"Roland Garros, it's its public!" once said the former President of the French Tennis Federation, Philippe Chatrier, in the 1970s. A Parisian public that sets the tone, approves, boos, shouts, is sometimes mistaken, often snoring, which has its scapegoats and his heroes, its peculiarities and its strokes of genius, made and still makes, the history of the tournament... here are some proofs!
1 / It took a general strike to bring the public in-crowd
If the events of May 1968 were not good for De Gaulle, they saved Roland Garros. The general strike caused an unprecedented flood of people to the Porte d'Auteuil, ensuring the survival of a tournament not as popular than Wimbledon. Without the support of the televisions or the press, the French Open exceeded that year, and this for the first time, the 100 000 spectators mark.
2 / The Parisian public is not as chauvinistic as people say
If Noah, Leconte or Monfils awakened the spectators’ patriotic fervour, foreigners have probably received their warmest support. Roger Federer in 2009, Stefan Edberg in 1996, Jimmy Connors in 1991, John McEnroe in 1991, Pancho Gonzalez in 1968, or Nicola Pietrangeli in 1964. Exceptional case for the latter, the public called his name, and the Italian came back on the court. Other memories that undermine the French chauvinist cliché, these memories of boos which almost spared no one, from Jean Borotra to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga through Yannick Noah, Henri Leconte, Françoise Dürr or Mary Pierce...
3 / The French Open public loved to flood in the courts after the matches
Back in the days, nothing and no one was preventing the spectators to come and have a chat with the players on the court... In 1974, dozens of kids thus went down the stands to touch Björn Borg, or try to steal his racquet. The paranoia cursor was at zero and everyone thought it was normal. After 1983, when the entire central rushed on the court, carried by the euphoria of Zacharie Noah who went to embrace his son, it was no longer possible.
4 / The Parisian public remains the jibe master
"Nowadays, we hardly interrupt an actor, an artist before the end of his performance or act: why would the spectator of the Centre Court would be less obedient?" Already in 1929, Jean Borotra had put pen to paper to ask the French Open public to calm down a little. Yet it would keep its peanut gallery style until the end of the century. Some good replicas? "It looks like a ladies singles,” shouted a spectator of the Central during the quarterfinal between Brichant and Fraser in 1958. Gerulaitis, too hesitant against Connors in 1980, was asked to go up a gear, "Go on the outside courts if you want to play like this!" Rarely supported during his final lost in three sets against Mats Wilander, Leconte had in addition to endure taunting. The "Don't worry Henry, we're here!" at 2 sets to 0 for the Swede remains, unfortunately for the French, the funniest moment of the 1988 edition.
5 / The Parisian public has long been dodging masters
Before the stadium became an impregnable fortress, how many phony deliverymen were turned away at the gates? How many false relatives of Philippe Chatrier? We also salute the memory of those amateur speleologists who dug a tunnel between the Porte des Mousquetaires and the court No. 3. And what about that neighbour offering to candidates for climbing to use his scale in exchange for a few coins?
6 / The Parisian public loves to throw stuff on the court
The great Rod Laver received gravel in the face when he was facing French players in doubles (1956), Kim Warwick a bottle of coke (1978) and Martina Hingis... an egg! (2001). Any takers: no one has ever throw chairs, tables, ashtrays or even tomatoes... There is still more than enough to innovate.
7/ The Parisian public is often filled with kids… Very noisy kids
Until 1972, they were there on Thursdays. They were then called the "schoolboys" and admission was free for them. Now it's on the Wednesdays that they come by the thousands and the nerves of the players are put to the test. A little girl, in 1983, saw John McEnroe ask her to "Shut up." In 1989, on the court No. 1, where everything resonates more than anywhere else, Thierry Tulasne even told them "Shut uuuuuuuuuup" stretched over four seconds...
8/ Roland-Garros wasn’t spared by the « streakers » madness
We remember the weirdo who disrupted Roger Federer in the 2009 final, or this shirtless man, with the names of President Chirac and Prime Minister de Villepin tattooed, making Mary Pierce laugh in 2005. In 1981 and it was the first 'famous' case, a reckless man in his thirties wearing a Tennis Magazine hat and a cardboard sign on which he requested a meeting with the Pope, appeared alongside Hana Mandlíková during the awards ceremony. Good performance: he stayed 21 seconds in the presidential stand before being chased by Philippe Chatrier himself.
9/ The Parisian public changed the soundtrack of tennis
Between 1974 and 1978, the number of spectators over the fortnight quadrupled, and it was the whole soundtrack of Roland Garros that changed in the process! Tennis was now fashionable, and attracted spectators from other sports, like football. It was in this context that in 1976, white-hot by the Italian star Adriano Panatta, this "new" public started the trend, so common today, of custom encouragements ("Go Adriano! Go Panatta!") which were previously considered useless or vulgar by purists.
10 / Among the spectators of Roland Garros, some arrive directly from the Cannes Film Festival
At the request of Philippe Chatrier, then president of the FFT it was the actress Juliet Mills (Heat wave, Cop or Hood), who was in charge of being a luxurious tout in the mid-70s. So the French Open became (once again) the stronghold of movie stars! Mills having a good address book, a lot of French movie stars started coming: Claude Lelouch, Jean Rochefort, Claude Brasseur, Michel Piccoli, and especially Jean-Paul Belmondo, who has hardly missed an edition of the tournament since.