Sunday, June 18, 2006

Freezing at the French Open

As planned, I spent the day in Paris Wednesday May 31 at the French Tennis Open. Twenty-eight years ago, I attended the first weekend of the tournament, with tickets for the 'Gradins', the rather primitive bleachers and standing areas around the outside courts. That time, the weather was spectacular and the sense of intimacy was amazing; sitting at courtside at one outside court, I wound up chatting with the entourage of the young Canadian woman playing on that court, and in the end with her. Players walked by just by your side.
So I got a Philippe Chatrier Stadium seat for the opening Wednesday, May 31. And while this day was in NO way like my previous experience it was wonderful.
One difference was the weather. My recollection from my previous visit is that after getting off the train from the Orsay suburb somewhere near the Louvre, I walked to Roland-Garros in beautiful sunny weather, with the chestnuts in the Tuileries Gardens in full bloom. Strangely this year, the chestnuts were well past bloom, but the weather was terrible - there had been no day with a high greater than 15 for a good while, and my day was easily that cold. The women running the B&B I stayed at convinced me at the last minute to take more clothing than I took - thank you Anne!
If some reader has botanical understanding, I would like to understand the chestnut phenomenon. Few things are prettier than chestnuts in full bloom, and I was very disappointed.
But nonetheless, what a great day! Four matches were scheduled on my court.
The first featured Carlos Moya against Mikael Yizhny. The latter is a very good player, but Moya is an ex-champion and a local favourite - here he is!

Moya won - but it was fascinating watching how hard Moya would work to hit a forehand.
The next match was the one many would think a dream one. Maria Sharapova played Elena Benesova. Here are some shots from that match.

Now Sharapova's somewhat unknown opponent was no slouch.

But Sharapova won. Now her match was played in the sunniest and warmest conditions of the day and this is how the fans looked.

Then it got darker and colder (and of course by now we had been through a couple of long rain delays).
The third match was David Nalbandian, 3rd seed, against Richard Gasquet, a great young French player, who at almost this time last year, had his name being used publicly with that of Rafael Nadal. Fate has separated them over the last year. The overwhelmingly French crowd entertained me in its natural partisanshp. I particularly really enjoyed the expostulations of a slightly-post-teen female Gasquet enthusiast behind me. She punctuated the match with shouts of "Allez Richard", to encourage him, deeply sighing, "Richard...", when he played a point poorly, or "C'est pas grave, Richard," (roughly, don't worry), or "Tu vas gagner, Richard" (you will win). Her energy was unbelievable. Gasquet's was less so, as he succumbed to Nalbandian.
The last match, which started around 8pm, under NO lights, because there are none at Roland-Garros, featured Venus Williams against Emma Liane of Finalnd, who won the first four games. A couple of momentum changes made for some fun, though they drove Richard Williams from courtside a couple of times. At about a quarter to ten, in amazing darkness, Venus finally won. It was also amazing how cold it was - the couple of hundred of us left in that enormous stadium were all freezing terribly.
Walking back to the Metro warmed me up enough. It was a great day. Drenched a couple of times in rain, frozen solid by the end, seeing four matches all won by favourites. Hey - don't you get 'atmosphere'?


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