French Open Guide: Courts, Rules, Dates

Roland Garros Guide

The French Open is played in Paris, on the European clay courts at Roland Garros. It is the only one of the four major championships played on clay, which means that it produces a very different style of play from the others. Players slide around the courts to get to difficult balls, and the most successful ones, especially on the men’s side, will tend to use heavy spin to control their shots and make them difficult to return. The drop shot can als be a useful weapon, as it is hard for players to change direction suddenly.

In this guide, we will look at some of the key facts about the French Open. In particular, the reasons for the naming of the site and the choice of surface, and the typical tournament dates. We will also consider their reluctance to embrace line-calling technology and the latest stadium developments.

Why Is The French Open Named Roland Garros?

Roland Garros was a pioneering French Aviator. He was the first person to fly across the Mediterranean Sea, and when World War I broke out he was quick to volunteer. He took part in several aerial battles with the Germans, but he soon realized that it was all but impossible to hit an enemy plane with a hand-held gun.

He, therefore, developed a system for firing a machine gun through a plane’s propeller which proved very successful. Unfortunately, he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire in 1915, and he and his invention were captured by the Germans, who soon adopted it on their own planes. He escaped in 1918, and despite a deterioration in his eyesight, insisted on flying more sorties. He was shot down and killed later that year.

Garros was recognized as a courageous and intelligent man, and in 1928, at the suggestion of Emile Lesueur, president of Stade Francais, who had once been at business school with the aviator, the tennis venue was named after him.

Why Is The French Open Played On Clay?

The courts we know as ‘clay’ rarely have a clay base these days, and those at Roland Garros are no exception. The courts are made up of layers of white limestone, clinker (coal residue), and gravel, with slightly larger pieces of rock underneath in order to ensure good drainage. On top of all of this sits the layer of red brick dust which gives the courts their color and texture.

This surface, or something similar, is extremely popular across Europe and indeed South America. Prior to 1925, the French Championships were held on a variety of surfaces, but from that time they began to be staged on clay every year. The use of clay courts is now traditional and favors European players, so there is little likelihood of the organizers ever voluntarily changing it.

Why Does Roland Garros Not Use Hawkeye?

Most other major tournaments use the Hawkeye system to confirm close line calls, with players permitted to ‘challenge’ calls they are unhappy with.

At the French Open, the ball leaves a mark in the clay dust, and the umpire inspects this if there is a dispute. Theoretically, this is the most accurate option, as any calibration flaws can lead to Hawkeye being less than 100% precise. However, there are also flaws with the mark inspection method.

Firstly, it is very difficult to judge whether the ball touched the line on the closest calls, and the size of the mark can vary according to atmospheric conditions. Secondly, the umpire has to inspect the correct mark, when there can be many options. There have been cases where an incorrect decision has been made due to the wrong mark being selected.

Logically, given that both approaches are flawed, it would make sense to use a combination of both. In the 2021 French Open, the women’s semi-final between Barbora Krejcikova and Maria Sakkari almost ended in controversy, when at match point Sakkari’s shot was called out, but upon inspection by the umpire, the call was changed.

Hawkeye suggested that the shot had been clearly out. Without Hawkeye, errors will occur.

The primary reason for the reluctance of the French to change is not the accuracy of the current system, but rather a wish not to be like other events. Tournament Chief Executive Jeremy Botton has said: ‘It’s…a point of difference, which we like.’

When Is The French Open Played?

Aside from 2020, when the tournament was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the French Open takes place mainly in the first half of June. In 2021 the event ran from 30 May to 13 June, making it the second grand slam event of the year.

Do French Open Courts Have A Roof And Lights?

Until recently the answer would have been ‘no’, but from 2020, as part of the redevelopment of the venue, a retractable roof was fitted to the main Philippe-Chatrier court. At the same time, floodlights were installed on the remaining courts.

Together, these innovations allow night sessions to take place, and the roof means that at least some play can continue during bad weather.

Final Thoughts

The French Open is the world’s premier clay court event, and it has its own, slightly quirky, style. You should take the opportunity to experience the special atmosphere of Roland Garros if you ever get the chance.

Gui Hadlich

I got a chance to play junior and professional tournaments across the world, and in 2015 I began playing as the #1 player for Pepperdine University, a great division 1 school. I’ve had the chance to play against great names of the new generation, like Christian Garin, Cameron Norrie, and Kyle Edmund. I’m extremely passionate about the mental and technical part of the game. Oh, and I had lunch with Brad Gilbert once.

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