A stroll around Roland Garros
Just as the great champions that emerge from its red dirt, Roland Garros is a hidden gem. Nestled in a leafy suburb of Paris, the venue springs out of nowhere even as one walks through a canopy of trees.
The Rue d'Auteuil is surrounded by tree lined lanes, as if their only purpose was to hide this Parisian jewel from plain sight. But right as you approach the boulevard, the green and brown of the tournament spring at you almost as if they are eager to exchange pleasantries.
The French Open is a festival and once you dissolve into the throngs of people milling around the venue, it feels as though tennis was just an incidental ornament. Even on a grey day, with intermittent showers, there was no denying the fact that being among the bustling hordes of Parisian people was an immersive experience replete with fashion, food and culture.
Of course, there was a fair bit of tennis too. Getting around the courts can be a task, especially for a first time traveller. Even more so, if you do not have the slightest clue about French. Irrespective of your question, the smile and the response that follow are amusing even if you are left clueless.
The phonetic experience of French is aesthetic, even if you do not understand a sound. If you are not already confused, then there are plenty of things to help. This is a tournament of significant proportion, as you might imagine.
The two show courts (Phillippe Chatrier & Suzanne Lenglen) aside,there are sixteen other courts tending to a packed schedule of matches with a smattering of practice sessions thrown in whenever feasible.
With five main events – Simple Messieurs, Simple Dames, Double Messieurs, Double Dames and the Double Mixte, there is no paucity of action.
The media centre is a hive of activity as writers, photographers, commentators and crew all jostle for information and the best seat in the house. It is a predicament that is hard to define in words. The seasoned men and women settle in quietly into the press rooms watching and reporting from the sights and sounds of the multiple screens that compete for their attention.
Those of a lesser grain, such as oneself, seek eagerly to quench their thirst by seeking to get into the midst of it all. But then you can only be at one place at a time and at any given time, you can almost be certain that the choice of matches and interviews leave you torn into half deciding between the heart and brain.
It takes a bit of time to eventually give up the mad rush and begin to pick your battles. The acceptance of impossibilities, simple as it may seem, turns into an arduous battle between mind and soul. Consider this from today - Novak Djokovic was in the press room beneath the stands of Philippe Chatrier, just at the time when Rafael Nadal was toying with Robby Ginepri on Suzanne Lenglen.
Everything is a short walk away, but a bunch of those make you feel as if you were doing the marathon without the benefit of a pacer. The distance between the two main courts is inhabited by the outside courts. And Suzanne Lenglen is sandwiched between the 16 outer courts at the complex, eight on either side.
Some of the outside courts are far more intimate compared to the show pieces at the centre of the venue, making them extremely attractive for the fans.
The Asian media is largely comprised of the Japanese and the Chinese, who seem to have turned out in full force. Of course, the majority of the press is European with a strong bunch of American journalists adding to the media scrums, that characterize life inside the media centre. Especially so, in the main room where players come in for the post match interview.
Gilles Simon, the man who has been making noises about the unfairness surrounding equal pay for women, may find that his grouse resonates with the French public. Even on a damp day, Djokovic and Nadal had no difficulty filling up the seats. In stark contrast, Maria Sharapova played to half empty galleries.
But then it is a grouse, best left for another day. Because right now, men and women are flocking like bees to honey, the pathways packed to the last inch like a crowded Mumbai suburban on its peak hour errand.
It is festive and it is charming, and about time to dissolve again into those milling hives of people.
As the French might say, Unissons-nous tous et célébrons.