Paris postcard: all for one and one for all

Tennis writer Chris Oddo has spent the fortnight reporting on the action here at Roland-Garros. Before he goes home, he gives us his thoughts on ice cream, ballkids and why he so loves the Paris Slam

Nadal statue, Roland-Garros 2024©️Jean-Charles Caslot / FFT
 - Chris Oddo

Another thrilling Parisian fortnight — or quinzaine, as the locals say — has come and gone. Ah, but the memories they will certainly last a lifetime.

After spending the last 22 days on site at Roland-Garros, this humble scribe feels a oneness with the place, a kinship if you will, that runs deep. Like the butter from a delicious croissant – it runs through my veins! 

With that in mind I’ve decided to share some of my little Parisian secrets. These are (just a few of my) tricks of the trade that make the Roland-Garros experience like a dream…

Feel free to try them on your next visit.

Wake up and enter the dream

My typical day starts with a 30-minute walk from my hotel, down the Boulevard Jean Jaurès. It’s a work commute, but when one puts on the rose-colored spectacles (aka the Paris in the springtime glasses) it won’t feel like one. This is Paris, relax and luxuriate. Stop for a café allongé and a pain au chocolat. On the next day make it a croissant beurre. Sprinkle in your best French and, voilà, you are ready for a day filled with tennis revelations. 

I enter the site through Porte 23, the second northernmost gate on the grounds, because it plops me onto site right next to practice courts 15 and 16.

This year I’ve been blessed to catch the likes of Iga Swiatek, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Aryna Sabalenka, Coco Gauff and many others going through their morning routines. Hardly anyone around. Me and the stars, can you believe it? The perfect start to a long day of tennis.

Hustle past a Grand Dame du tennis

My advice? Loiter for a few minutes. Watch Swiatek crack a few overheads, then commence a slow traipse south past Court 14 (don’t worry we’ll be back) and a few more of the outside courts (13, 12, 11, 10) on the way to a morning meet-up with the great Suzanne Lenglen.

Her spirit lords over the grounds but it is on the south side of the court that bears her name where you will find the statue erected in her honour. Linger. Ponder the history. This place, 100 years ago. This woman, flying through the air and trailed by her pleated skirt. An icon.

statue Suzanne Lenglen allées Roland-Garros.©Cédric Lecocq / FFT

Three for one

Once play begins, and especially during week one, we all suffer from FOMO - the fear of missing out. Unfortunately there is no cure, but I can offer a partial remedy:

Stand in the alley between Court 11 and Court 12, keep your head on a swivel and see three live matches at once! If you peer over Court 12, you can easily watch the action on Court 13, all of it viewed in the shadows of the north side of Court Suzanne-Lenglen. You won’t regret it. 

14 - the people's court

If you wish to move on, proceed due north, where a veritable treasure awaits!

Court 14, a beautiful sunken gladiator pit with 10 rows of bleachers on each side and eight rows of bleachers behind each baseline, plus ample standing room to create an incredible ambience - perhaps the most incredible ambience.

French players clamour to play on this court in week one because the fervent French faithful pack in like sardines and dedicate themselves to making the most possible noise from noon until midnight.

This year I wedged myself in to the pavilions surrounding the court on many occasions. I saw hulking Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard bid for his maiden major victory against David Goffin (pure madness, and he didn't get it), as well as a gruelling five-setter between Holger Rune and Flavio Cobolli (chaos!). Incredible scenes. You want to feel the pulse of Grand Slam tennis at its most intense? This is your court. 

Giovanni Mpetshi Perricard, 1er tour Roland-Garros 2024© Julien Crosnier / FFT

Want an affogato?

There’s an ice cream stand on the exterior of Court Suzanne-Lenglen that sells them. Priced fairly if I do say so myself. In general the food around the grounds is incredible, varied, and affordable. Don’t just mindlessly snipe into the first short line you see. Take your time. Ask around. Wait until you’ve canvassed a bit before you jump into anything. And when in doubt, go with the baguette of jambon et fromage, slathered with good old-fashioned French butter. 

How about a snooze?

