil in Paris. It was a choice which is directed resolutely towards the future, combining prestige, innovation and quality as well as an important environmental aspect whilst maintaining the unparalleled history which the stadium incorporates. The new Roland Garros, housed at its current location, will be inaugurated in 2016, but between the original stadium - featuring five courts spread over 3.25 hectares and built in 1928 for the four Musketeers of French tennis to defend their Davis Cup title - and the future home of clay, almost a century has passed, full of modernity, technology and ambition.

The new stadium when compelted would have a centre court with a retractable roof to enable play to continue whatever the weather; would  provide greater comfort and more space for both players and spectators and will  have improved infrastructure.  The new one will have a total of 35 clay courts available spread across the historic site and feature a new 5,000-seater court which spectators will be able to reach via a walk through the gardens. The overall cost of the project - estimated at 273 million euros.   The site will have a capacity of  55,000 spectators per day.

In case you are bemused by the term ‘ace’ that is a legal serve that is not returned because the server's opponent never touches the ball with their racket, thereby winning the point.  Generally big servers try ace in their first serve striking the ball with maximum force and placement.  The world record for most aces in a match is held by John Isner, with 113 aces in a first round match against Nicolas Mahut at the 2010 Wimbledon Championships on June 22–24, 2010. Incidentally, Mahut holds second place with 103 in the same  match. The Isner-Mahut match also holds several other Open Era records, including longest match, at over eleven hours in length, and most combined aces - 216 in total.

Regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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