The French Open: the Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Probably the best thing about the French Open is the sense of anticipation that the long clay court season creates. This allows for the development of storylines that build to a crescendo in Paris. In this year’s clay court season there has been Nadal’s incredible run of dominance, Djokovic’s rise back to something like his former self on occasions and the continued rise of future stars Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev, just to name a few. These lead up tournaments create a sense of anticipation unlike any tournament in the world.
At Wimbledon, for example, there are only a few small tournaments before the grass court slam, in which it is difficult to assess the form of the top players. This creates more an uncertain atmosphere. Some top players, such as Novak Djokovic, have often decided not to even take part in a warmup event. While this can create intrigue, it does not allow for the storylines going into the tournament that the French open inevitably has.
The French Open, every year, gets off to a poor start. This is because of the decision to have the first round take place over a long and often predictable 3 days. While the other grand slams manage the schedule the first round over a manageable 2 days, the French open stretches its tournament for even longer than 14 days. Why do this? There seems to be two main reasons. Firstly, the extra money an added day creates. Secondly, to create some leeway for poor weather conditions, so the tournament does not run off Schedule. Whatever the reason, it does create a slow start to the tournament.
One of the most disappointing aspect to the French open are the crowds. Especially early on in the tournament, the big stadiums at Roland Garros are often defined by the green of empty seats. It seems that many of the supporters that go to the tournament have a different priority to anyway else in the world: dinner first, tennis later. This often leads to poor atmospheres, which is not great for the tournament, and for television. Although difficult to come up with a solution, perhaps a system where ground pass ticket holders could enter the show courts if a seat has been empty for a certain amount of time could be introduced.
For years, the organisers of Roland Garros have been pushing for the installation of a roof over Phillipe Chatrier. The many rain breaks that seem to be inevitable in the early summer of Paris are frustrating to the players, organisers, spectators and those watching across the world. Now, it seems, the organisers have finally got there wish. As you read this, renovations of Phillipe Chatrier are taking place, with a roof scheduled for a few years.
While this is a positive sign however, is the French open still behind? Wimbledon has a second roof coming for this year, while the US open has built a roof over the gargantuan 24,000-seater Arthur Ashe stadium. The Australian Open amazingly has 3 courts that can be covered by a roof. On this therefore, the French Open is lagging behind the other slams in terms of its technology. To drag itself back onto a level footing with the other three, the French Open needs to continue developing its relatively limited physical site and remove this negative perception that it is the least forward-thinking grand slam.
This is the best and worst from the French Open. While it is an excellent tournament, steeped in history, there are issues that they could amend, or work on, to make a better overall experience for fans and players alike.