Roland Garros or bust, Part II.

PARIS — 30 May 2008.  Our second Roland Garros adventure featured a character named Jean-Luc Lunquich, whose one brief appearance nevertheless fundamentally changed the whole course of events.  Monsieur Lunquich is a member of the French Open organization and when we woke up at 8:30 this morning he was just beginning another day on the job, and the three of us had never met.  

For Day 6 of the French Open, or officially, Championnats Internationaux de France, we decided to arrive early in hope of getting one of the “remaining seats for sale” starting at 10 a.m.  (We discovered that these tickets were also available in addition to the “evening tickets.”  It pays to read the web posting carefully.)  Because the forecasters predicted another rainy day (they were wrong), we thought that odds were many people would decide to stay home instead of sitting in their seats watching the rain.  We were wrong.

We were also late, as we were no longer accustomed to waking up early.  When we arrived at the stadium complex we encountered the same disorganized mob at the gate.  Beyond that we could see snaking lines with hundreds more hopefuls.   Still riding from the high of the previous visit, we said, “why not?” and joined the their ranks.  While we waited we overheard an older American couple discussing the chances of getting tickets with a Brazilian who had been successful a few days before.   The good news:  wait two hours and you’ll probably get tickets to the outside courts.  The impatient half of the American couple didn’t want to waste her time, the more patient (or wishful) half pleaded, “Maybe we wait fifteen minutes and see.”  Fifteen minutes later we had made our way closer to the gate only because many people had given up, including the American couple.

  Perseverance, patience, loads of free time, and sheer stubborness will get you this far; luck will put you at ticket window 7 (inset).

While there was a clear lack of organization with the queues, someone had the foresight to think about providing entertainment for the waiting crowds:  clowns (mimes would have brought down the house).  When it was time to let our mob through the barricade into the inside lines it was everyone for him or herself despite repeated pleas of “ne poussez pas.”  But we got through and found ourselves in the inner lines still buoyant; it had only been about an hour of waiting.  These inner lines were more orderly, only if because there was less room for people to push their way forward.  But that did not stop a mother and son from coolly walking past us and everyone else in front.  Eyes were rolled but no one bothered confronting them; sadly, the child seemed a pro at cutting himself.

Before long we got to the front of the line and was told to go to “guichet sept.”  We quickly walked up to Window 7 only to find no one behind the glass.  Did the man say guichet sept or six?  But before we became overly worried, the clerk, who had been talking to another person in the back, came back to her seat.   We asked for the best available seats but were told only outside court tickets were available.  Deflated, we inquired again if there were indeed no tickets for the two main stadia:   Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen.  The ticket agent repeated that no tickets were available for Chatrier but her friend, the one she was talking to when we came to the window, had two Lenglen tickets to sell if we were interested.   If we were interested?  We didn't just wait for almost two hours not to be interested.


She tapped on the window behind her and called out to him.  She then told us to get out of line to deal with him directly.  We were nervous about leaving the line but we had already said we were interested.  The man was very nice.  He showed us two e-tickets and said that these were “really good seats in the red zone” and “not high up.”  We expressed our concern about the non-transferability issue we had read about on the tournament’s website.  The man, instead, thought we were concerned about his rightful ownership of the tickets.  To prove that he was the person whose name appeared on the tickets he took out his ID card.  It read, “Jean-Luc Lunquich,” and rightful ownership was confirmed.  Slightly embarrassed that we appeared to have doubted him, we asked about the transferability issue again.  This time, he understood.  He said not to worry; he was “part of the organization.”  To prove it, he called over a ticket agent to scan us in without a hitch.  (To be sure, M. Lunquich was not abusing his authority; e-tickets are transferable with certain limitations.)  

And just like that, we were in.  For 120 €, we got two tickets to Court Suzanne Lenglen, Stairway 2, Row 11, Seats 86 and 88. (Only upon checking the official website once we got home did we realize that we got these tickets below the face value.  Even if he had gotten some sort of employee discount, the astute gentleman had not thought of turning a big profit.)  Realizing that Lenglen is only second in prestige to the center court, Chatrier, out of the entire 20 venues, we knew we were in for some great matches.  Monsieur Lunquich even threw in a copy today’s program (regular price, 4 €).  We shook his hand and made a beeline for all the tennis excitement ahead of us.  It was 12:30 p.m.
  Seek and (perhaps) you shall find:
Monsieur Lunquich’s former tickets.
  From where we sat, blue sky and clay court:
Court Suzanne Lenglen, Row 11, Seats 86 and 88.

