That’s it, Roland-Garros is over. The courts are covered for one year. The Philippe-Chatrier court rings hollow. Even if, if you strain your ears, you can hear the roars of a Spanish player who continues to write the history of this tournament.
But no time to be nostalgic. The circuit does not stop. Never. And hardly had Rafael Nadal lifted the Mousquetaires Cup than the great circus of tennis took its clicks and slaps to settle on the grass for a few weeks. The transition is as beautiful as it is violent. The ocher clay is replaced by the green grass which bursts (at least at first), the long exchanges by short rallies and the slides by volleys.
The last two Grand Slam singles victories have been on grass.
Suddenly, as we move away from this surface made in France (also), the tricolor players shine much less. Well no, absolutely not! Paradoxically, while there are very few grass courts in France, the results of the French on this surface are, historically, surprisingly good. Indeed since the Open era, five French players have reached the last four at Wimbledon (for a total of eight semi-finals played) and one of them has even played in the final (Cédric Pioline 1997). For comparison, there were seven semi-finals with a French player in Melbourne and only four in New York. Roland-Garros remains in front with 11 semi-finals, including a Franco-French one in 1983, even if since that year and the title of Yannick Noah, only seven semi-finals concerned the “Blues”.
When we look at French women’s tennis, we simply realize that the last two Grand Slam singles victories were on grass and to that we must add two finals.
How to explain this ease on the grass for French players? Why, of the thirty-three titled players since the Open era, a third have at least one title on this “so British” surface?
Several reasons, but two of them seem more interesting to me.
They arrive on the green with a free mind and a light arm.
First, the grass season historically comes in the wake of Roland-Garros, except when the tournament is played in September, which, since 1891, has only happened once, pandemic requires. Suddenly, when the French land in ‘s-Hertogenbosch or Stuttgart (or whatever the grass tournament that starts the day after Roland-Garros), they breathe. Not that the Parisian Grand Slam is a chore or a punishment, far from it, but it is a great pressure which, after fifteen days, is heavy on the subconscious. They are solicited in all directions, whether from the media, families, friends, sponsors… It’s non-stop.
So certainly, playing a Grand Slam at home is a great luxury that all future champions want to taste. But not only. If you ask any French player, regardless of generation, what Grand Slam he or she dreams of winning, he or she will tell you without hesitation that it is Roland-Garros. Of course it’s good. Obviously there is nothing better, but it is exhausting. This weighted superhero cape disintegrates as soon as they get on the plane to leave Paris and hit their first balls on British, German or Dutch grass. They arrive on the green with a free mind and a light arm.
Another argument that stands and which adds to the state of mind of the French on the grass is their style of play. Indeed, if we look more closely at the identity of the 11 titled Frenchmen, we realizes that this is a specific profile. What do Richard Gasquet, Nicolas Mahut, Sébastien Grosjean, Henri Leconte, Fabrice Santoro, Michaël Llodra or even Adrian Mannarino have in common? They all have, as they say, “one hand”. These are players with a more developed touch on the ball than the others. This ability to be very technical is particularly effective on grass where the exchanges are short and the small game essential. Certainly, having a big serve is also a great advantage, but with the slowdown in the surface, this is more and more neutralized, while pure talent is uncontrollable. You have it or you don’t. And it turns out that many French people have it.
The proof, of the 16 players competing in the quarter-finals today in Stuttgart and ‘s-Hertogenbosch, almost 20% are French. It is quite simply the most represented nationality.
Hope it’s funny…