China, India, Brazil, Japan and South Korea: seven years of exchanges
"Back in the year 2000, we went to host a training camp in China for the best young players in the country. It included a girl by the name of Li Na..." Much has happened since members of management of the French National Technical Directorate paid a visit to China at the start of the new millennium. Exchanges with the home country of the 2011 Roland-Garros women’s singles champion have constantly been increasing since then, and have now extended to Brazil, India, Japan and South Korea via cooperation agreements designed to develop tennis and promote the use of clay. Here is a timeline of how Roland-Garros’ influence has been brought to bear on tennis around the world.
A cooperation agreement is signed between the French Tennis Federation (FFT) and the Chinese Tennis Association (CTA). In December, Jérémy Botton, who is deputy director general of the FFT, Patrice Hagelauer, head of the French National Technical Directorate at the time, and his deputy Bernard Pestre who is responsible for the training and education department, travel to Jiangmen, site of the national training centre for the south of China, for working meetings with the people running the CTA as well as national coaches, with a view to developing partnerships between the two entities.
With Rio de Janeiro being chosen as host city of the 2016 Olympics, the FFT’s umpiring department is asked to help train Brazilian officials ahead of the Games. There will be as many as five Brazilians officiating at any one time at the French Open in the coming years (the high-point being 2016).
Saturday 4 June. Li Na becomes the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam title. The final, in which she defeats Francesca Schiavone, breaks the record for the match with the most viewers in history thanks to the tournament being broadcast by CCTV, a free-to-air channel and long-time partner of Roland-Garros in China. Peak viewing figures see 116 million people watching at one point!
In July, Pestre, Marc Renoult, national coordinator of teaching in clubs, and federation coach Johan Brun, go to Guangzhou for three weeks of training and exchanges with a group of young Chinese players and their coaches.
In October, Hagelauer, Pestre and physical training coach Jean-Marc Duboscq go to Beijing to work with top-level 10-14-year-olds. The advice is tailored to the various age categories and based on technique, tactics, how to approach competitions and physical training.
"Roland-Garros in the City" is held for the first time in China. Brazil (2015) and South Korea (2016) follow.
In July, federation coach Gilles Bonhème sets off for a training camp in Wuhan featuring the best 10-14-year-old Chinese players and their coaches. His role is that of a tutor, working more with the coaches than the actual players.
With the French Open just around the corner, a group of young Chinese players are invited over to France to get to grips with clay courts. They are hosted by the Boulogne-Billancourt tennis club, right next to Roland-Garros.
In the autumn, six Roland-Garros ball-kids head off to work at the ATP/WTA tournament in Beijing. This initiative is extended to the WTA tournament in Wuhan the following year.
Read more: Roland-Garros ball-kids off to China
The FFT hosts a Japanese coach for a whole year at the request of the Japanese Tennis Federation, who are looking to imitate the French training model as part of its development programme ahead of the Tokyo Olympic Games. Toshihisa Tsuchihashi is able to observe the working methods employed by the National Training Centre, the federation’s various systems and teaching content, and visit the Insep French National Sport and Physical Training facilities and the FFT centre in Poitiers… Tsuchihashi has since gone on to become captain of the Japanese Fed Cup team.
"Rendez-vous at Roland-Garros", in partnership with Longines, is held in China for the first time. India and Brazil follow in 2015, Japan and South Korea in 2016, bringing the number of participating countries to five.
Read more: Roland-Garros around the world
Clay courts begin to spring up courtesy of various agreements signed by the FFT. China inaugurates five courts at the China Tennis Academy in Nanjing and converts three hard courts to clay at the Kangdong national centre in Shanghai, while India opens two clay courts at the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association (DLTA).
Du Zhenjun becomes the first Chinese artist to be commissioned to design the official Roland-Garros tournament poster, in 2015.
Federation coach Arnaud Darennes runs a summer training camp for two weeks in the South Korean capital Seoul.
Pestre then spends five days in Seoul in November, discussing how to train coaches.
In summer, Olivier Delaitre heads off to South Korea for a training camp with half-a-dozen of the most promising young players in the country.
In October, Bruno Slastan, head of Roland-Garros court maintenance, and Gaël Bonnaire, head of the FFT’s equipment department, travel to Anning in China to train the locals in clay court upkeep and repair. Anning is now the largest clay-court tennis centre in China, as well as being host of a Challenger tournament.
In October, 16-year-old Brazilian Thiago Wild practises at the FFT’s national training centre facilities, before linking up with Thomaz Bellucci for the remaining tournaments of the year as part of a programme where up-and coming young talents can work as hitting partners for the top Brazilian pro players.
In November, national coordinator Jean-François Blanco and leagues educator Gaëtan Le Cras head to Seoul to train coaches.
In February, in the wings of the Davis Cup first-round tie between France and Japan, the FFT and its Japanese counterpart signed an agreement to encourage joint training sessions between the two countries' junior players. Furthermore, any players selected to represent Japan will be able to use the FFT's facilities when they come to France, so that Japanese players can get more of a taste for playing on clay, just like Kei Nishikori has done.