The French Open: Watching Top Tennis in Paris

Aerial view showing Roland Garros tennis stadium and the Jean Bouin Practice Center.
Aerial view showing Roland Garros tennis stadium and the Jean Bouin Practice Center.

The Lure of the Terre Batteu: Visiting Roland-Garros for the French Open

By Greg Roensch

Courtside during the French Open at Roland-Garros stadium in Paris. Greg Roensch photos.
Courtside during the French Open at Roland-Garros stadium in Paris. Greg Roensch photos.

Paris has so much to offer. The sheer abundance of sights, sounds, smells, and tastes in “la Ville Lumière” (the city of light), can boggle the mind, add inches to your waistline, burn a hole in your wallet, and wear out the soles of even your best walking shoes.

But, if you’re visiting Paris between late May and the first week of June, here’s something you might want to try, especially if you enjoy watching world-class athletes perform on one of the grandest stages in their sport.

Each spring in Paris, tucked away in the outskirts of the city sits Roland-Garros, the site of the French Open, one of four grand slam events on the annual tennis calendar.

Whether you’re a tennis fanatic (I’m not) or a casual observer (that’s more my style), there’s a lot to be said for hopping on the Paris Metro and heading out to the terre batteu, the famed clay courts where so many tennis legends have made—and continue to make—their mark on the history of the sport.

New Roland Garros Practice Courts

The new Jean-Bouin practice center, just a few blocks away from the main French Open site is a popular place to watch the pros get ready to compete. It has nine practice courts, a player lounge, restaurant, fitness area and working press box.

While I’m more of a casual observer than a hardcore fan, I found the lure of the terre batteu too great to pass up.

Getting Tickets

The metro is the best way to get to Rolland Garros.
The metro is the best way to get to Rolland Garros.

If you know you’re going months in advance, you can log into the official French Open website and plan your trip in an organized and well-thought-out fashion. If on the other hand, you’re like me and find yourself in or around Paris during the French Open fortnight and decide at the spur of the moment to try to find a ticket, things can get a little more complicated.

The French Open sells out months in advance, but there are still ways to get into the tournament.

You can pay an exorbitant fee for your ticket on Craigslist Paris. You can connect with one of a variety of brokers looking to charge an arm, a leg, three fresh baguettes, and the rights to your firstborn tennis playing son or daughter for your ticket.

Or you can click on the official resale site for French Open tickets. “Voila,” this is the way to go.

Depending on the day you want to visit Roland-Garros (and, more importantly, who’s playing on the day), you can find reasonably priced tickets on the official resale site. Be aware, however, that you will have more options (and better options) at the start of the tournament than you will toward the end. Things begin to dry up the closer you get to the finals.

Thankfully, for me anyway, the site has an English language version, so within a few minutes, I had a ticket for the following day’s quarterfinal matchups in the men’s and women’s singles brackets.

A quick word about scalpers. For anyone who’s tempted to buy French Open tickets from a scalper, be forewarned that the French Tennis Federation has launched a major crackdown on scalping. You can always take your chances of getting lucky at the event, but you run a very high risk of being turned away at the gate. So, for me anyway, scalpers were not a viable option.

Getting There

Follow the yellow path to Roland-Garros.
Follow the yellow path to Roland-Garros.

Like anywhere in Paris, the Metro is an easy option for traveling to and from Roland-Garros, which is located in the 16th arrondissement near the Bois de Boulogne. This means your Metro ride will be roughly 30 to 40 minutes from the center of Paris (depending on where you are) on line 10 in the direction of Boulogne.

Get off the Metro at the Porte d’Auteuil station. From there, it’s an easy 5- to 10-minute walk on a clearly marked path with images of tennis balls placed on the pavement like breadcrumbs leading you to the mecca of clay-court tennis.

Upon your arrival at the gate, you’ll see firsthand some of the security efforts the French tennis authorities are making to prevent (or at least severely limit) any type of fraud or scalping.

Maria Sharapova serves at the 2014 French Open in Paris.
Maria Sharapova serves at the 2014 French Open in Paris.

You won’t have any trouble as long as you bring a printed version of your ticket with your name clearly indicated on that ticket (when buying your ticket from the official resale site, you will enter and verify your name before printing your ticket).

They’ll scan your printed ticket at the gate and exchange it for another printed ticket (again with your name on it). Then you’ll need to show your passport or other ID to prove the name on your ticket matches the name on your ID.

Yes, it was more difficult getting into the French Open than it was getting into France.

Tennis Anyone?

After passing through the turnstiles, you can get your bearings at Roland-Garros by picking up the Quotidian, a daily publication that provides the rundown of the day’s events. On the day I went to the French Open, the gates opened at 10 AM and my main events didn’t start on Court Phillip Chartier until 1 PM, so I had a few hours to wander around and check out the grounds of this massive tennis complex.

The famous red clay courts.
The famous red clay courts.

There are two main courts at Roland-Garros. Court Phillip Chartier is named after a longtime president of the French Tennis Federation, and Court Suzanne Lenglen is named for an early French tennis superstar. You can bone up on your tennis history and learn more about them at the Roland-Garros museum.

While you’re visiting the museum, you can also learn about Roland Garros, who was a famous French aviator who made the first non-stop flight across the Mediterranean.

He was also a WWI fighter pilot who was shot down and spent time in a German prisoner-of-war camp. After escaping the prison camp, he returned to military duty and was killed in action a month before the war ended. Prior to the war, he had been a regular at the tennis center that is now named in his honor.

Getting back to tennis, the Roland-Garros tennis center also features many Outside Courts. And you never know who you might see playing on these smaller courts away from the big crowds. Indeed, if you want to take in the French Open at a more affordable price, you can buy a ticket for access to the Outside Courts only.

You won’t be able to see a match on main courts this way, but you can still see a lot of great tennis.

On the Outside Courts, I caught parts of matches between up-and-coming junior players as well as matches featuring legends of the game. I also visited the practice courts where players were working with their coaches in final preparation for their upcoming match. And I watched a great match featuring the world’s top female doubles team on Court 1, also known as the “Bullring.”

If you need a break from tennis, there are plenty of shopping and dining options at Roland-Garros. You can choose from a huge selection of hats, shirts, socks, oversized tennis balls, seat cushions, and more to commemorate your French Open experience.

Greg Roensch

Greg Roensch owns and operates a one-man editorial service company called Six String Communications. When not writing and editing for work, he writes short stories, composes quirky pop songs, and likes to travel.

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