Nadal and Roland-Garros through the lens

Fourteen-time Roland-Garros champion Rafael Nadal was framed in an iconic photo by FFT photographer Loic Wacziak

Rafael Nadal, first round, Roland-Garros 2024©️Loic Wacziak / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

It’s a split-second decision: where to focus, what to capture. It's an instinctive art.

Standing right in the middle, up on the top floor of Court Philippe-Chatrier, zooming in on one of the all-time great players, Loic Wacziak spotted shafts of sunlight bursting through onto the terre battue. Shutter finger ready, it was time for a burst of 200 snaps to capture an iconic image at Roland-Garros 2024.

The freelance photographer, with his French Tennis Federation hat on this fortnight, knew instantly this was a special photo.

"Before taking the photo there was no sun, so I said to myself that I should take a classic photo of Rafael Nadal as he was leaving the court because it was possibly his last match," Wacziak said.

"When I noticed the sun on Court Philippe-Chatrier I realised that I could possibly do something else, something different as a photo - so I adjusted the settings on my camera.

"Rafa was about to leave and I saw this shaft of sunlight on the court but I thought to myself that he will never pass through it. But in that moment that he left the court I saw that he walked through the shaft of light and it was then that I took my photo.

"For sure I'm getting this framed in my office, so I see it at the top, above my desk."

Garnering more than five million views on Twitter, this one-of-a-kind picture, of a one-of-a-kind athlete, was shared globally across social media.

"A lot of people have sent me a message, my phone has been very busy with people congratulating me," Wacziak said.

"It's very special for me, having colleagues coming up to me saying 'bravo, well done.' It's the first time that I've taken a picture like this, they've said it's an iconic picture. It means a lot to me."

It all started with a "very basic" camera, honing his craft taking pictures of his friends, his dog, anything he could frame, before he eventually graduated from the National School of Art in Nancy in eastern France.

Nowadays, armed with his two Canon cameras and four lenses, Loic has built up an impressive client list. 

"I do both basketball and tennis all year round. My work with the FFT has taken me also to Barcelona and Prague," he said.

"I shoot a professional basketball team, Sluc Nancy, in my hometown. I also work for the basketball federation and that league for the All-Star game in Bercy, Paris. It's a lot of matches during the season."

The difference in pace between basketball and tennis offers up different angles, literally, for capturing the action.

"Basketball is a team sport, it's more complicated, action pictures are very challenging as you have five guys in each team on the court. I love it, I grew up with it. When I was younger I wanted to be a professional basketball player," Wacziak explains. 

"Tennis you can focus on the single player, you can find the details, whether it's the racquet, their expressions, the movement, it's different for sure. Tennis you can be a bit more artistic."

When he's working at Roland-Garros, Loic attends a meeting each morning for the photographers, who are assigned a court or two each. Loic then gets snapping and returns to the FFT offices below Court Philippe-Chatrier to transfer his photos onto the online system. 

"We work with the editor, Nicolas, he takes a card with all the pictures and he edits our best ones.

"So those 100, 200 shots for the walk off for Rafa, it's essential a 'legend' of pictures looks through to pick out the very best.

"Before I come back to the office I can send five, 10 pictures," Loic said. "I text him 'take a look at these pictures' because I think they might be the best of that series."

Wacziak joined the FFT ranks at Roland-Garros in 2020. Having visited the grounds as a fan as a child, getting to work here remains among his proudest moments.

It's an office that he never takes for granted.

"My favourite court is Suzanne-Lenglen. There are so many angles to work with. I can go right to the roof, the (courtside) pit, in the audience. These courts are so beautiful because we are so close to the players. It's all about details.

"When the sun is out, the light is incredible, the shadows come and on this clay it's like a canvas. This sport is so photogenic.

"The French crowds are incredible, they make Roland-Garros happen, I really like the ambiance here. We must show these moments, to help tell the story on Court Philippe-Chatrier and across the grounds. It's important for the tournament." 

Loic will return to the freelance circuit following the men's final on Sunday, but he's eager to return at RG2025 to keep telling the story of Roland-Garros through the lense.

"I never forget my objectives, it's hard to be here. I've worked hard, worked, worked and worked again to be here. I have combined my two passions for sport and photography and I'm very happy.

"For me, this picture of Rafa, is my recompense, is my present. I want to work hard again and again and again for more pictures like this."