The second Grand Slam of the year is underway and I could not be more excited! I doubt I’ve mentioned what I do when I’m not travelling or cooking, but my day-time job is of a sports journalist. And where would my specialisation lie? Tennis of course!
I don’t think I can remember a day when I haven’t heard the word tennis. Some statistic, some gossip, some childhood memory, some obscure video or book simply an article about a player. Associated with the sport since I was about four, it’s been a long long journey… from the courts to covering from the other side… it never tires.
Anyway, getting back from all the rambling, I can’t help but feel nostalgic because last year this time I was roaming about the street of Paris, eating crepes sitting on the banks of Seine, admiring works of art at the Louvre… But among the few days I spent falling in love with the city, I took one whole morning off to visit Roland Garros. And when you have an all-access pass (well, somewhat) how can you not enjoy the second Grand Slam of the year!
Situated in the suburbs, it took me a while to reach Port d’Auteuil, the stop for Roland Garros on line 10, from where I was putting up. About a 15-20 minute walk away from the metro station exit ‘Roland Garros’, you come across many people who love the sport as much as you do. I met this rather determined old lady with a walking stick walking towards the Stadium. “Je na parle pas L’Anglais,” she smiled pointing towards the entrance. With a mattering of broken French I figured out she’s been going there for over 20 years now.
As the roads began to get crowded, I knew I was getting closer. The little tennis ball and racquet stickers on the side walk act as guiders. I was told to waltz in and ask for the pass kept under my name. They turned out to be the florescent wrist bands which are reserved for player guests among others. That was fun!
When you walk into Roland Garros, you realise just how small the area is. I mean I knew it wasn’t as big as Wimbledon, but for years what you’ve seen on television and when you actually stand there – there’s a major difference. But there’s no dearth of atmosphere. The air is charged with excitement, fans move about carrying large tennis balls which will be shortly filled with autographs, tennis officials looking smart in Chanel-inspired outfits giving instructions – it’s everything a Grand Slam should be.
I made my way to Bullring or Court 1 to catch up on the matches. The stadium is so tiny that you feel the red clay is at your feet (Watching a match from the player box does have its perks!). It was a gorgeous feeling. First up was India’s very own Sania Mirza partnering Bethanie Mattek-Sands. It was a good match but I was longing to look around the stadium. Before I knew it, it was time to explore.
I played tennis thanks to my grandfather. Since the age of four, I had heard tales of the importance of Davis Cup, how the French Musketeers surprised the Americans in 1927, the exploits of the likes of Helen Wills-Moody, Bill Tilden, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson… I heard it all. And I would dream. Dream of one day witnessing it all. The replica of the Davis Cup stands tall as you walk to look for souvenirs. I tried to imagine how things were in 1928. Very different to the giant screen or children slurping on ice lollies I’m sure.
The little florescent wrist band allowed me certain privileges – like walk down the east tunnel entrance into Court Suzanne Lenglen over which stands the legend’s sculpture, barge into the players area (unfortunately Roger Federer wasn’t playing that day) and watch Serena Williams on the red clay. It was something I had been dreaming for a rather long time.
Apart from the three stadiums – Philippe Chatrier, Suzanne Lenglen and Court 1 – the rest of the 17 courts are open to the public. After a quick bite and a Roland Garros photograph (I was such a tourist!) I went to the open courts to check up on proceedings. Since this was the second week of the Slam, the juniors were showing off their calibre on the red clay. There’s something so magical about the clay sticking to your white socks, I mean it feels real. Yes, this is the French Open.
It was Serena’s defeat which suddenly triggered this memory. Well, I did see the American live in action last summer! Anyway, after a whole day of fun, frolic and laughter (and learning new French words) it was time to head back. But somehow as I walked back to the metro station with the canopy of greens sheltering me, I knew I would be back one day. I only wish it’s sometime soon.