At Roland Garros, the show is also happening in the stands where all actors, musicians, politicians or real TV stars always come in numbers. Porte d'Auteuil, celebrities meet and pose with their sunglasses for the paparazzi. Are they here to see or to be seen? Tentative answer with ten celebs stories. And a toilet seat.
1/ Jean-Paul Belmondo
Famous French actor often associated with the French New Wave of the 1960s and small breed dogs, Jean-Paul Belmondo is one of Roland Garros' most loyal fans. A baseline was even named after him. “After the Maginot Line, the 'Belmondo' line” he laughed at the time. The reason for such a nickname? "The actor was standing in his box in the front row, perfectly aligned with this line and we could see him stretch his arms from time to time to indicate that the ball was foul; exactly like the line judge who was actually seated on the court, a few inches in front of him" says Patrice Dominguez in L’Amour du tennis (The Love of Tennis, ed). In 1996, for his first Grand Slam semi-final, Marc Rosset even gave him his racket at the end of a match against the German Bernd Karbacher. The Swiss justified his gesture: “By dint of seeing his face every day for a fortnight every spring for years, Jean-Paul is like a friend now!”
2/ Katharine, Duchess of Kent
Formerly responsible for handing the trophy to the winner of Wimbledon, Katharine Worsley, Duchess of Kent, has visited Roland Garros only once. But at home or on the road, the protocol remained strict: private toilets must always be made available for the wife of Prince Edward, cousin of Queen Elizabeth II. Of course, her royal bottom should never come in contact with the seat. It was the 1st of June 1984, and it seemed difficult to ensure that this rule would be respected by the Parisian maintenance service. "We couldn’t find anyone to manufacture such a thing throughout France, said Gilles Jourdan, then member of the Executive in comments excerpts from the Illustrated Dictionary of Roland Garros. But I remembered that a friend of my wife was a seamstress. They brought her the toilet seat and she started to work. We collected it the eve of the visit and screwed the seat back with an embroidered fabric covering it and that was it.”
3/ Anna Wintour
Rather good tennis player, sport she would practice every morning before applying her makeup, Anna Wintour, the famous editor of the American Vogue, is a personal friend of the Federers. It's therefore not uncommon, each spring to see in the stands of Roland Garros one of Roger's most loyal groupies. "I also like to go shopping and visit a few friends, said the most famous fringe of the world. To my knowledge, Paris is more the city of fashion than the city of sport." This story of friendship has been in recent years the bread and butter of tabloids. The reason? They’ve always suspected "Nuclear Wintour" to have a crush on her favourite tennis player. Their (unique) proof? A Parisian fashion show of Jimmy Wu in 2009: that day, Anna ran away secretly to Roland Garros to attend the victory of Federer in the final Porte d'Auteuil. Today, although the former world number one swears that he didn't know Anna Wintour when they first met in 2002, the latter became his main beauty consultant. In 2010, in an interview with New York Magazine, The Swiss confessed: "I asked her once what she thought of the pink colour of the polo shirts I was wearing at the U.S. Open. She replied, dubiously: 'Pink, are you really sure Roger?’"
4/ Charlton Heston
American movie star, antiracism activist and fervent advocate for firearms, Charlton Heston has left his mark on the cultural and political life of the sixties, both for his charisma and his ideological contradictions. In private, the Ben Hur actor always was an absolute fan of tennis. But of a clean and moral sport: "I’m not going to Wimbledon because I want to avoid the embarrassment of being a privileged witness to the shame of the American nation," he once said when asked about the presence of John McEnroe on the London grass. A regular at the Cannes Film Festival, the actor was often taking advantage of being in France to pass by the French Open. In 1982, Patrice Dominguez even offered him a match on the sly in the Central of Roland Garros. "His childhood dream," according to the former French player. Impressed by the size of court, Heston quickly lost his means. He was tense and awkward. It was then that a cameraman arrived to catch some images. Charlton no longer missed a single shot. His balls were perfectly placed. Patrice Dominguez: "I then stopped the match, went to the net, and asked him: 'you wouldn't be having a laugh at me, by any chance? Now that there's a camera, you no longer make any fault, it's crazy!’ And he replied: ‘But Patrice, I'm an actor’"
5/ Alain Gerbault
Very good tennis player, Alain Gerbault was a French navigator fond of loneliness who decamped at sea whenever he had the chance. While the story of his first long journey, alone at the middle of the Atlantic, sold thousands of copies, he took the sea in 1924, still alone, but this time for five years. Upon his triumphant return in France, he ran to attend as a spectator the 1929 edition of the Davis Cup by PNB Paribas between France and the U.S. at Roland Garros. Surprised and excited, the ecstatic crowd cheered him and sang La Marseillaise in his honour. French players, on their part, dropped their rackets and climbed the presidential box to embrace him. Emotional.