We quickly grabbed some food to quell our hunger.  But before we could see any tennis, Nez had to make a phone call.   Realizing what we had in store for us, she decided to forgo her hair appointment at 5 p.m. today (which was scheduled when we thought outside courts was our best case scenario).  Now, she could just not show up but that would have been bad form, not to mention needlessly adding to the negative stereotype of the American tourist.  We looked up the number on Riot’s Blackberry (which is typically only used for business purposes) but needed to bum a call off someone’s cell phone (the pay phones there only accepted phone cards).  We tried one security guard who had just gotten off his cell but he politely explained, in French, that it was not possible for a reason we did not fully understand.  We walked around some more before zeroing on another guy with a cell phone.  He was taking a cigarette break from his job at a kiosk peddling cell phones.   Surely he would agree, we thought.  And, he did, even refusing our offer to compensate him.  Merci , M. bon Samaritain .

It took us a little while to find Lenglen, a huge structure at the end of a wide thoroughfare.  (We even briefly sat in on a match in Court 2 before realizing that it was too small to be Lenglen.)  When we finally reached our destination and were waiting for a break to go to our seats we heard, “avantage Mlle. Williams.”  That must mean only one thing:  one of the Williams sisters was playing on the inside.  To think that we went from watching a match between a No. 18 and No. 149, from outside the fence, to watching a Williams sister inside a main court.  This day could not be any better.

  Serena’s ground stroke in the waning minutes, not a gymnastic routine.
  Just like that, an early favorite washed out, and we had barely sat down in our seats.

Once inside, we witnessed the final games between a listless Serena Williams (No. 5 seed, WTA rank: 5th) and the confident Slovenian Katarina Srebotnik (No. 27 seed; WTA rank: 24th).  Even to our untrained eyes, Serena seemed out of it even before she was out of the tournament.  Riot took a few shots as the game came to a close with Srebotnik defeating one of this year’s favorites, 6-4, 6-4.  He was a bit hesitant at first but the sight of dozens of (amateur) cameras in action, including ones with large, conspicuous telephoto lenses and even a few camcorders, reassured him that sometimes things posted on the official website were more of guidelines than hard-and-fast rules:

It is strictly forbidden to photograph, film or record matches played at Roland-Garros
and/or any public exhibition and/or training session held within the stadium without
the express authorisation of the Fédération Française de Tennis or of persons
duly mandated to issue such authorisation.

Next up was Rafael Nadal (No. 2 seed; ATP rank: 2nd) v. Jarkko Nieminen (No. 26 seed; ATP rank: 26th).  The Spaniard Nadal had only played the French Open three times and already he was looking to win this fourth consecutive title this year.   For the lovers of superlatives, some would say that he is the best clay court player in the world.  The crowd gave Nadal a rousing applause as he entered with his bright green sleeveless shirt and bandana and the trademark capri pants (apparently called “piratas” trousers).  Nez noticed his propensity to tug at his underwear after every point, very publicly.  The more conservatively dressed Finn mustered a good effort against the favorite to keep the match interesting and entertaining.
  Forehand, backhand, serve, matching green bandana and sleeveless shirt, and pirate pants – Nadal displayed them all.

We quickly got drawn into the emotion and beautiful tennis of the match, enthusiastically cheering the amazing winners, wincing sympathetically at the spectacular misses, and joining the crowd's rhythmic clapping in close games.  This dazzling display of talent ended with Nadal victorious, 6-1, 6-3, 6-1.

