The hard beauty of Roland Garros

Roland Garros.

Two words. This is a real piece. They evoke an otherworldly take on the sport in retro style. Just like they stink of old money that oozes from the elegant buildings that line the quiet streets of Paris Area.

It is here that you can find Roland Garros – the home of the French Open – and the only one of the four major tournaments where tennis is played on clay, which has a positive effect on 19th century.

The first look at the deep, rusty terracotta clay wedged between the cracks in the outer courtyard railing is oddly exhilarating, like spying on Marilyn Monroe or Frank Sinatra smoking in his trailer while waiting for the next call to the set.

Vintage, but somehow fresh and beautiful.

The French are proud of their unique clay. The Roland Garros website tells its story lyrically, talking about the precise alchemy of the legendary surface.

The ground appears to be covered in a total of five layers about 80 centimeters thick each: the first consists of stones, then gravel, clinker (volcanic sediment), limestone, and finally a thin layer of brick rubble about two millimeters thick. “.

The infrastructure of the stadium, however, has been modernized, and very cleverly: Philippe Chatrier’s center court resembles the tennis equivalent of the Olivier Theater at the National Theater in London, where every seat is comfortable and with a clear unobstructed view of the stage.

But in keeping with the retro feel, digital technology is not being used to help with phone calls. Instead, when the linesman makes a mistake, the umpire jumps from his high seat, perched above the net, and with extraordinary speed gets to the point where the ball touched or did not touch the line, and points with surprising determination to the point. , which, being clay, leaves a terracotta mark on a white line or depression in the clay.

The place is full of such eccentric quirkiness. The night ticket only entitles the holder to entry at 6:30 pm, however, if the ticket is for one of the three show venues, the match will only start at 8:45 pm (preceding nod to modernity with an international DJ in mix 15). minutes early – even though it’s Paris, both start 10 minutes late so patrons can finish their oysters and take their seats).

The fact that the security of the entrance to the territory is strict is not surprising. Just seven years ago, the 9/11 terrorist attack took place in Paris, killing 130 people. including 90 at the Bataclan Theater. Right in front of me, a young Italian had his folded flag confiscated because it was “too big”, though I suspect it might just be a little “too Italian”.

This helps me make a decision about who I will support calmly in a matchup between the world number 4 (and the fourth seed here), a 23 year old Greek player. Stefanos Tsitsipasand Lorenzo Musetti, a young Italian who only played his fifth major tournament.

Musetti is ranked 51st in the world and is three years younger than the Greek. Both of these facts are evident early in the game when Tsitsipas races ahead 4-1 in the first set of this first round match without breaking a sweat or showing much inclination to do so.

He is bigger and stronger; and obviously more street.

It looks like it will be a very one-sided affair. But then it gets interesting. Suddenly, Musetti’s momentum falls into place, and his backhands, so swift and out of place at the beginning of the game, begin to break through the defense of Tsitsipas.

Incredibly – exhilarating – the young Italian wins 10 of his next 11 games. This is a real twist. And among the snappy shots in the backcourt, there are plenty of delightfully agile shots that even the athletic Tsitsipas, so agile for such a big guy, can’t pull off.

These drop shots also have a retro flair, reminiscent of today’s Ilie Nastas, who loved clay but only won the French competition once, in 1973.

The tables are turned. Now Tsitsipas loses 1-4 in the second. Now he’s definitely asleep. However, he puts up a fight back, but Musetti is apparently still in the zone and holds on spectacularly to win the set 6-4.

Shifts in momentum and the corresponding effect on enemy morale seem clearer in the flesh than on television, even if you don’t have access to close-up images of the players.

The challenge for the number four seed, the losing finalist in 2021, is no different from when the match began: he must win three sets to win the match. However, now there is no room for error; he must win all three remaining sets. And for this he must show deep determination; he must quickly gain dominance and then not let go.

Being so close to the action, seeing the incredible physical effort put into every shot and the prowess that both players display, it’s clear that it’s more about temperament than perhaps other sports.

Alexander Zverev of Germany receives medical treatment after an injury against Rafael Nadal of Spain during the men’s singles semi-final match on Day 13 of the 2022 French Open at Roland Garros on June 3, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Cricket commentators are now talking about winning a (two-hour) game session. Tennis is broken down into the most precise, almost molecular parts. Between three and five hundred of these in a five-set match – similar to the number of balls scored in one day of a Test cricket match.

However, in tennis every little thing is worth a point. Unlike a batter, a tennis player cannot leave the ball. Tennis does not have any of the “dotted” cricket balls (there are no points, so the scorer puts a dot in the log).

Each point represents a self-sufficient arm wrestling. Amateurs are missing out on some points; to give yourself a mental as much as a physical break. They have neither the ability (nor the skills) to compete on the professional stage.

The pros can’t and don’t. They really fight for every point. They know to let go a few and you will very suddenly lose the game to your own serve and then the climb will be even steeper.

It is a gladiatorial, titanic battle of willpower that is made even more exciting and dramatic by the color and texture of the clay, which allows for gliding and thus encourages both athleticism and skill.

Musetti’s rhythm evaporates. The momentum has changed. Tsitsipas is now in control and, after seven unfortunate double faults, starts to land on his first 210 km/h serve. This is how it goes on and how it ends.

In the annals of tennis history, the Greek’s 5-7, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 victories do not deserve special mention. Yes, the numbers show that the favorite was unsettled in two sets, and the upstart threatened with a shock defeat, but then lost to a more experienced player.

However, neither the raw recording nor this brief account of what happened do justice to the minor drama, much less the joules of energy expended and the entertainment provided.

And, just in case, remember this name: Lorenzo Musetti. His time will come. He may well be the next Rafael Nadal, who won his 14th French Open title and 22nd Major last weekend. A real GOAT, Nadal is the undisputed king of Roland Garros.