Yes, Roland has already started. Since Monday, there are 128 players on the starting line, ready to fight for the sixteen tickets granting access to the final table. An unmissable event for any tennis fan, which has seen a few nice stories as well.
To see a draw
The rules of tennis are made to always have a winner, and a loser and the end of a match. However, one match was the exception to this inevitable rule. In 1973, the Frenchman Denis Naegelen was facing the Greek Nicolas Kelaidis in the last round of the qualifications. Naegelen was leading by 4-0 when it started to rain. After coming back from the dressing room, his opponent equalized to make it 4-4 when the Parisian sky decided to shake everything up again. The interruption lasted, and meanwhile, the organizers proceeded to the draw of the lucky losers. In which fate decided to name the loser of this match between Naegelen and Kelaidis as the lucky survivor. Instead of waiting for a clement weather, the two men decided to leave each other qualified and in good terms on this unusual score of 6-2, 3-6, 4-4.
For the good Belgian stories
Here is a feat that even Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal won’t be able to equal during this fortnight. In 1997, Filip Dewulf won eight consecutive matches at Roland-Garros. The Belgian won his three first match in the qualifying round which he played « without being too confident. » Dewulf also remembers « a very ugly match » against the Frenchman Julien Chauvin to enter the final draw. The Flemish is then far from believing that he will consecutively defeat Alex Corretja and Magnus Norman to reach the semi-final. He can even less imagine that he will cross an unknown Brazilian’s path who’s wearing a colorful t-shirt and has a devastating backhand. Dewulf lost in four sets against Gustavo Kuerten. « I had nothing left to give, remembers the loser. When you think about it, my tournament had started more than two weeks before. »
Because it can change lives
Before becoming the official joker of the legend’s tournament, Mansour Bahrami had been a good player in the singles and the doubles in the eighties. The Iranian’s career starts in 1980, when fleeing the revolution in his country, he arrives in France with no papers or address. Bahrami then wanders around the Porte d’Auteuil. « Three weeks before the start of the Internationals, Jacques Dorfmann, the umpire of the tournament, gave me the chance of a lifetime by inviting me to take part in the pre-qualifying round. » He didn’t miss the chance and wins five consecutive matches to reach the final table. The medias then took interest in this boy who was already showing his flamboyant game. He made the most of this new fame by obtaining a residence permit. And this is how Mansour Bahrami became the most French of Iranians.
Because the matches are tight
Maybe because a first round in the final draw is worth 30 000 euros, the qualification matches are often the scene of intense fights. Like in the 2015 edition where the Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert and the Italian Andrea Arnaboldi put on a real show for the audience during 4 hours and 26 minutes during the second round. Herbert has to surrender at 27-25 in the last set, but can console himself with the record for the longest qualifying round match in the history of Roland-Garros. Not a surprise to see him get on so well with Wimbledon’s marathon runner, Nicolas Mahut, with who he will be playing in the doubles this year in Paris.
Because the players are just like us
With a low budget, the players taking part in the qualifying round often have to take care of things by themselves. In 1995, the Marocan Younès El Anyaoui, who fell at the 224th spot in the ATP ranking, is penniless. Instead of an overpriced hotel, he sleeps at fellow countrymen’s houses and takes the tube to get to the Michel-Ange Molitor station. But his first ten metro tickets won’t be enough, as El Anyaoui manages to get through the qualifications all the way to the third round. « As it brought me luck, I kept this little superstition and continued taking the metro to get to Roland-Garros, even when I was in the final draw », he told us last year. The Moroccan will only be defeated by an Andre Agassi less renown for his love of public transportation.
Because it’s the real tennis
As Roland is still a hive where the staff is buzzing around to fix the last remaining details, the qualifications are the meeting of the small yellow ball aficionados. Here, no VIP’s or ever-lasting meals at the Village, you get excited for the Corsican Laurent Lokoli’s match in an atmosphere which reminds you of the famous Furiani football stadium. People know Teymuraz Gabashvili’s personal record or cheer for Gaston Gaudio (the only winner to have gone through the qualifying round in 2010) and you don’t leave before the door closes when the sun sets. These fans would also deserve a place in the final draw.
Because you get to meet stars
The qualifying week is also a good opportunity to wander around the alleys without your feet being stepped on, or having to wait half an hour to get a sandwich or fries. A relaxed atmosphere which also gives you the chance to see Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and the French players who came to prepare for the tournament. Less bothered and more available, the stars of tennis are much more accessible for an autograph or a selfie. The qualifying round is definitely a good idea.