La Decima Part 1 of 3: The Sights and Sounds at Roland-Garros

An avid sports fan since a very young age, my adrenaline surges, and my heart skips several beats every time I am in a sporting arena. Whether I am playing, or watching a game, the excitement and the joy of experiencing something so spontaneous, probably historic, and definitely once-in-a-lifetime, right in front of my eyes gives me a high like nothing else. So when I got an opportunity to watch the best in tennis come together to battle it out at the world’s most renowned, greatly respected, and best-loved clay court tournament, I welcomed it with both arms wide open! And I should say that it lived up to and greatly surpassed my expectations.

The excitement began well before the tournament. It began when we had to wait in an online queue to buy tickets 2 months ahead. Call me rebellious, but the excitement increased when I realized how hard it was to get a ticket! My resolve to get myself a ticket strengthened when I learned I could buy only 2 tickets at a time, and despite logging in earlier than the specified time, I was 31,000th in the queue. I patiently waited 2 hours, until my turn came, and what could I buy? I could buy 2 tickets to the first round of the tournament; the tickets to the finals were sold out already! Unfair! But I would somehow make it to the finals, this I was sure of. Anyway, after waiting another month for someone to resell their ticket, and paying almost double the price, I got myself a much sought after ticket to the French Open final. Mind you – this was no ordinary French Open, this was THE French Open, with newspapers and magazines in Europe touting it to be the La Decima French Open title for the King of Clay – Rafael Nadal. And being an ardent Rafa fan since 2005 or 2006, this was a dream come true for me.

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If it was a Bollywood, or even a Hollywood movie, I would have relaxed, but what makes a live tournament so exciting is that ANYTHING can happen until the last moment. Rafa could have lost in the initial rounds, he could have gotten himself injured, he could have been not-in-the-best playing form. But come 2017 French Open – not even the Gods could stop this Spanish Matador from taking what was rightfully his. Playing in the best form of his career, with all straight-set wins over his opponents in the French Open, to reach the finals of the biggest clay court championship that has tens of millions of viewers glued, Rafael Nadal was undoubtedly the most deserving player this year.

Paris is a beautiful city no doubt, but what made it all the more special was being there during Summer, during the Roland-Garros. Roland-Garros was a 1 hour beautiful walk from my hotel, and we passed through the narrow side streets, countless quaint Parisian cafes, and across River Seine, with a view of the Eiffel Tower, as the icing on the cake. As we got past the long queue at security, and entered the fortress of Roland-Garros, we were like kids in Disneyland. We ran to get a copy of the French Open magazine – with a cover picture of Rafa – that was kept right at the entrance. Only when we got close, did we realise the magazine was printed in French, and we were not really that great at French! The grounds were sprinkled with souvenir shops every 100 meters. The Philippe Chatrier court, Suzanne- Lenglen court and Court No. 1 were next to each other, with all the other courts scattered across the grounds. People dressed comfortably, with t-shirts of their favourite player, a bottle of soft drink in hand, were making their way across to find their courts and seats. Outdoors, there were huge screens playing the popular matches of the day, and rows and rows of armchairs spread across for people who wanted to sit outside and watch. The scorching sun, and lack of shade made no dent in people’s enthusiasm. They sat there all day, a drink in hand, cheering for their favourite player.

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We made our way to Philippe Chatrier court for the first round. We were considerably less enthusiastic than the rest of the crowd because, after a careful round of consideration and probability calculations, we had come to the conclusion that Rafa would play on Centre court on day two, but to our bad luck, he was pushed to Suzanne- Lenglen court. So we would not be watching him that day. Still, the excitement of being on the Centre Court of Roland-Garros was too infectious, and we could not sulk for too long. We entered the court, found our seats, and waited for the matches to begin. Although we were unable to watch Rafa, we got to watch Garbine Muguruza, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev – not a bad deal I must say!

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We took our occasional breaks and refilled at the food court downstairs – from sandwiches that were nothing to write home about, to yummilicious crepes, and strawberries and crème, there was quite a decent variety to choose from. With women dressed in tennis ball costumes, men with painted faces miming your actions just for laughs, groups dressed as cartoon characters; there was a whole gamut of off-court entertainment and amusement.

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Thus passed our first day at the French Open, a totally fun day, with some great matches, amazing fun in the grounds, the drama of the crowd and the players, the highs of our favourite player winning, the sighs that came with not being able to watch him live, the lovely food, and the tangible excitement of the atmosphere in the arena. All this made for a memorable day indeed. We left the grounds only by 9 PM and walked the 1-hour walk back to our hotel. Luckily for us, the sun was still up on that lovely summer day of May 29, 2017, and this day was the first in two more fabulous days that we would spend at Roland-Garros.

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