Roland Garros: The Worst Grand Slam?

Everyone has their favourite Grand Slam. Mine is Wimbledon. For me, you simply can’t beat the great summer weather, the traditional all-white attire, and the sheer velocity and traditionality of grass court tennis. The style of play is a throwback to an earlier version of tennis, with copious net approaches and the increased use of the effective backhand slice. Of course, all this tradition comes together in perfect harmony with the best aspects of the modern game: a roof on the 2 main show courts for the inevitable rainy days, hawk-eye to push up the standard of officiating and the shot clock, speeding up proceedings by eliminating much of the delay between points. And thankfully for Britons, television coverage is excellent, with the BBC offering all matches on all courts completely for free.

The French Open couldn’t be more different. It appears to be a confused mess of tradition and modernity, with the balance completely misjudged. It was the last Slam to install a roof on any of its courts, and still relies on checking ball marks instead of using hawk-eye, despite the facilities to use the technology being there. Many players see things the same way, with the tournament having to deal with high profile withdrawals every year. Having been there myself, the experience it provides spectators is simply nowhere near to that of Wimbledon. There is no equivalent to Henman Hill where spectators can watch the main show court matches, attendance is always extremely poor due to inflated ticket prices and if it rains, there is hardly anywhere to take shelter. It is seemingly stuck in the past and is moving forwards extremely slowly.

This year, the tournament was marred in controversy as a result of Naomi Osaka’s refusal to fulfil her media obligations, in order to ‘protect her mental health’. Tennis players are contractually obliged to attend press conferences, as this is a major part of the funding of the sport. Without the presence of the press, annoying as they can be, the likes of Osaka would be earning peanuts. However, many people agreed with Osaka and began to attack the French Tennis Federation, who threatened to expel Osaka from the tournament. Osaka eventually withdrew, having seen the impact her actions had had. But the tournament was already mired in controversy before the first ball was even served.

Another issue that Roland Garros has, albeit out of the control of the organisers, is the monotonous nature of the tennis. Clay court tennis is much slower and matches last much longer, and the same people seem to win every time. Nadal has won 13 French Opens, and could only be stopped by Novak Djokovic this year, when Nadal had seemingly run out of steam. On the flipside, the women’s draw is too unpredictable, with no single player having success in multiple years. This year’s women’s draw was won by Barbora Krejčíková, who in all honesty, I had not heard of until a few days ago, despite being an ardent tennis fan.

So what can be done about these issues? Well the reality is, that a lot of money is required. Hawk-eye is an absolute must in this day and age, even if it only used to verify that the umpire is looking at the correct ball mark. This would have prevented several embarrassing situations, most notably on match point in a women’s semi-final match. More roofs are needed to match the progress of other Grand Slams, and ticket prices must be reduced, so that stadiums can actually be filled once Covid regulations allow so. As for the nature of the tennis, Nadal and Djokovic can’t play forever. Thiem and Tsitsipas are extremely good on clay, and there is a crop of talented youngsters ready to push the top players to the limit. Hopefully, in a few years, I’ll be just as excited for the French Open as I am for Wimbledon, but only time will tell.

Written by Emre Saridogan