The French Get Happy at Roland Garros

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Paris is oozing tennis again – it’s that time of year when the Roland Garros Tournament (also known as the French Open) descends upon this city with its old stars, new stars and star surprises.  It is also the time of year when, at least for the first week of play, while there still are plenty of French players in competition, the local tennis fans become extremely patriotic.  They don’t wave French flags but they use their vocal prowess and hand-clapping skills to show their support and national pride.  I was lucky enough to be present at one match that was a prime example of a French “pep rally.”  However, the truth be told, it was an extremely lonely experience as I was rooting for the American.

The Second Longest Match in French Open History

You see, it was the record-breaking match of the “Marathon” tennis man, John Isner versus the Parisian favorite, Paul-Henri Mathieu.   The match lasted over five and a half hours – it was extremely close with so many moments where it could have gone either way.  In the end, Paul-Henri Mathieu (the cute guy with 3 first names) won (18 -16).  In those long five and a half hours, I got to watch various demonstrations of French national pride, which was fine.  I can totally understand why the fans would be for Mathieu; he is an incredible player.  But I was for the “other guy” and there were only about four other Isner fans hidden in the enormous “Court Central”.   I had to be very discreet.

Holding Court All by Himself

I can only imagine how difficult it must have been for John Isner to psychologically go it alone out there.  If he challenged the call of a line judge, the crowd booed and hissed at him.  I even heard someone yell “On est chez nous ici” meaning that they were on home territory, as if that had anything to do with anything.   I wanted to say something snappy and nasty to that fan (he was sitting right behind me); but I was clearly outnumbered.  I just screamed my support for Isner in my inner mind, where it was safer.

Another thing that the French fans criticized in Isner was his amazing ability to mark up those aces.  He was hitting them often and powerfully, most of them at over 200 kms an hour.  The lady next to me said that was not “fair play”.  I couldn’t let that one go by and I asked her would it be “fair play” if the French guy was hitting aces like Isner.  She smiled smugly – of course she would have been thrilled if Paul-Henri was hitting those babies.   He did hit a few too, and no one complained when he did, but he was nowhere near the 59 aces that John Isner had in only two matches.  Incredible.

If You’re Happy and You Know It…

Isner and Mathieu are both outstanding players who gave an unforgettable performance for the thousands of lucky fans who were there at Roland Garros.   The sun was shining; the pigeons were smiling and the French were shouting “Ole!” and doing one group wave after another.  They chanted the French player’s nickname in unison at least a hundred times, “Allez Po-Lo, allez Po-Lo!”  And they did applaud John Isner when the match was finally over – that was generous of them.

I admit I was disappointed and would have preferred to see Isner win but it was fun to see so many happy French people cheering in one place.  Paul-Henri Mathieu made an amazing comeback and this marathon match is now engraved in Roland Garros history.  That’s just the way tennis ball bounces.  In the end, it’s all good.  And the US Open is just two months away.

PS If you want to check out a little bit of French tennis happiness, here’s a video of the matchpoint.




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