6/ Jean-Luc Godard
“I play tennis because it's a sport where you have to return the ball. Where you don't try to keep it to yourself.” Founder and spiritual father of the French New Wave, filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard has long been a regular in the VIP stands of Roland Garros. A privilege he thoroughly enjoyed. “There’s always a gap between reality and what you see on television or in the papers, he said in an interview with L'Equipe in 2001. Anna Kournikova for example, when I saw her at Roland Garros, I was stunned. On TV, I thought she was just an average Russian, rather stocky with the same face than Boris Yeltsin. While she's actually really pretty, really stylish... Television film stars and glory, not men and their misery”
7/ Jay Z and Beyoncé
The most famous couple in the music industry and even the "most powerful" according to Billboard, Jay Z and Beyoncé can regularly be seen in the stands of the greatest sports venues in the world. Basketball, baseball and even tennis... In 2010, the two lovebirds were at Roland Garros for the men's final won by Rafael Nadal. A fifth title for the Spaniard in Paris, which ended up in a great party at the Parisian club L'Arc. Jay Z was there, and said the next day to the American press: “He doesn't look it, but Nadal knows how to have fun and party. I'm sure he’s the biggest gangsta in tennis.” Gangsta…? Really?
8/ Bob Sinclar & Martin Solveig
In real life, the two famous French DJs are good friends. So every spring, unchanging ritual, they meet at the French Open. In 2010, the two men even organized a match on the Philippe Chartrier court. Why? To promote his fourth album, Smash, Martin Solveig wanted to film a tennis match between him and his friend Sinclar in front of 12,000 people, with Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils as guest stars. A surprising but pretty funny result. Sinclar said: "You know that they play music at Flushing Meadows for the U.S. Open, right. They should put some in the stands at Roland Garros too. It lacks a bit of party in France. It's not tense, but it would bring a little modernity to tennis. We must see matches like shows."
9/ Marcel Cerdan
Terror of the rings in the 1940s, Marcel Cerdan, French boxing champion, was nicknamed "the Moroccan Bomber." "I was born in Algeria, I grew up in Morocco; I live in France. And my dream is the United States," he used to say. In 1946, American impresarios imagined a test confrontation against Holman Williams. The stakes? If Cerdan won the match, he would then be offered the chance to fight in the United States and thus the opportunity to have an international career. Big stakes, big means: the event was held on the Central of Roland Garros, the ring placed in the middle of the court, without any trace of clay. Despite a broken hand, the French gave his opponent a good hiding. Stronger yet, it's the night of this success at Roland Garros that he met Edith Piaf at the cabaret Le club des Cinq. The singer was performing. The boxer listened for the first time to the voice that would soothe his nights for the rest of his life...
10/ Alain Delon
In its history, the Central of Roland Garros has hosted two boxing matches: the first with Marcel Cerdan; the second under the supervision of Alain Delon. In the early seventies, the famous French actor indeed tried to be sports promoter. Besides horse racing, he organized in 1973 a match for the world boxing championship between the French Jean-Claude Bouttier and the Argentine Carlos Monzon. At the time, the Paris Central was still equipped with projectors. Despite a chilly and wet weather, 15,000 people showed up to support their champion. A fervour that Bouttier didn't have the time to enjoy: he quickly had to withdraw after getting a thumb in the eye. Alain Delon, too, seemed to have a faltering sight "After the fight, Alain Delon asked me to show him the stadium boxes, remembers Patrice Dominguez, in his book The Love of tennis. I showed him what I thought he meant, the boxes which are the spaces reserved by group of four chairs all around the stadium. The misunderstanding of the actor was complete, he looked at me with an angry look: ‘Are you telling me that it's here that players change and prepare?’ In fact, Alain Delon confused the theatre boxes and the stadium dressing rooms! (They are called the same in French, ed).”
By Victor Le Grand