Feelgood fun brings smiles to thousands at Kids' Day
Undiluted fun occupied the entire agenda at Roland-Garros on Saturday, at the traditional pre-tournament Kids’ Day charity event. Even the weather gods got the feelgood memo, as the walkways thronged with children of all ages, relishing the chance to see the finer points of tennis showcased in one big party of entertainment.
Above all things, this is always a day not only for a good time but for good causes. All proceeds raised are donated to such charities as Fête Le Mur and Tennis En Liberté, FFT clubs which run educational, social and community initiatives, and boosting access to tennis among underprivileged groups.
Every inch of the grounds was designed to entertain. Just south of Philippe-Chatrier Court, gaggles swarmed towards Zoe, Henry, Arthur and Lou, the four superheroes of Galaxie Tennis, to have their photographs taken. Galaxie Tennis is the animated program run by the French Tennis Federation for under-12s, to encourage their interest in the game with the emphasis on playing simply for the joy of it.
Further towards Suzanne-Lenglen Court ambled two jugglers in retro tennis kit, one juggling three vintage racquets and another working his juggling magic with so many tennis balls in each hand that it was difficult to keep track. Close behind came the stiltwalkers – two strolling at a headheight of three metres, and one bouncing past on spring pogo stilts. Nearby on Allée Marcel Bernard, photographs at the two giant #RG17 and #Paris2024 selfie walls proved hugely popular.
Meanwhile, just to the east of Philippe-Chatrier Court, La Terrasse Mousquetaires was converted into three micro-courts set up for tinies’ tennis. Visitors paused to applaud their efforts, on a day when barbe à papa - that’s candyfloss or cotton candy, depending whereabouts on the globe you call home - was much in demand, along with ice cream.
Inside the courts there was also plenty to see. Crowds swarmed to No.1 Court - known as the Bullring - to see Rafael Nadal and Lucas Pouille practise together, with both players signing scores of autographs afterwards. Over on Court No.8, as part of the “Play on the Roland-Garros Clay” campaign (in association with ENGIE and Babolat), there was a chance to set foot on the hallowed Parisian red dust to find out how it feels.
Next door on Court No.6 was an umpiring event, where several spectators were selected to officiate on Court Philippe-Chatrier later in the day (of which more in a moment). Then came the finals of "Rendez-vous à Roland-Garros” (in partnership with Longines), where the winners earn themselves a wildcard for the juniors' singles main draws.
Best of all, maybe, was the headline event on Court Philippe-Chatrier – the Battle of the Champions, where teams of tennis stars faced off in a range of lively challenges, only some of which were strictly sporting. As music boomed from the stadium speakers, among those joining in the fun were Viktoria Azarenka, Kristina Mladenovic, Alexander Zverev, Garbine Muguruza, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Dominic Thiem, Karolina Pliskova, Thanasi Kokkinakis, Elina Svitolina and Marin Cilic – not to mention a series of children occupying the umpire’s chair, as selected earlier on Court No.6. The starriest turn of all was reigning Roland-Garros men’s champion Novak Djokovic, who never fails to give his support to Kids’ Day.
Outside, hordes thronged around the entrance to the players’ facilities below Tribune Jacques Brugnon for an even closer glimpse of the big names. For others, the excitement proved a little too much, as could be seen in the late afternoon on a shady bench nearby, where a mother sat with her two small children on either side of her, each with their head upon her shoulder, dozing sweetly as evening approached.
Time for bed for them soon. And tomorrow at Roland-Garros, time for competition.