If you find your battery is a bit drained, head over to the cluster of lounge chairs behind Court 10. Take a nap. There’s no shame in it, and you’ll need the energy for the night session.

Behind Court 10 is just one of myriad spots to take a repose. You can do it in front of the big screen in the Place des Mousquetaires, or over on the wooden decking behind Court Simonne-Mathieu.

It’s the biggest, most prestigious clay-court event in the world, but somehow the site’s architects have made it feel like the Jardin du Luxembourg. Leave it to the French to make everything well-appointed and picturesque.

The best media seats in tennis, the best qualifying at a Slam

Court Suzanne-Lenglen was put in play during qualifying this week, its beautiful new roof working overtime in drizzly conditions, and that decision alone made this year's qualifying the most memorable that I've ever seen at a Slam.

We said goodbye to legends Dominic Thiem and Diego Schwartzman, as they were sent off in style with the 10,000 capacity stadium nearly full. It is during these moments that I have to pinch myself the hardest. The media seats in Lenglen are right behind the baseline, about ten rows up. It's as if we meagre journalists have all died and gone to heaven.

Throw in the snazzy new roof, and Lenglen is also a shelter from the storm, a place to take in tennis for fans, even when the weather shuts down play on the outer courts. It may be the best court on the Grand Slam circuit, but then again...

Court Suzanne-Lenglen / Roland-Garros 2024©Julien Crosnier / FFT

The newbie - Court Simonne-Mathieu

Ready for another revelation? Walk past Chatrier down the Grand Allée Marcel Bernard (yes, that’s what it’s called) and enter a Proustian novel.

As you walk past l’orangerie you feel as if you are a character in Swann’s Way, then it hits you: a majestic tennis court housed in a greenhouse? How?

Many a tennis die-hard has declared it their favourite Grand Slam court in all the world, and if you haven’t, you could be the next. Intimate (5000 capacity) and with the added bonus of a 360-degree standing room section, Court Simonne-Mathieu offers photo-happy fans a chance to watch the action from unlimited vantage points.

This year I watched the conclusion of a rain-interrupted battle between Qinwen Zheng and Elina Avanesyan on 'Simonne.' It was drizzly, fans were huddled in their parkas, but the match was a riveting battle of wills that went down to the wire. One of those matches that nobody will talk about after the trophies have been lifted, unless you were there and lived it yourself. 

Those who bore witness did so with pride.

The ballkids

I can’t begin to count the number of times the ballkids have made me smile over the course of the last three weeks. If I was ever down, feeling at a loss for words (the bane of a tennis journalist’s existence), I would think of all their enthusiasm — it’s infectious.

You frequently see the Roland-Garros ballkids sprinting around the grounds, then suddenly stopping to practise a mock roll of the ball, arms and legs akimbo as they do. That double-pump thing they do when they roll the ball? A decidedly French flair if there ever was one. 

These kids, they are lovely – and so invested. They are so happy to be a part of the fabric of this tournament. It’s a dream for them, just like it is for us, and you can feel it.

Rafael Nadal, ballkids, Roland Garros 2022, final© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

The King of… Steel?

There is no better year (and place) to get a feel for what Rafael Nadal means to Roland-Garros — for now and in perpetuity – than this year, the year that may have been the last dance for the greatest champion to ever grace the terre battue with his presence. 

Go stand outside Nadal’s iconic statue and marvel. Both at the modernist work, which is constructed entirely of steel (just like the 14-time champion) and stands 3m tall, 4.89m wide and 2m deep, and the way that so many fans make their pilgrimage here. 

It’s a testament to the Mallorcan, that he has — and deserves — a statue in his name while he is still an active player. And it is beautiful to watch the steady procession of fans who come to celebrate the man and his achievements.

Find yourself missing Nadal? Stop by the statue and commiserate with like-minded enthusiasts.

The Nadal statue is one of many on the grounds, the product of a collective vision, a dedication to the sport we have all come to embrace.

The ghosts and angels of tennis past and present, they are all here. As the final chants and exultations fade in 2024, we are left with vivid recollections of the Parisian fortnight. The march of history is relentless, but if we pay attention, nothing is really lost.

See you next year!!