Roland Garros or bust, Part I.

PARIS — 28 May 2008.  Court 17 at Roland Garros offers, at least for the time being, the same kind of treat available half the world away to rooftop spectators at Wrigley Field in Chicago — free viewing.  But we were neither aware of that fact nor intending to take advantage of it when we set out toward Porte de Saint-Cloud this afternoon to catch some French Open action.  All we knew was that all tickets were sold out, that it would be ill advised to buy second-hand tickets (because of strict rules regarding transferability), and that after 5 p.m. each day “evening visitors” could get tickets at special prices for seats vacated by day-ticket holders.

The metro ride took us to the edge of town and when we surfaced there was no sight of the promised free shuttles to the event.  A friendly transportation employee pointed us in the right direction:  a non-descript bus stop on top of a freeway overpass in the distance.  Given in French, however, all we could really gather was “à gauche,” or to the left, and we probably would have kept walking in that general direction had it not been for the helpful English-speaking French mother taking her two young boys to see some tennis.
  Bus stop for the free shuttles to Roland Garros from the metro station, if you can actually find it.

While we snapped a commemorative photo with the French Open poster at the bus stop, we almost missed the shuttle that had just arrived, again but for the same mother, because it looked just like a minivan pulling over.  It barely sat the five of us; we had expected some big bus plastered with big Roland Garros signs.  Only when we got to the stadium complex did we realize that there was a whole fleet of these minivans.  It made eminent sense when you think about it:  big buses would not fit on the surrounding small Parisian drives and small minivans can make more frequent trips.  French logic, 15; small-minded American assumption, 0.

When we arrived, instead of lines for prospective spectators, there was simply a mass of people gathered at the front gate, each waiting for a chance to be an “evening visitor.”  We hoped for the best but decided that we would be content just being in the same vicinity as this Grand Slam event.  Somewhere in the crowd we heard someone utter the same ominous “bon chance” we had heard previously while waiting in line for four hours at the Préfecture de Police to get Nez’s residency papers.  But alas luck was not on our side today, nor the side of anyone else around us.  It turned out that there were already hundreds of people waiting in line behind the gate for about a hundred available evening tickets.  Unlike the previous rainy days, Day 4 of the French Open was nice and sunny, and these folks must have arrived long before 5.

Because it was still nice out and because we have gone this far, we decided to walk around and check out the site, and experience the French Open, if only vicariously.  Walking along the outside fence on avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil, we could hear the roars of the crowd and see the throngs of people moving from one court to the next.  And then, out of the blue, what did we see but two players hitting the ball back and forth on a court.  It was unbelievable.  For whatever reason, there was no tree where a tree should have been along a long line of trees ringing the perimeter.  It so happened that this missing tree sat above and behind the baseline, giving a semi-obstructed view of the action below.

  The “free seats” attract people from all walks of life.
  Court 17, Women’s singles, 1st round:  “Blue” v. “Maroon”

We, and a small group of passersby, thus came to enjoy an exciting women’s singles match between a muscular, hard-hitting but slightly poorer shot placement player in maroon and a more svelte, constantly grunting player in blue playing with a bit more finesse.  We didn’t know who they were (the occasional Israeli and Australian flags in the stands did not help much in that endeavor), what the score was, or where they were in the match.  We didn’t even know whether it was proper to applaud a nice play from the “free seats.”  But we knew we were watching tennis at the French Open and that was fun and satisfying enough.

We had everything the occasion fan of the game could ask for on the first trip to Roland Garros.  We had a mildly bored chair umpire more preoccupied with his blazer’s appearance and giving disapproving glances at the rowdy blue crowd than the match itself.  We had players expertly sliding into their shots and the unmistaken marks left by the balls on the clay surface.  And, we had the realization that this whole adventure cost us a mere 90 (euro) cents, the amount in coins we managed to gather for the tip jar of the minivan driver on the return trip.

When it was all over and the players had headed back to the locker room, we decided we must come back again.   Maybe next time we’ll see the French Open from the inside.   Only when we got home that we learned we had seen Samantha Stosur (maroon shirt) of Australia defeat No. 17 seed Shahar Peer (blue shirt) of Israel 6-2, 3-6, 6-1.
  We’re going to the French Open,
you better believe it!

Roland Garros or bust, Part II    Go!

Copyright © 2008  Rien, Vraiment!  All rights reserved.