The Roland-Garros tennis tournament is underway in Paris at the moment. It’s the major event in this sport in France and has been going on in one form or another since 1891 when it started life as the Championnat de France (French Championships). That was men only. In 1897 women’s singles was added, mixed doubles in 1902 and women’s doubles in 1907. It was a members-only affair. It had four different venues over the years, including Bordeaux.
In 1912 another tennis competition started up, the World Hard Court Championships, which was open to anyone, and this encouraged the French Championships to open its doors to anyone. In 1928 the event moved to the Roland-Garros stadium where it’s been ever since. The Stade de France offered the tennis authorities the three acres of land on the understanding it was named after this famous French aviator. Roland Garros went on to become a pilot in the First World War, shot down a month before the end of the war and a day before his 30th birthday in 1918. He was involved in the development of Fokker’s interrupter gear which allowed planes to shoot machine guns forwards, in synchronisation with the propellers.
Roland-Garros, the tournament, is famous for its bright orange clay courts. The surface is made from crushed brick. Two wealthy English twin brothers, Ernest and William Renshaws who had many wins at Wimbledon, were on holiday in the south of France in the late 19th century and drove along a crushed brick road in the Alpes-Maritimes. They were looking for an alternative surface to grass for a tennis court and thought this would be perfect. The idea spread from them. In the early 20th century Charles Bouhana perfected the technique of laying the clay court. It consists of five layers. The top one consists of 2-3 mm of crushed brick. The other layers are limestone, clinker, pebbles and stones in descending order, giving a total depth of around 30 cm.
The French Open is hugely popular in France but the main reason I like it is that it means Wimbledon isn’t far away. I enjoy watching a bit of tennis, but the end of Wimbledon heralds the start of the Tour de France and that, for me, is the best sporting event of the year.
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