Patiently constructing points, balancing risk against reward and identifying when to slide into shots are just a handful of prerequisites to clay-court success. But these qualities are just part of what appeals to an audience at Roland Garros, where players must captivate the crowd surrounding the net while battling the opposition standing across it.
Both Jelena Ostapenko and Stan Wawrinka won over Parisian crowds with performances that still resonate today. Ostapenko captured her first tour-level title at the 2017 French Open with a run that included four successive three-setters, the last in the final against Simona Halep. Her go-big-or-go-home mentality was an echo of Wawrinka’s win two years earlier, when he ousted countryman Roger Federer, denied home favorite Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and upstaged Novak Djokovic—after the Serbian finally conquered Rafael Nadal in the quarterfinals—to rise to the top for his second of three Slam titles.
Whether or not they’re playing on the terre battue, Paris has clearly remained in the hearts of these two supreme shotmakers.
How would you describe the vibe of Paris and Roland Garros?
JO: The city is amazing; there are so many things to see. I was traveling to Paris when I was younger to play some tournaments, and I’ve always enjoyed my time there.
SW: A crazy atmosphere on the court; it’s electric.
What do you enjoy most about playing on clay?
JO: Sometimes, clay is slow, sometimes it’s faster. I like it and know how to move and slide on it. I think it’s a pretty cool surface. Before I didn’t like it as much, but now, I’m enjoying it more and more.
SW: I grew up on clay, so it’s always a special feeling to slide. You can use your fitness more.
Which comes to mind first when you think of French cuisine?
JO: Foie gras, crème brûlée and onion soup. Every time I go to Paris, I go to a good restaurant.
SW: My friend Jean Imbert, he’s a French chef.
Other than clay, what makes playing on Court Phillipe Chatrier unique to other show courts?
JO: The atmosphere. The fans are really loud there. Especially during the Roland Garros final, it was so much fun. They were so into it. The match was like a roller coaster for us and them.
SW: The empty box in the semifinal, because every VIP is having lunch.
...it’s a joke—I love you Paris!
If one shot or pose from your game was turned into a sculpture, what’s going on display at the Rodin Museum?
JO: Raising the trophy!
SW: My backhand down the line.