Roland Garros French Open

French Open Major Tennis Tournament

 

The French Open is one of the most iconic events on the annual tennis calendar, primarily due to its trademark orange clay surface. Often called Roland Garros, the second Grand Slam of the year generally occurs in late May. The tournament is well-known as arguably the most physically demanding tennis major, with the clay terrain creating all kinds of obstacles for players. 

Since its inaugural edition in 1891, several era-defining individuals have used Roland Garros as a springboard to greater success. No player has an affinity with the tournament as much as Rafael Nadal, the legendary Spaniard who has claimed an unbelievable 14 men’s singles. He was almost unstoppable over the last two decades, racking up five titles in a row between 2010 and 2014. On the women’s side, Chris Evert was imperious throughout the 70s and 80s, winning a record seven French Open titles during her career. 

Roland Garros was the only Grand Slam not held on grass until 1975, when the US Open and Australian Open switched to hard courts. It has always been one of the most important French tennis majors, sitting alongside other early competitions such as the World Hard Court Championships in the early 1900s. It achieved more significant fame after the International Lawn Tennis Federation designated it a major championship, later known as a Grand Slam. 

The French Open draws in millions of viewers every year and is often regarded as the second-most vital Grand Slam after Wimbledon. Keep reading for an extensive deep dive into the tournament’s history, basic information, notable individuals over the last century and more. We’ll leave no stone unturned in the exploration of this iconic sporting event. 

 

Roland Garros: An essential overview 

The French Open is primarily known in France as Roland Garros, named after the early WWI aviator of the same name. The first event took place in 1891 at the Societé de Sport de Ile de Puteaux. The tournament has been played at the Stade Roland Garros since 1928, a tennis complex right on the edge of the vast Bois de Boulogne park. 

Usually taking place over two weeks in late May, the French Open is played across three large stadiums alongside 17 smaller courts over 34 acres. The complex can hold approximately 40,000 spectators, with the centrepiece, Court Phillipe-Chatrier, holding 15,225. Originally called the Court Central, it was renamed in 2001 to honour the Federation Francaise de Tennis president who helped reinstate tennis as an Olympic sport. 

Court Suzanne Lenglen is the second-most prestigious Roland Garros court, with a capacity of up to 10,068. Lenglen was arguably the first international female tennis star, winning an outrageous 31 majors. The women’s singles championship trophy is also named after the epoch-defining player. Court Suzanne Lenglen is also technologically notable for its world-leading underground irrigation system. 

The newest stadium in the Stade Roland Garros is Court Simonne-Mathieu, completed in 2019. Mathieu was the 1938 and 1939 women’s singles champion, but perhaps more importantly, she was also a leader of the French Resistance during WWII. The French Open is notable for having two of its three main courts named after female players. The other Grand Slams are more male-focused, so Roland Garros is often regarded as the most progressive. 

The tournament allows almost a thousand players to strut their stuff over the course of two weeks, split between men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles, women’s doubles, mixed doubles, junior players and wheelchair singles and doubles. The men’s and female’s singles feature 128 players each. 

The rules are similar to other Grand Slam competitions. The men play five-set matches, however, unlike other events on the tour, a tiebreaker was introduced in 2022 if the last set goes to 6-6. There have been 126 editions of the French Open since 1891, with 92 classed as Grand Slam events. Its orange clay courts are a quintessential element, making it an instantly recognizable tournament worldwide.  

 

Who won the 2022 French Open? 

The most recent French Open was jam-packed with athletic prowess and high-quality tennis. The clay surface lends itself to slightly slower and more tactical games, with topspin and slice shots carrying extra weight compared to competitions such as the US Open. 

The king of the topspin forehand, Rafael Nadal, won the men’s singles trophy for a record 14th time in 2022. Fans have become accustomed to the Spaniard winning, but this year things were slightly different. Nadal had been struggling with injuries over the last few years, and at one point, it seemed he might need to retire. Winning the Australian Open and French Open after a long spell out of the game is testimony to his incredible resilience and endurance. 

The Polish Iga Swiatek won the women’s singles title, reclaiming the trophy after her first win in 2020. She beat Coco Gauff in a relatively one-sided final, only dropping one set the entire tournament. Still only 21, the WTA world number one also won the US Open in 2022 and is expected to achieve more success further down the line.  

Elsewhere, Marcelo Arevalo and Jean-Julien Rojer won the men’s doubles, while Caroline Garcia and Kristina Mladenovic lifted the women’s doubles cup. Ena Shibahara and Wesley Koolhof won the mixed doubles, defeating Ulrikke Eikeri and Joran Vliegen in the final. 