  Conservative in dress but not in play, Nieminen put up a valiant effort in spite of Nadal’s dominance.
After a quick run to get some soft-serve it was time for more women’s singles action.  It was only when we stepped outside of the stadium that we realized how lucky we were sitting in the shady part of the stadium.  The daytime heat was over bearing; one elderly spectator fainted and had to be carried out during the previous match.  When play resumed, it was a match between France’s 18-year-old tennis darling, Alizé Cornet (No. 19 seed; WTA rank: 20th), and Poland’s 19-year-old Agnieszka Radwanska (No. 14 seed; WTA rank: 15th).  It was an unabashedly partisan crowd.  When Cornet was leading 4-1 in the first set it seemed as though victory was a foregone conclusion.  During breaks, a few young girls across the stadium unfurled a sign that read, “Alizé, fait nous rêver” (which we think says, “makes us dream,” a relative of the “we believe” slogan of our hometown Warriors).  A frustrated Radwanska then steadied herself and proceeded to win the next five games to take the first set; the crowd was not deterred.  Random shouts of “allez” and “Alizé” were met by rhythmic chanting of “A-li-zé” clap-clap-clap.
There was a noticeable difference from the pace of the men’s game but the graceful ground strokes of the women’s made it a joy to witness.  But make no mistake, this was world-class tennis, grace notwithstanding.  In the end, Gallic pride would take a bruising as Alizé lost in straight sets, 4-6, 4-6.  An elderly spectator nearby stomped his cane in anger and his face betrayed deep, inconsolable disappointment.  The crowd applauded its fallen native daughter as well as the foreign victor; the players exchanged alternating pecks to the cheeks at the net.  Gracefulness through and through.

  There were no “Rad-wan-ska” clap-clap-clap chants from this partisan crowd, which made her victory all the sweeter.
  Alizé is the culmination of youth and talent, a fresh wind in the sail of French tennis pride, but not today.
For the fourth and final feature of the day, Lenglen offered a match up between the unseeded American, Wayne Odesnik (ATP rank: 106th) and third seed Serbian, Novak Djokovic (ATP rank: 3rd) who had incidentally just won the Australian Open.  When Odesnik started out nervously, serving hard but wide and hitting similarly, we were afraid it would be a rout.  But the American regained his composure and the two dueled to 5 games a piece in the first set before Djokovic pulled through 7-5.  The powerful and aggressive plays were the complete opposite of what we had seen in the previous match; we got to see why an ace is an ace, and saw all 20 of them.  In a moment of levity, Djokovic bounced the ball one time too many in getting ready to serve and looked up to find that Odesnik had walked away from the line.  The crowd erupted in laughter.
  20 aces, power tennis, and a break for laughter: Djokovic and Odesnik battled it out in the last match of the day.

By then, we were getting tired and hungry after a long day but managed to stay until the two-hour-plus match ended with the Serb victorious, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2.  We gave our fellow countryman a well-deserved round of applause (as did the crowd) and watched Djokovic self-mockingly perform his excessive ball bouncing once more for the crowd before launching it high into the stands. .

It was near 8 p.m. when we finally left Lenglen; we had watched over 7 hours of incredible tennis.  We might be excused to feel just as beat as any of the players we just saw but we were also all smiles.  And, still astonishingly amazed at how it all happened.  How did we end up with excellent seats at Lenglen when we originally set out, with just a prayer, for any seat at all.  If we had pushed or were pushed a bit harder at the beginning, we might not have ended up at Window 7 where we found an agent who had just spoken with her friend who happened to have great tickets to sell.  Or, if we had raised a stink about the cutting lady and her son, the person behind us would have wound up at Window 7.  If we had gotten up earlier, and so on.  In the end, the timing had to be just right and it was.  All the pieces had to fall into their places and they did.  


We were still floating on air during the 25-minute ride home from métro Porte de Saint-Cloud.  Thus came to an end another beautiful day and an unforgettable experience in our new hometown; this is a beautiful existence indeed.

Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Lunquich!

“Today, let’s go watch tennis at the French Open,”
it simply doesnt get any better than this!
Roland Garros or bust, Part I    Go!
Signing off.
At the end of each match, the winner is asked to autograph a glass plate affixed to a mobile camera and the process is shown on the widescreen for all to see (and photograph).  This is Rafael Nadal and his autograph (backward, of course).

Copyright © 2008  Rien, Vraiment!  All rights reserved.