RED. Among a lot of things, Roland-Garros is also a color. Same as the hallowed red dirt called clay. Today I wanted to know more about this thin and homogenous material, which lightness and adapted grip are crucial for a good game.
Before hitting the courts to investigate, I walked my way through the village to the Moët Hennessy Lounge to meet some new faces and say hi to the regulars. And it hit me. Many items are Red in the lounge. Red cushions, mural art, table lamps, shelves, pencils... Red as the clay covering the courts.
I gotta look into it, it is mandatory.
A red powder sprinkling along with the movement of the players steps as it is drawing their trajectory. Henri adds a notch to the mystery by confirming there is a « je ne sais quoi » that makes it special and velvety. He is one of many who make sure the right amount is always spread before the games begin and during intermission, and the surface is equalized.
80 tons of Crushed clay bricks originating from the North of France are shipped to Roland-Garros every year. To ensure a constant quality of the product through the years, the mixture is tested in labs before it is delivered, so bad surprises towards the players are avoided. It is certified by the French Federation of Tennis.
This morning, like every tournament’s morning, Henri and his colleagues uncovered the annex courts and swept them to even the clay. After every game, they sweep, brush and water the fields, and finally at night, they water it thoroughly!
Since the weather in Paris is pretty moody, they always keep a red Tarpaulin in some accessible area of the court, to protect the red velvet ground in case of rain. The state of the field affects strongly the game, defensive players can take advantage from a humid clay soil, as for the attackers, they would in a weak position.
Playing on clay is slower and more tactical then competing on grass or synthetic surfaces. It’s full of subtleties, Sliding on clay have to be learned!
Clay is demanding, and the question remains, will Rafa maintain his title as King of Clay?