French Open

With fans packing Roland Garros again, it feels like a final, exuberant piece of the pro-tennis puzzle is back in place

By Steve Tignor May 28, 2022
French Open

Alexander Zverev has surgery to repair torn ligaments in ankle

By Associated Press Jun 07, 2022
French Open

Long after he had nothing left to prove, Rafael Nadal showcased mastery of the clay-court chess match yet again to make it 14 for 14 in Roland Garros finals

By Steve Tignor Jun 05, 2022
French Open

The eternal now of Rafael Nadal: A journey of endurance, patience, and suffering for the Roland Garros title

By Joel Drucker Jun 05, 2022
French Open

Rafael Nadal wins record-extending 22nd Grand Slam title with incomparable 14th final-round victory at Roland Garros

By Ed McGrogan Jun 05, 2022
French Open

Preview: Will Rafael Nadal move to 14-0 in Roland Garros championships against first-time major finalist Casper Ruud?

By Steve Tignor Jun 04, 2022
French Open

"She's always hitting winners": Six months after trusting her talent like never before, Iga Swiatek is the one setting new standards in ground-stroke prowess

By Steve Tignor Jun 04, 2022
French Open

Coco Gauff's Paris education continues after Roland Garros final defeat to Iga Swiatek

By Joel Drucker Jun 04, 2022
French Open

Flawless Iga Swiatek sweeps to Roland Garros title, conquers Coco Gauff in final

By David Kane Jun 04, 2022
French Open

Casper Ruud beat Marin Cilic at Roland Garros by channeling the man he’ll play in his first major final: Rafael Nadal

By Steve Tignor Jun 03, 2022

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WATCH: Rafael Nadal is greeted by an unexpected visitor on Court Suzanne Lenglen

What’s the most memorable image from the first week at this year’s Roland Garros? The first that comes to mind for me is the sight of Jelena Ostapenko, after losing to hometown favorite Alizé Cornet, covering her ears as the roars from the crowd rained down in Court Philippe Chatrier.

It has been three years since French tennis fans have been allowed to gather in full at Roland Garros. They’ve made the most of the opportunity, and as always, made their presence felt. From afar, the atmosphere on the grounds seems similar to the one that pervaded the US Open when fans were let back into Flushing Meadows last summer; There’s a renewed appreciation for the event, for the sport, for the chance to gather again and resume one of the rituals of late-spring in Paris.

The crowds have given their players full-throated support, naturally. A mini-marching band showed up for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s swan song against Casper Ruud in Chatrier. When he served for the fourth set, the stadium broke into a rendition of “La Marseillaise.” Over the years, that passionate support has mostly ended in heartbreak for Parisians, and the same has been true in 2022. Just as Tsonga was being serenaded by “La Marseillaise,” and seemed sure to send the audience into further delirium by forcing a fifth set with Ruud, he pulled a shoulder muscle and had to tearfully play out the string instead. On Saturday, the last two French players in the singles draws, Cornet and Gilles Simon, were quickly dispatched inside a melancholy Chatrier.

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Welcome back, French Open.

Welcome back, French Open.

But the fans haven’t saved all of their love for the locals. Their energy has suffused the side courts, and injected drama into matches where they wouldn’t seem to have a rooting interest. Angelique Kerber’s back-from-the-brink heroics against Magdalena Frech inspired a frenzy—Angie-mania—on Court 6. On Kids’ Day, new Spanish star Carlos Alcaraz was greeted with the screaming approval of hundreds of young fans, who helped lift him to a comeback win over Albert Ramos-Viñolas. Jil Teichmann of Switzerland and David Goffin of Belgium have basked in the applause after their wins in a packed Court Simonne-Mathieu. Stefanos Tsitsipas has filled every inch of Lenglen for his second- and third-round matches. It does a tennis fan’s heart good to see that people missed the sport, and that all of the work that Roland Garros has done to revamp the grounds over the last decade really has produced a new and grander venue.

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At practice sessions and in night sessions, Carlos Alcaraz—whom these fans are craning to see—has become must-see in Paris.

At practice sessions and in night sessions, Carlos Alcaraz—whom these fans are craning to see—has become must-see in Paris.

The most noticeable, and lucrative, of those upgrades are the night sessions in Chatrier, which have been played without Covid restrictions for the first time this year. Judging by what we see on TV, they’ve drawn a slightly different audience to Roland Garros—maybe more Parisian and less tennis-obsessed? If so, that would parallel what happens during the evenings at the US Open. The night owls in Paris don’t seem to be as noisy as New Yorkers; but as Ostapenko found out, they can be just as vocal in support of their own. So far, they haven’t been given an epic contest to react to. Maybe they’ll have their chance if Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal meet in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.

French tennis fans don’t have a spotless reputation. They’re more attentive to lunch than other Grand Slam nations, which can leave Chatrier feeling like a ghost town in the early afternoon. And if they’re against you, they won’t be polite about it. They booed Serena Williams during her infamous semifinal against Justine Henin in 2003. They’ve never fallen in love with Roland Garros’ all-time champion, Rafael Nadal. They booed one of their own, Henri Leconte, when he was blown out in the 1988 final by Mats Wilander. This year they cheered Alex de Minaur’s double faults when he lost to France’s Hugo Gaston, and booed Ostapenko for good measure after she covered her ears. In 2012, they even drove their greatest god, Roger Federer, to tell them to “Shut up!” because they were ooohing and aaahing too much at his shot. Positive or negative, the French bring a unified intensity to their spectating that I think is unmatched in tennis.

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From the large stadiums to the side courts, fans have filled Roland Garros with a unique energy.

From the large stadiums to the side courts, fans have filled Roland Garros with a unique energy.

I doubt I’m the only fan who would say that this intensity has given me some of the best memories of my tennis-watching career. For me it started with my first live match in Chatrier, in 1998, when Cedric Pioline beat an 18-year-old Marat Safin in five sets. I loved the sense of concentrated purpose in the stadium, as every person there chanted “Ced-reek” together and then clapped three times; I’d never heard that kind of unity in the States. At one point Safin did something that annoyed the fans—destroyed his racquet, most likely—and they booed him viciously. I’d never heard a swell of boos rise up so rapidly or violently, and I’m a Philadelphia sports fan. Then Safin threw his arms up to apologize, and they cheered him almost as wildly. All was forgiven; for the moment, anyway.

On Saturday, I was reminded of those “Ced-reek” cheers after Gilles Simon lost to Marin Cilic. This was Simon’s last match in Roland Garros, and when it was over everyone joined to chant “Gil-lou”—Simon’s nickname—between triple claps. It was an appreciative good-bye to another Musketeer. In these moments, French tennis can feel like a family.

This week in Paris, that family has been reunited. For me, it has felt like a final, exuberant, unpredictable, essential piece of the pro-tennis puzzle has been put back in place.