By J. Fred Sidhu
The French Open, an event filled with tradition and history, is the world's premier clay court tennis tournament.
Set in the southwestern part of the majestic French capital
of Paris, the French Open is played at Roland Garros, a magnificent
20-court tennis facility located in an area known as Porte d'Auteuil.
The French National Tennis Championships were first played in 1891. In 1925 the tournament became an international event.
In 1927, four French tennis players, Rene Lacoste, Henri Cochet, Jean Borotra and Jacques Brugnon defeated the United States in Davis Cup in Philadelphia.
Lacoste, Cochet, Borotra and Brugnon, who were to become known as the "Four Musketeers," were the driving force for a new stadium to be built to host the 1928 Davis Cup against the U.S.
Thus, the new stadium became known as Roland Garros Stadium, named after Roland Garros, a World War I pilot who disappeared in aerial combat in 1918 shortly before the Armistice.
The "Four Musketeers," would eventually lead France to six Davis Cup titles.
Today, the stadium, which now seats 15,166, is in the second year of a three-year expansion project.
The stadium has also been renamed, Le Court Central Philippe-Chatrier, after the former president of the French Tennis Federation, who died last year after a long illness.
A second stadium, which was built in 1994, seats 10,068. It is named Court Suzanne Lenglen after the French tennis star who won the tournament six times during the 1920s.
The French Open, which is known as Roland Garros, is unique in the fact that it is played on clay, a slow surface in which the momentum of the match can change with the blink of an eye.
Clay is also an equalizer. This fact was clearly present in a first round match between Pete Sampras of the United States and Cedric Kaufman, a little known Frenchman who entered the tournament through the qualifying rounds.
Kaufman, who came to Roland Garros ranked 250 in the world, was clearly more comfortable on clay than Sampras. He gave the American all he could handle as he extended Sampras for over three hours before losing 8-6 in the fifth.
Sampras, who has never won the title at Roland Garros, went out quietly in the next round to Spain's Galo Blanco in straight sets.
KUERTEN, CAPRIATI WIN TITLES
Brazil's Gustavo Kuerten, a favorite of the vocal French crowd, won his second consecutive French Open singles titles and the third of his career last Sunday as he defeated Alex Corretja of Spain, 6-7 (3), 7-5, 6-2, 6-0.
Kuerten was nearly defeated in the fourth round as he fell behind two-sets to love and 5-3 to Michael Russell, a qualifier from Florida. The Brazilian fended off one match point and eventually came back to win the match in five sets.
"Every single time I come here, it's kind of special," Kuerten said following his victory on Sunday. "For me, it's a special tournament. It's a place that I just love to be."
On the women's side, Jennifer Capriati of the United States won her first career French Open singles titles last Saturday as she outlasted Kim Clijsters of Belgium, in a 1-6, 6-4, 12-10 marathon.
Capriati, who won the Australian Open in January, has positioned herself to win the Grand Slam of tennis as she heads into Wimbledon, which begins later this month.
"I was fighting a very tough opponent," Capriati said after her win. "She played unbelievable the first set. Maybe I wasn't playing my best tennis, but at the right times I picked it up. It's just at the end is what counts."
This year at Roland Garros also provided a glimpse of two teenagers who could be stars of the future.
Guillermo Coria, a 19-year-old from Argentina, has jumped in the rankings from 720 to 88 this past year. He was unlucky to draw Kuertin in the first round and despite losing to the veteran, he showed he's more than capable of competing at a high level on clay.
Andy Roddick, an 18-year-old native of Nebraska, is the brightest American hope. In Paris, he delighted fans with a heart-stopping five-set victory in the second round over former champion, Michael Chang, despite suffering from cramps.
Even though Roddick had to retire from his third round match against Australia's Lleyton Hewitt due to a pulled hamstring muscle, he displayed the form that could bring him many titles in years to come.
What's the best thing about going to Roland Garros? When the matches are finished, you're in Paris.
This spectacular city offers the tourist and tennis fan everything and more.
One can enjoy the incredible French cuisine, a stroll down the famed Champs Elysees, and a visit to the top of the Tour Eiffel, Nortre Dame, the Musee du Louvre and the Arc de Triomphe.
No visit to Paris would be complete without a journey around Paris at night. Remember, Paris is the City of Lights.