Counting down the days to Roland Garros

If you’ve been mulling over the recent results on the clay, then you’ll no doubt be extremely excited to know that the Roland Garros 2011 website has just gone live, meaning there’s just 14 days till the year’s second Grand Slam kicks off in Paris.

So get out your croissants and cafe cremes, your garlic and baguettes, because here’s our  guide to this year’s French Open…

1. The clay court swing started off by the turquoise Mediterranean sea at Monte Carlo, and five weeks later is reaching its culmination, by the slightly less picturesque waters of the Seine. Having begun as a national tournament in 1891, the French
Championships opened itself up to international competitors in 1925. Back then the tournament was played on (would you believe?) grass, at the Stade Francais club. But in 1928, the Stade Francais offered three hectares of land at Porte
d’Auteil to the tennis authorities, with the condition that the new stadium be named after a certain World War I pilot. Thus Roland Garros was born. In 1968 the French tournament became the first of the four Grand Slams to go ‘open,’ allowing amateurs and professionals to compete together. Earlier this year, the French Tennis Federation agreed to keep the French Open at the Roland Garros site, and instigate a whole host of building work to extend the tiny site.

2. Roland Garros has 20 outdoor red clay courts, including the three show courts. The main court (the Philippe Chatrier court) can accommodate 14,884 spectators, No.1 court (Suzanne Lenglen) holds 9,983 people, while Court 1 has room for 3,792. Our personal favourites, though, are courts No.2 and No.3. Designed much like the new court No.2 at Wimbledon, these two are sunk into the ground, creating an amphitheatre-like atmosphere. They’re great for getting up close to the action. If you’re interested in doing a little star spotting, the best place to hover is by the players’ entrance under Tribune J. Brugnon in the Court Philippe Chatrier. You might get lucky.

3. From the ‘four musketeers’ (four French men – Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste – who reigned supreme in the 1920s and 1930s) to Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert’s domination of the 1970s and Ivan Lendl and Steffi
Graf’s ruling the roost in the 1980s, Roland Garros has a rich and varied history of champions. The person everyone’s eyes will be on, is of course, Rafael Nadal. Can the defending champion notch up his sixth Roland Garros crown? Or will something, or someone get in the way. A certain Roger Federer maybe? On the women’s side, with the likes of Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters likely to be absent through injury, it’s very much up for grabs. Will one of the young femmes fatales such as Caroline Wozniacki or Victoria Azarenka triumph in Paris? Or someone completely different, of the ebullient Francesca Schiavone mould.We shall have to wait and see..

4. There should be a healthy contingent of Brits in action. Andy Murray will be attempting to go a little further than his fourth-round appearance of last year, while Elena Baltacha will be straight into the main draw, possibly joined by Heather Watson. Brits such as Anne Keothavong and Katie O’Brien should feature in the qualifying tournament (which takes place a week before the main event) and the junior competition, where the likes of George Morgan and Oliver Golding should be making an appearance.

5. Unsurprisingly, the French Open offers many  opportunities for fine dining. There’s a plethora of eateries around the event, from sarnies to salads to good old fashioned chips. Further afield, Richard Gasquet recommends Le Murat, while the women’s champion will often eat at the world-famous Brasserie Lipp after the final (but they don’t take bookings so you’ll have to queue). Meanwhile, a certain Spaniard likes to celebrate his victories at Café de L’Homme, which has stunning views of the Eiffel Tower.

6. Tickets for the tournament went on sale at the beginning of March, but don’t worry if you haven’t got any yet as there is an official channel for buying and selling tickets on Viagogo. If you don’t manage to get to Paris, you’ll be able to keep in touch with all the action through the fabulous mediums of twitter and Facebook, and right here on Wimbledon.com as well. Get ready now…aaaaaalllllleeeeeezzzz!

Alexandra Willis

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