An Aussie gals thoughts on the Roland Garros experience.
Grand slam tennis is incredible to watch live, no matter where you are in the world.
The quality of the tennis matches, the culture and the “tennis-friendly-ness” of the host city can all have a big impact on how much the spectators enjoy the experience, as can the weather.
Grand Slam tennis, like a lot of other things that Australians enjoy in Australia, needs to be experienced in another country in order to fully appreciate how fan friendly it is. In my opinion, by having the Australian Open as our home slam Australians are incredibly lucky, particularly in terms of ticket availability, the Melbourne Park venue and the culture of Melbourne as the host city.
The Culture of the City
Every January you can feel the buzz of the Australian Open around Melbourne. Even before the tournament starts, the Federation Square Visitor Centre and number 70 Melbourne trams gets decked out in AO branding, and promotional banners are on display around the city and at the airport.
By comparison in Paris, there was a French Open live site at l’Hôtel de Ville (a large square in the heart of Paris) from 2 to 10 June, but other than near the venue, that was the only indication I saw that there was a grand slam tournament being held there.
For the Australian Open, in order to get good seats, I always plan ahead and buy tickets online when they first come on sale, but it can still be possible to buy tickets for Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena during the tournament.
With the exception of the middle Saturday, which was sold out in advance in 2012, you can buy a ground pass on the day, or for the evening, which allows you to watch tennis on the outside courts or on one of the big screens, and enjoy live entertainment while soaking up the atmosphere.
For the French Open, there are less total tickets available so to spread them around an individual is limited to four tickets over the period of the tournament. The attendee name is added to each ticket and ID with the same name must be shown at the gate (which is handled very efficiently). The majority of tickets sell out early so you need to be ready to buy your tickets soon after they come on sale, or spend time watching for returns to become available on the official ticket resale website.
Melbourne Park is close to the heart of the city, making it fast and easy to get to by tram, train, taxi, bike or on foot from the CBD. Another big advantage is having two main courts with roofs and areas where spectators can either shelter from rain or enjoy the air conditioning, depending on the conditions. It’s true though that there are often freakishly hot conditions during the AO that make it uncomfortable for the spectators and players.
Fortunately there are plans underway to expand and improve the grounds at Roland Garros and have a Centre Court with a roof available in 2017.
Until then, not having any courts with a roof means that all play stops when it rains, and due to bad light late in the day. This year there were schedule disruptions due to both rain and bad light, that were tough for the players as well as the spectators. The disruptions included the Men’s Final, which was played over two days.
On the plus side for fans, while the court set up at the Australian Open allows a day’s play to be split into day and night sessions, a Roland Garros ticket for Court Philippe Chatrier or Court Suzanne Lenglen gives excellent tennis value, letting you see four matches, often two men’s and two women’s. If one or two of the matches runs long, the final match can get moved to another court, or suspended until the next day but you can still get to see a lot of tennis.
For me, the biggest difference between the Australian Open and French Open is the expanse of the grounds.
The current space at Roland Garros is limited and because of this there are only two big screens for ground pass holders to watch, and not a lot of seating to watch from. To watch the big screen at the side of Court Suzanne Lenglen you need to stand in one of the main walkways. Areas of cover where you can get out of the sun or shelter from rain are also limited.
The spectators at matches at Roland Garros often turn up after the start of the match because they are having lunch. And as hard as I tried I couldn’t figure out their clapping or booing tendencies. In Australia people clap respectfully and cheer when a good point is won, or before an important point, like break point or set point. In Paris, the crowd would join in on a random “clap clap clap” when the score was, for example, 30 all. There is also a lot of Mexican waving, to the point of exhaustion in some cases!
I was lucky to be at the Tsonga v Djokovic quarterfinal and the energy of the crowd was so incredible it lifted Tsonga back in to the match after losing the first set 6-1.
Fortunately there was enough respect for Djokovic not to boo him for beating a French favourite, unlike when Andy Murray defeated Richard Gasquet.
The “je ne sais quoi” of Paris
All differences aside, a day at Roland Garros is a wonderful experience for any tennis fan. It’s awesome to see matches played live, set against the beautiful orange clay. The venue is easily accessible via a 20-minute journey on the Metro from the city. You can shop at a local market and bring a snack pack of baguettes, croissants and fabulous French cheese. The stylishly dressed staff wish you “bon journee” (have a nice day) as you enter the grounds and there is a “je ne sais quoi” about being in Paris for the French Open that makes it really special and memorable.
I hope to be able to return in 2017 or sometime soon after to see how the updates to the venue change the spectator experience.
What was your experience at Roland Garros like?
Feel free to leave a comment and let me know.