RG Kids' Day inspires a love of tennis

Nadal, Djokovic and Halep join entertainers for an exuberant charity day of crowd-pleasing activities.

Journée des enfants de Roland-Garros / Roland-Garros kids Day.
 - Sarah Edworthy

“When we're young, everything is possible; when we're old, possibilities are everything.”

It’s one of those motivational fridge-magnet lines, but it applies meaningfully on Roland-Garros Kids’ Day, when les petits are engaged in and enthused by all aspects of Planet Tennis, and parents are grateful for the opportunity of an entertaining day out at a stadium with mythical associations - and entry is free for children under six.

Anyone requiring a clown or face painter for a child’s party in Paris this weekend would have had no luck: the full roster was at this year’s charity day at the Porte d’Auteuil, acting as masters of ceremony, crowd pleasers and conductors of knockabout fun.

Thousands of children, from toddlers to beanstalk teens, watched exhibition matches, played mini tennis, laughed at jugglers dressed in vintage Lacoste trying to balance upended giant racquets on their heads, picnicked in the legendary Place des Mousquetaires and held out autograph balls for favourite players to sign.

Colour and history came courtesy of tribute activities performed to mark the centenary of the death of the pilot Roland Garros, after whom the stadium was named.

On Philippe-Chatrier court, Victoria Azarenka sat in the umpire’s chair and oversaw a hitabout starring Elina Svitolina, Denis Shapovalov, Stefanos Tsitsipas and French wheelchair Grand Slam champion Stéphane Houdet. This was followed by the turn of Marin Cilic, Diego Schwartzman, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Myrtille Georges to share the stage with freestyle footballers.

And then… quiz question: when do you ever see two world No.1s team up on court? When it is Roland Garros Kids’ Day - Rafael Nadal and Simona Halep were joined by Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev for a stellar knock up which showcased their good-natured camaraderie as well as skills.

With the smell of sunscreen and Nutella crepes in the air and an ambient of buzz of near-hysterical excitement, this was festive fun. In the boutiques, keen young players leafed through books on the legend of Roland Garros and looked beseechingly towards their parents with notebooks titled “Je peux pas, je suis à Roland” in their hands.

The take-home experience goes well beyond souvenirs. As families wandered home past the signpost indicating the other three Grand Slam venues – Wimbledon 365km, Flushing Meadow 5,839km and Melbourne Park 16,950km – they had added to the memory bank a day that broadened horizons and might well have inspired a host of future players and champions.

All money raised goes to the Fête le Mur and Tennis en liberté and to the FFT clubs that work in the fields of education, social work and integration and on behalf of groups who do not have easy access to tennis.