 

The history of the French Open 

Although it had a different name and wasn’t regarded as a Grand Slam or Major, the French Open has its roots in 1891. Originally called the Championnat de France, it was only open to French tennis club members. Ironically, an Englishman named H. Briggs was the first men’s winner, easily defeating P. Baigneres in straight sets. 

Women’s singles weren’t launched until 1897. There were only four entries in the inaugural competition, but its popularity grew rapidly in the early 19th century. The mixed doubles began in 1902, while the women’s doubles had to wait until 1907. 

There were other French tennis majors in those early days, with the World Hard Court Championships taking place in Paris several times between 1913 and 1923. Nevertheless, by the 1930s, Roland Garros was the unmistakable main event in French tennis. 

The French Open moved to its current home in 1928, with the newly built Stade Roland Garros also featuring clay courts instead of hard courts. As a result, this venue change is the spiritual core of the competition’s history. The era was also famous for the Mousquetaires, a quartet of devastatingly talented French tennis players, including Rene Lacoste and Henri Cochet. 

In the immediate post-WWII years, the French Open followed Wimbledon on the calendar. This changed in 1949, when the tournament took its place after the Australian Open, to be played during May. 1968 was a pivotal moment in the country’s history due to the French General Strike, and it was also the first time the competition organizers let both amateurs and professionals compete. 

This decision greatly increased the excitement and is widely regarded as the first step in the Grand Slam Open era. Players such as Bjorn Borg were instrumental in raising Roland Garros’ profile in the 1970s. The Swede won six titles on the orange clay, making it his most successful surface. 

Monica Seles and Steffi Graf were big names in the women’s game, setting the Stade Roland Garros alight with their intense rivalry and breathtaking sporting displays. Despite France’s early tennis dominance, there have been remarkably few native winners. Mary Pierce was the last to lift the women’s singles trophy in 2000, while the men’s game hasn’t seen a winner since Yannick Noah in 1983. 

Building the Suzanne Lenglen court was arguably the largest French Open expansion in the late 20th century. The 10,000-capacity stadium opened in 1994, instantly boosting the overall capacity of the Roland Garros grounds.  

The Federation Francaise de Tennis kickstarted an age of significant expansion in the early 2000s, announcing several new upgrades and improvements to the Stade Roland Garros complex. The changes, unveiled in 2019, included a roof over the main Court Phillipe-Chatrier, demolition of the old Court No. 1 and site expansion. 

A new court named after Simonne Mathieu opened in March 2019, providing three significant showpieces on the tournament grounds. The organizers have shown their passion for improving the tournament facilities and amenities over the last few decades, so more landmark expansions are on the horizon.  

 

The only clay court major 

It’s impossible to exaggerate the impact of the French Open’s clay surfaces on the game. The tournament has been a stumbling block in the careers of many tennis greats throughout history, with figures such as John McEnroe, Venus Williams, Boris Becker and Martina Hingis never getting their hands on the trophy. 

Clay is undeniably the most contrasting surface to hard courts. It slows down the ball and causes a higher bounce than grass or asphalt, so playing tactics must be altered. Returns are much easier on clay, which explains why some legendary big hitters have struggled on the surface. 

The French Open’s unmistakable orange courts reward topspin and slice strategies far more than brute force. Most successful clay players are baseline specialists, with Rafael Nadal being the most famous example. 

The exact composition of these courts is not solely limited to clay. Five meticulously designed layers ensure an optimized playing surface with perfect moisture levels and surface smoothness.

Drain rock makes the foundation, with crushed gravel, coal residue, crushed limestone and red brick dust sitting on top. This layering cocktail is several feet deep, so the courts at Roland Garros had to be excavated relatively deep during their construction. 

Some of the main characteristics of clay court tennis include skidding to reach the ball and occasionally unpredictable bounces. The surface massively favours strong defensive players, with aggressive serve and volley tactics failing to make the same impact as on grass. The French Open is also known for its drop shots, as tactical strategies pay off more on the chess-like qualities of clay. 

Roland Garros is the only clay court major, and one of several ATP and WTA tour competitions on the surface. The season usually covers spring and summer. Although there are far more tournaments than on grass, clay isn’t nearly as popular as the standard hard courts. This is the main playing surface due to its all-round qualities. On the other hand, grass courts are exceptionally fast, while clay is much slower and unpredictable. 

