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Roland-Garros exports its clay expertise to China

Tuesday 25 October 2016
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Two French ambassadors paid a visit to the city of Anning in the south-west of China, 2,600 km from Beijing, in mid-October. These were representatives not of the country, however, but of clay-court savoir-faire. In conjunction with the international department of the FFT, and after a direct invitation from the club in Anning, Bruno Slastan – head groundsman at Roland-Garros – and Gaël Bonnaire, head of the FFT’s equipment department – journeyed to China to share the combined expertise of the FFT and of Roland-Garros, the world’s foremost clay tournament, with the only Chinese club which organises both an international men’s (ATP Challenger) and women’s (ITF $10,000) tournament on its red-dirt courts.

When compared with the rest of China, Anning and its 300,000 inhabitants are barely a dot on the map, but they are at the forefront of promoting clay in the home country of former French Open winner Li Na, with a tennis club which hosts an ATP Challenger event in April and a series of three ITF $10,000 tournaments for women in June. No other clay club in China organises so many international events.

The courts are put to a great deal of use, but they were recently laid and have been very well maintained. And in mid-October, they received a visit from an FFT delegation comprising Bruno Slastan, head groundsman at Roland-Garros, and Gaël Bonnaire, head of the FFT’s equipment department. The two representatives were impressed by the facilities located at the heart of a hotel and residential complex, made up of 11 clay courts (seven outdoor and four covered), with a Centre Court that has seating for 3,000 spectators.

The FFT representatives spent four days sharing their expertise with the nine-person team on the local ground staff, discussing how to cover and uncover the courts, general upkeep and how to prepare the clay prior to a match. The theory part was covered on the first day, with the rest of the time being devoted to putting that knowledge into practice on the courts.

The French delegates also got the chance to visit the tennis school at the prefecture city of Kunming, meet the mayor of Anning, and face the media for various interviews during which they were quick to point out to the journalists that, regardless of whether you are in Anning or Roland-Garros, people love clay-court tennis the world over.

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