Champagne and champions: the rich traditions of Roland Garros

Saturday, 18 May 2024 at 18:40
For decades they've graced our courts and evoked the most riveting and nail-biting emotions that sent our screams through the roof. To have achieved this high level of success required a highly competitive and challenging goal that required a combination of talent, hard work, dedication, and strategic planning; week after week, month after month, year after year.
Every golden era is made special by players with special talents a with exceptional skills: Bjorn Borg, Billie Jean King, John McEnroe, Chris Evert, Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, Roger Federer,  Steffi Graff, Raphael Nadal, Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, and Iga Swiatek.
All of these champions had one goal in mind; to be at the summit for as long as possible and to win as many GSs as they possibly could. But, what if you don't win them all? Ivan Lendl never won Wimbledon. Venus Williams, Pete Sampras and Andy Murray never won at Roland Garros. Has it downplayed their status or impact on the game on a world scale? I doubt that very much. But then, you get that one individual who transcends all possible human achievements in an event; as did Raphael Nadal in winning not just 4 nor 8 or even 10 but 14 Championships at Roland Garros.
This achievement on, what is considered, by many players and experts, to be the toughest surface to play on due to the slower pace of the game, the higher bounce of the ball, and the physical demands that it places on players, amplifies the fact that greatness in sport does not always have to be achieved through traditional methods.
The French Open started in 1891 as the International Championship of Tennis. It was limited to male tennis players who were members of French clubs. Women were allowed to participate six years later in 1897. Thank goodness they were allowed to participate or we would have missed out on possibly the sports' greatest rivalries: 1986: Chris Evert vs. Martina Navratilova 1999: Steffi Graff vs Martina Hingis 2013 Serena Williams vs Maria Sharapova 2023? Iga Swiatek vs Aryna Sabalenka?
The list of mouthwatering female battles goes on and on. Martina Navratilova has won the most women's titles - 7. We await the next heiress to her throne, just as we await the heir to Rafa's throne. Will it happen during our time? Remains to be seen. But, who can forget the scintillating events of 1989? Chang beating Ivan Lendl in round and then going on to beat Stefan Edberg in the final; and was still just 17 years and 3 months old. Moments like that in any sport come around once in a lifetime? Can't agree with that one because just 5 years earlier Boris Becker did something similar at Wimbledon. What an era!
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Novak Djokovic (pictured) is the current king of clay winning a 23rd Grand Slam title last year and heads in as defending champion.
The signature drink of the French Open is Moet + Chandon champagne while specialty desserts and pastries will also be showcased and enjoyed. In 2023 a total of 630 000 people attended the tournament over the 3 week period. This compared to Wimbledon, with an attendance over the same period of 513 000. French organizers say they're expecting even bigger crowds at this year's tournament, and considering that it will be Rafa's last, it can well be expected that record attendees could very well be expected. The men's and women's champions will both receive €2.4 million at this year's tournament plus 2000 ranking points. No doubt it will be most deserved, especially given the demands on the body, the emotions and the psychological impact.
The French have always prided themselves in organizing a world class event and the players will, no doubt, again be treated like royalty. Another reason why so many feel at home and want to make this tournament theirs. To claim the winning rights to Roland Garros is an ambition that many are eager to own. The very thought of coming even close to Rafa's record is enough to inspire even the little kid in school who, for the 1st time, picks up a racquet and says: "I am Rafa!"
The floodgates will open on 26 May and the 2 week long masterpiece will conclude on Sunday 09 June 2024. At this stage many questions are left unanswered, which adds to the intriguing atmosphere surrounding the 2024 tournament: Will Jannik be in attendance? Will Rafa turn up? Will Djokovic achieve the dream milestone? Will Iga cement her status as yet another legend in the making or... Will Sabalenka finally get to show her who the true contender for her crown is. With so many new, younger and stronger players coming through, one thing is for sure; it's going to be one of the best ever tournaments. Personally, I cannot wait for it to start. Vive l'Open de France!!!
Credit for text: Donovan Williams

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