Tennis truly is an international language and, in my view, one of the best sports for spectators. One of the things I like most about tennis is the way that the game changes so completely depending on the court surface being used. Grass court is different from clay court tennis. Clay court tennis is different from hard court tennis. Hard court tennis is different to indoor carpet tennis. The list goes on. When people find out I'm a tennis fan and that I'm living in London, they usually ask if I've got plans to go to Wimbledon. Well, the answer is "no". Though I wouldn't turn down a free ticket offer, I have to confess that Wimbledon is my least favourite tournament (even though it was the only grand slam won by my all time favourite player R Krajicek). Sure, the tradition and history associated with Wimbledon is impressive, but with today's racquet technology and other advances in the sport, grass court tennis just isn't attractive to watch. The points are short and the play mostly one dimensional. The French Open on the other hand sits right on the other end of the spectrum, as it's played on slow clay, which means that the points can go on forever and players need to be amazingly fit and truly creative in order to succeed under those circumstances. Though I admit it tends to favour players who play from the baseline, I think clay gives most players a good shot (Pat Rafter, Tim Henman and, yes, R Krajicek all made the semis at the French during their career, so big servers can still prosper on the dirt). So, those of you still reading this somewhat boring post, will not be surprised to know that the French has always been a tournament that I look forward to. And this year I was lucky enough to go, thanks to the organisational genius of Huy, who put us into the ticket draw earlier this year.
The average punter like me doesn't need much of an excuse to head off to Paris for the weekend, but the tennis was an absolute clincher. We eurostarred under the channel on Thursday evening and were deposited neatly at Gare du Nord where, thanks to the wonderful Paris Metro, we were just a short trip away from our hotel in the 5th arrondisement (Parisians don't do suburbs). The next morning, after the obligatory shopping trip, we raced across the city to Roland Garros, the dusty, red centre of the French tennis world. I must say that I was very impressed with Roland Garros as a tennis venue. The courts are all quite close together, but there still enough room to move between them and most seats offer the crowd a good view. There are three very large show courts and a bunch of other outside courts with tiered seating where the plebs who can't afford to get onto centre court can still watch good matches in style and comfort. The crowd obviously knew their tennis well (you can tell this by the fact they gasp and clap at the appropriate moments), though I have to admit that they weren't quiet as enthusiastic in their support as the Oz Open crowds (I'm not used to watching tennis without 50 chanting vikings in the background and the sound of Swiss cow bells ringing out from centre court). We managed to catch quite a bit of good action, including a set of a doubles match featuring Lleyton Hewitt and Chris "I can serve but otherwise lack even the co-ordination of a 5 year old" Guccione. Sure, the Aussies lost, but they put up a good fight and, given that he had the Gooch as a handicap, Hewitt performed pretty well. We also saw a tight match between Mikhail "I may be a crazy Russian but don't mess with me because I have connections" Youzhny and Fernando "The poor man's Nadal" Verdasco. It was a real battle of styles, with Youzhny's attacking flair and misdirected aggression contrasting against Verdasco's spin-heavy backcourt game. Youzhny showed some spirit and broke some racquets, but Verdasco prevailed.
I could go on, but most of you probably stopped reading halfway through the first paragraph. If any tennis fans have actually made it to the end of this post, get in touch and we'll start organising Roland Garros 2009!