In a way, the French Open really began on Saturday afternoon, crowning its first champions at the "Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros" event, in partnership with Longines.
A Dream Date at Roland-Garros
While Roland-Garros Kids’ Day was taking place, a crowd of curious onlookers and foreign journalists gathered at lunchtime around Court No.6. But before we introduce our two young "heros" of the day, who have been awarded wild cards for the junior singles tournament, we shall talk about this vast global operation, the latest edition of which took place within the grounds of Roland Garros for the first time. "Last year, for the second year running, we were on the Champ-de-Mars. This year, the four finalists, two girls and two boys, will battle for the two passes into the juniors tournament right here," says Adrien Groscolas, who directs the event with Lucas Dubourg, head of international development at the FFT.
Roland-Garros around the world
"Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros" is an event for the bright young stars from some of the world's great economic powers, countries not yet strongly represented in world tennis today. The event began in China three years ago, and it expanded last year and again this year. "The four finalists each qualified in their own countries during a qualifying stage in which 136 players met and contested their spot on clay, in Delhi (India), Tokyo (Japan), Shanghai (China), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Seoul (South Korea)."
Last year's winner enters directly into the draw this year
Other countries will be added to the list next year, "maybe the United States in 2017!" The event is scaling up, and it also serves as a springboard. The news we received from the organisers about Gabriel Decamps, last year's boys winner, are promising. "In 2015, he wasn't even in the top 200 junior players. But after the tournament, he catapulted into the top 30. This year, he goes straight into the draw," Adrien Groscolas tells us.
Hopefully things will go the same way for the two juniors who won the first matches of their lives in the hallowed grounds this morning. In the boys’ draw, another Brazilian was given the invitation. Rafael Wagner, with a bright smile and a name destined for glory at Roland-Garros, made short work of South Korean Minseob Lim (6-2, 6-0). "Just like for Decamps, things could go very quickly for him. For his opponent, it was a blessing. He’s not in the top 1,000 – with his ranking, he could never have got to the tournament qualifiers.”
It is another fabulous fairytale for Ayano Shimizu, also 18, who had undoubtedly never been questioned by as many journalists as after her win over her compatriot Hirami Sato (6-4, 6-2). Having come through the qualifiers for the Australian Open juniors’ tournament last January, the Japanese player is seeing her dreams come true for her first trip to Paris. "I can't believe it! I’ve watched this tournament on the TV ever since I was little... It seemed both near and far. I can finally set foot on the clay! Now I just have to do my best for the next part!"
Söderling v. Nadal is her favourite match
From her native Japan, how did she experience recent years of the tournament? "My favourite moment was the day Robin Soderling beat Rafael Nadal.” Why? "Actually, I'm a Roger Federer fan and that day I knew that Nadal's defeat would help Federer win the tournament, and that's what he did!" A true tennis fan, she is hoping to use her time in Paris to see a few matches in the main draws. Then it will be her turn to take to the courts, her own player pass around her neck, just like her idols. Watch this space, at Roland-Garros next Sunday!