 

Gentlemen and ladies singles winners since 2000 

The French Open modern era has allowed several revered players to lift the men’s and women’s singles trophies. It’s impossible not to mention Rafael Nadal here, as the Spaniard has consistently set new standards in the competition over his triumphant career. However, he isn’t the only one. Here is a complete list of all men’s and women’s singles champions since 2000: 

French Open Men’s singles champions since 2000:

  • Gustavo Kuerten (2x) 
  • Albert Costa 
  • Juan Carlos Ferrero
  • Gaston Gaudio 
  • Rafael Nadal (14x)
  • Roger Federer 
  • Stan Wawrinka 
  • Novak Djokovic (2x)

French Open Women’s singles champions since 2000:

  • Mary Pierce 
  • Jennifer Capriati 
  • Serena Williams 
  • Justine Henin (4x) 
  • Anastasia Myskina 
  • Ana Ivanovic 
  • Svetlana Kuznetsova 
  • Francesca Schiavone 
  • Li Na 
  • Maria Sharapova (2x) 
  • Serena Williams (2x) 
  • Garbine Muguruza 
  • Jelena Ostapenko 
  • Simona Halep 
  • Ashleigh Barty 
  • Iga Swiatek (2x) 
  • Barbora Krjcikova 

The large number of different women’s singles winners helps to highlight Nadal’s outrageous dominance in the men’s game. The Spaniard is sadly coming to the end of his illustrious playing days, so the men’s side is set to get very interesting over the coming years.

 

Notable individuals in French Open history

Every Grand Slam has iconic players, and the French Open is no different. While the likes of Roger Federer and Serena Williams have dominated Wimbledon and the US Open, Roland Garros is known for a slightly different set of clay court specialists. Check below for the most significant five: 

Rafael Nadal 

Rafael Nadal burst onto the international tennis scene in 2005, winning the French Open on his first attempt at the tender age of 19. He was one of only four players to beat Roger Federer that year, signaling the arrival of a truly special player. The Spaniard’s distinctive look in the early days endeared him to the fans, with his trademark three-quarter lengths, vest and bandana quickly becoming synonymous with blistering forehands and an endless desire to get to shots. 

Nadal has been simply unstoppable at Roland Garros since 2005. He won four consecutive tournaments in his first stint before winning five between 2010 and 2014. If it were not for Roger Feder in 2009, he would have won an incredible ten times in a row. Nadal was vital in boosting the popularity of the French Open with his displays and will be sorely missed when he finally retires. 

 

Justine Henin 

Justine Henin is arguably the most successful women’s singles player in the post Steffi Graff era. The Belgian was notoriously consistent on clay, with four French Open titles to her name in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Unfortunately, her career was blighted by several injuries, and she could have easily won more titles if it weren’t for persistent hamstring problems. 

Often referred to as Federer’s female equivalent, Henin had major success on clay even though her offensive game was her main characteristic. The Belgian never managed to win at Wimbledon, with Roland Garros favouring her slightly weaker serve compared to other players on the tour. 

 

Gustavo Kuerten 

The embodiment of the South American obsession with clay courts, Gustavo Kuerten gave Brazilian tennis fans plenty of things to cheer for during his career. A three-time Roland Garros winner between 1997 and 2001, he was known for heavy topspin and offensive baseline play.

Injuries ultimately derailed Kuerten’s career, as the player experienced numerous problems after 2001. It was a huge shame, as the Brazilian was starting to become ominously untouchable on clay and was slowly improving at other Grand Slams. Sadly, we’ll never know quite how far he could have gone. 

 

Steffi Graff 

Steffi Graff can convincingly stake a claim to be the greatest women’s player of all time, racking up an astonishing 22 major singles titles and holding on to the number one WTA ranking for 377 weeks. The German won the French Open six times from 1987 to 1999, with Wimbledon being the only Grand Slam she had more success at. 

Graff’s most famous shot was her powerful forehand, but many analysts point to her intricate footwork and court speed as her most significant attributes. Another key part of the six-time champion’s arsenal was an extraordinarily varied slice, which worked perfectly on the clay surface. 

 

Rene Lacoste 

Known as “the Crocodile”, Rene Lacoste was one of the earliest international tennis superstars. His nickname inspired the Lacoste brand’s world-famous logo, a company he founded in 1933. Lacoste and the French Open have a deeply intertwined history, striking up a strong partnership lasting almost a century. 

On court, Lacoste was known for his methodical, conservative and error-free playing style. He was part of the famous Mousquetaires in the 1920s, generating considerable excitement in French tennis. He lifted the trophy in 1925, 1927 and 1929, solidifying himself in the Roland Garros hall of fame. 

 

The other three Grand Slams 

Roland Garros is many people’s favourite Grand Slam, mainly due to its capacity for shocking results, iconic orange court colour and legendary players like Rafael Nadal. The other three Grand Slams are: 

The French Open is the second tournament in the Grand Slam calendar, and it’s often regarded as the most interesting alongside Wimbledon. 

 

What’s next for the French Open? 

The future looks tremendously exciting for Roland Garros. Continued improvements to the complex will enhance the spectator and player experience while a new breed of potential world-beaters is knocking on the door. 

Iga Swiatek and Carlos Alcaraz are two players who have serious potential. Who knows? We might just get treated to another Rafael Nadal or Steffi Graff.