The US Open and its popcorn loving spectators, Wimbledon and its traditions, Melbourne’s cool and festive show, Paris and its clay courts... While the ATP Tour elects every year the favourite tournament of the tour - the BNP Paribas Open Indian Wells in 2015 - no ranking has ever been made on the four Grand Slams. While the US Open enters its second week, it was time to ask the question: which Grand Slam is the favourite amongst players?
It has become a classic during the first weeks of a Grand Slam. Worse, a ritual and celebrated hypocrisy when tennis gives way to the obligation of consensus: Players parade before the press, smile for the cameras and claim that this particular Grand Slam is "especially close to their heart." Of course it's their "favourite". Problem: the tastes of the players seem to be modelled on the ATP tournament calendar... But what is objectively the favourite Grand Slam of tennis players? And most importantly, why?
Obviously, the main reason that pushes players in the arms of a tournament is directly related to game conditions: it's the surface that determines the ambitions of a player, and, inevitably, his feelings. Gael Monfils for example who said in July: "I don't enjoy playing on grass, I somehow fear it. This surface is traumatic, I try to be careful on each of my movement and it is really difficult". However, Roland Garros' clay courts are much better for his slides. Likewise, Parisian clay courts, favouring a slower kind of game, can look like an open trap for some other top seeds. Especially in case of unfortunate draws, that is to say, to play against a Spanish, Argentine or South American player in general.
«Everything is shit here!»
More than a surface, a tournament is also representative of an atmosphere. And on this point, the differences are huge. Not easy for tennis purists to get used to the numerous planes flying over Flushing Meadows. And especially to the loud American public. Guy Forget can testify: "The US Open is the public that know the least about tennis of all Grand Slam tournaments. People go to Flushing as if they were going to see the Knicks or the Mets. They constantly go get food or drinks. During the match, they often sleep. When comes the tie-break, they start to scream from everywhere." A versatile crowd that speaks loudly, talks on the phone during the rallies... And can even turn the court into a dumping ground, "When you play, people are leaning on the railings, they eat sandwiches and chips can fall on the court," said former player Sarah Pitkowski.
But some appreciate this casual atmosphere, which contrasts with the muffled atmosphere of Wimbledon: a great respect for tradition, absolute silence, you have to respect playing in the temple of tennis. And what inspires respect to some may be seen as a boring fancy dress ball for others. The mandatory and exclusive use of white outfits in particular has been criticized by King Federer himself after a recent tightening of controls: « I love Wimbledon, but they went too far. The rules have become ridiculously strict.” And even unhealthy sometimes. The Czech player Barbora Strycova has witnessed an application for the least finicky of the all white: "We play in white, we should therefore wear white underwear, but it's pretty weird that officials come to check that... I find it strange." Benoit Paire doesn’t mince his words about the "perfect" decorum of the London tournament: "Everything is shit here." At least, it's clear.
« Worst than the French, the Parisians »
At Roland Garros, paradoxes are in order: if the posh and classy sixteenth arrondissement environment, the flowers on the courts and the Panama hats in the stands embody the French elegance, the public of the French Open can be less courteous. Toni Nadal, uncle and coach of Rafael, didn’t hesitated to discuss his vision of the stands' ethnology. And the result wasn't flattering for Roland: "There is only one kind of supporters worse than the French, the Parisians." Players are often shocked by the exuberant and grumpy spectators of Roland, who don’t hesitate to boo tennis players at the slightest gesture of annoyance, sometimes without reason. Martina Hingis confirmed: "The French public is the hardest." Umpires also receive their fair share of abuse on the courts.
Finally, the Australian Open, though much less publicized than its English and Parisian counterparts, may well win the prize for young players. Firstly thanks to its place in the calendar. First big event of the season, the Melbourne tournament is an opportunity to see players who are still fresh physically and mentally. Sign of this dynamism, the surprises are numerous and sometimes revealing: if Arnaud Clement, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Thomas Enqvist have all been able to reach the final one day, it was also the case of Amelie Mauresmo, future world number 1, then aged 19.
« A second home »
But if the Australian Open is so appreciated, it’s also for its friendly atmosphere. Roger Federer himself has nicknamed it the “Happy Slam”. Difficult to say otherwise: between polite officials, modern facilities and crowd of friendly fans... A friendly atmosphere served by its location as well, as described by Federer: "The city is small compared to the other three Great Slams, and it’s easy to go around. Everything is convenient here. It’s very well organized. I'm not saying that the others are not, but this one is especially nice and relaxing, it helps a lot." Ana Ivanovic also appreciates it: "I really feel that people are excited about tennis here. They love to cheer us. They sing loudly. Since there is no tournament in Serbia, here is like a second home to me." And yet... It’s not always enough.
Does a triumph in the ultramodern Rod Laver Arena has the same flavour than a victory on the legendary Centre Court, or on the Philippe Chatrier? The fact is that the two European tournaments still retain a lot of charm and a special attraction for many players. Wimbledon, especially, enjoys considerable prestige among players who often see it as the most legendary tournament. So maybe, in fact, when players say, without blinking, at the beginning of each new Grand Slam tournament that this one is "particularly close to their heart", it's just that it is actually impossible to choose.