Because the legend of Roland Garros isn’t only made on the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts, and because each of the 18 outside courts has its own history, its anecdotes and specificities, the Mag decided to go on a historic stroll along those courts where the vast majority of this first week matches take place. Between Kuerten and McEnroe, disqualifications and fights, qualifiers and beach tennis, French countryside and Las Vegas.
Court n°1 The court n°1 would deserve an article of its own, as its history - yet recent - is rich. Inaugurated in 1980 by Jean Borotra, then aged 81, and Tarik Benhabilès, 15, and winner of the junior tournament two years later, it also became Jim Courier's favourite: "The sound is incredible. It's like playing indoors when you are outdoors. The sound and the echo are meant to give you the feeling that you hit harder than you actually do." It’s also in the round enclosure of the Bullring as the Americans call it that Gustavo Kuerten was born for all to see when he eliminated Thomas Muster during the third round of the 1997 edition. On his way to the first of his three crowns at Roland Garros...
Court n°2 A beginning and a farewell. It's on the Court N°2, the favourite of the unconditional fans, that Yannick Noah played his first game as a professional, a defeat which was already very intense (6/1 6/3 6/7 6/7 6/2) against New Zealander Brian Fairlie in 1977. It's also here that in 1989, Guillermo Vilas finally decided to hang his racquets, at almost 37 years old, defeated without glory in the first round by the Italian Claudio Pistolesi.
Court n°3 Two points. This is the number of points to which was reduced the match between Allan Stone and the American Marty Riessen in the first round of the 1966 edition. Consistent player of his era, several times quarter-finalist in Grand Slams, Riessen indeed injured himself from the second point of this match against an Aussie opponent best known for his results in doubles than in singles. By giving up so early, he made of this match the shortest in the history of the French Open.
Court n°4 The first disqualification of the history of tennis happened here on the court N° 4 in 1963. The Colombian Pato Alvarez, opponent of the Australian Martin Mulligan, was sent back to the locker room by the umpire at four games all in the second set for protests... and pilferage of balls! The anecdote yet marks the beginning of a long history between the Colombian and Roland Garros, since he went on to become one of the best coach of the last three decades (Emilio Sanchez, Nicolás Lapentti, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Andy Murray...)
Court n°5 Roland Garros 2003. The man who defeated Roger Federer in the first round, Luis Horna was close to win a second match in straight set, a dream for every South Americans. He was leading two sets to one, 5-2 in the fourth, 0-40 on his opponent. But then the beanpole in front of him, great hitter almost 6.5 ft. tall, decided to take all the risks and saved every balls which would have been synonyms of defeat. He then caught up in the break. Then won the fourth set. Then won the game in the fifth. The crazy adventure of Martin Verkerk had just started. Ten days later, after defeating Carlos Moya and Guillermo Coria, he played the final of the French Open. Before disappearing as quickly as he arrived.
Court n°6 John McEnroe says it straight: the brat who was sleeping within him arrived in the world of tennis on a day of 1977, during his first tournament at Roland Garros in the anonymity of the court n°6. At the time, John was only 19 and was facing Phil Dent in the second round. "It's nice to offer me two balls when you can't agree with the umpire, but now you're playing with the pros. If you have a problem, I'm not the one you should tell, but the umpire directly," said the Australian to his young opponent. Complaints, insults, protests - this "Connors in the making", as he was nicknamed by the press during the tournament, won the mixed doubles and the junior event the following week by applying this advice. With the added bonus of a warning from the tournament committee due to bad behaviour. Which produced the contrary of what was expected: "This is the first time in my life that I’m booed... And it would be a lie to say that I didn't like it!"
Court n°7 The French court. A few steps from the National Training Centre, on a court where they train regularly from the beginning of spring, the lowest ranked French players (the other are automatically scheduled on the Central or the Suzanne Lenglen) got into the habit of playing their most epic matches in the fortnight. In recent years, we saw, among others, Nicolas Coutelot drive David Nalbandian crazy in 2003 or more recently Stephane Robert beat Tomas Berdych in the first round in 2011... not without saving a match point on the way!
Court n°8 In 1987, a French player called Patrice Kuchna, 325th in the world and a qualifier, met in the third round one of the biggest star - in the "star system" meaning - of World tennis, Andre Agassi. And the impossible happened: the kid from the French countryside beat the Kid from Las Vegas, so proud of himself ... and so weak on clay courts! With this victory in three sets (6/4 6/3 6/3), Kuchna became the lowest ranked player to ever reach the second week of the French Open.
Court n°9 Despite his imposing stature (6 ft.3), Florian Mayer must have felt very small during this doubles match played in 2011, with his countryman Michael Berrer, 6 ft. 4 against the French Albano Olivetti and Kenny De Schepper, both 6 ft. 8. It's one of the "highest" quartets ever seen in doubles at Roland Garros. For the record, the French won the day in the decisive game of the final set.
Court n°10 A vintage touch, old school, but no, it was 2013: former opponents in the singles final of Roland Garros (in 2010), Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur decided to play the doubles event together. In the first round, on the court n°10, they won a prestigious victory against the specialists Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez and Liezel Huber, n°5 of the table. They didn’t go much further in the competition, but reminded us of women's tennis' heyday in the twentieth century, when the best enemies in singles didn't hesitate to join forces in doubles.
Court n°11 1993. Mary Pierce, a rising star of world tennis, was playing against the American Kimberly Po. But the show was actually happening in the stands, where her father Jim was storming, grumbling and shouting without interruption during the points and eventually provoked the wrath of the WTA representative, who asked him to leave the premises. But Jim Pierce refused to comply. It took ten security agents to evict the former Marine. His behaviour that day earned him a five-year ban from the tour.
Court n°12 A court for riots. Located a staircase away from the changing rooms and the players canteen under the Suzanne Lenglen, the court n°12 is a training court appreciated by the very best... and the one where fans can watch their idols play very closely. Every time Federer or Nadal hit the ball there instantly create congestion throughout this part of the complex. One year, we also saw Ivan Ljubicic and Riccardo Piatti, his coach, engage in a game of boules on that same court. Easy.
Court n°13 The only court of the complex not dedicated to clay: the court n°13 is made of... sand, for the promotion of Beach tennis. Some professionals have already come to try it during the fortnight, as Xavier Malisse or Benoit Paire. It's also the only court at Roland Garros that the general public is allowed to walk on during the tournament.
Court n°14 Belgian and Dutch: the best fans in the world. Any player from one of these two countries provide a crazy atmosphere in the stands. The little known (unknown?) Robin Haase had then set the court n°14 on fire in 2008, in the first match to resume after an interruption due to the rain. It was one of the highest attendance ever recorded on this court. Never mind that Marin Cilic defeated the Batavian in three sets (7/6 6/2 7/6).
Court n°15 The first steps of a legend in the making. It was on the court N°15 that Novak Djokovic took his first steps at Roland Garros in 2005. By defeating the American Robby Ginepri in straight sets (6/0 6/0 6/3), the 153rd player in the world won that day his first victory in Grand Slam.
All champions have at some point went through the qualifying rounds during their formative years. As a good contrarian, Gaston Gaudio did things in reverse: he’s the only winner of the tournament to have passed by the "Qualifier" box after his title. In 2010, in a final attempt to revive a dying career, the 200th player in the world then entered the qualifiers with humility. He disappeared without glory in the second round against the Brazilian Thiago Alves. It was on Court n°16, before a handful of spectators. This is the last time that we saw Gaston Gaudio on the courts of Roland Garros.
Court n°17 The perfect court to follow the last laps of former glories. In 2009, Juan Ferrero played there his last great match in Paris against Philipp Kohlschreiber in the second round. On a court packed with fans garishly made-up in the colours of Spain, the winner of the 2003 edition of the tournament, then ranked 103rd in the world, pushed the German, who was then 70 places above him in the ATP ranking, to his limits. Started late in the afternoon, the match closed the program, an island of noise and light in the shade of a Suzanne Lenglen court already dark and empty. It was almost 10pm when a huge clamour rose from the court: Ferrero had just won the decisive game of the fourth set, and therefore, the opportunity to play a fifth one. The following day in this case. But the best part of the match was definitely played in this warm spring evening.
Court n°18 A court almost exclusively reserved to training. Hidden by big opaque tarpaulins, it hosts the training sessions of the best when they need some calm and quiet. If you see a competitive match on the 18th, it’s necessarily a bad sign: it means that the rain has disturbed the tournament and that the program has lagged far behind. Not later than last week, qualifying matches have been moved there.