Roger’s Roland Garros Diary Day Seven
Several important games were played on the recently opened Simmone Mathieu show court today. As well as being at least a one kilometre hike from Court 14, which I have done many times this week, the court is surrounded by gardens and glasshouses with specimen plants, trees and shrubs from all around the world.
Most tennis fans know that Roland Garros, full name “Eugène Adrien Roland Georges Garros” was a French pioneering aviator and fighter pilot during World War I and the early days of aviation. In 1928, the Roland Garros tennis stadium was named in his memory.
He was shot down and killed on 5 October 1918, a month before the end of the war and one day before his 30th birthday.
On the other hand very few people know who Simonne Mathieu was.
She was a prominent figure in French Tennis and indeed, French history. Born in Neuilly sur Seine on 31st January 1908, her childhood was marked by the tumultuous relationship she had with her father, a soldier in the First World War.
At the age of 12, she was in poor health and was advised to take up regular exercise. She chose to play tennis, encouraged by her brother Pierre, a talented young player and member of the Stade Français. In 1923, Simonne Mathieu won the Prix d’Automne, organised by the Racing Club de France, which is when she first started making a name for herself.
In 1925, she triumphed in the final of the French Junior Championships, entered into the French tennis elite and competed in the French Open for the first time. That same year, aged 17, she married René Mathieu, son of one of the founders and secretary general of the Stade Français.
Her husband was a journalist, a former rugby, tennis and badminton player, and ran tennis magazine Smash, but, moreover, he was chairman of the French Tennis Federation’s Press and Propaganda Committee for many years.
She won thirteen Grand Slam titles (two in singles, nine in doubles and two in mixed doubles) making her France’s second most successful female tennis player ever, after Suzanne Lenglen..
As well as serving her country on the tennis courts of the world she also served her country during World War II.
When the Second World War broke out in 1939, Simonne immediately withdrew from the tournament she was playing in New York and rushed back home to France. In 1940, she signed up to join the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the women’s branch of the British Army.
This was how she answered the famous appeal of 18th June 1940, launched by General de Gaulle. Simonne Mathieu did not hesitate to put her tennis career on hold and hastened to London to join the Free French Forces.
On 26th August 1944, the day of the Liberation of Paris, she marched up the Champs Elysées alongside General de Gaulle. Simonne Mathieu, the tennis champion, had become a captain of the French Army.
Now an army of gardeners are always at work year round to maintain her gardens befitting her memory.
Talking of “Gardening” there were chaotic scenes on Philippe Chatrier court tonight early in Novak Djokovic’s third round encounter with Daniel Elahi Galan.
As light rain as play started became a steady downpour with the new $350 million new structure including a roof slowly closing, Djokovic was playing in the “dry” end, as his opponent slipped in the “wet” end.
Getting no joy from the chair umpire or Tournament referee Djokovic indicated to his young inexperienced adversary to return to their chairs.
An army of court minders invaded the court and after about ten minutes of intense activity they left the court with the umpire apparently satisfied with the operation.
Novak however had other ideas and demonstrated to the chair umpire that in his opinion the court was unplayable in the area where Galan had earlier slipped.
The “terre-torial army” returned with rakes, brushes, spades and a wheelbarrow filled with replacement “terre battue”
Now seeing much more humour in this incident compared with the one at the recent US Openwhich lead to him being DQ’d Novak even joined in the operation raking over an area of the court, much to the crowd’s amusement.
And finally …
There’s always one constant at any Grand Slam, the dedicated skills and hard work and enthusiasm of the ballkids.
I would say Wimbledon has the best ball kids by a whisker but the Roland Garros run them close, especially as the teams this year have had to learn many new skills protecting themselves and others against possible Covid infection. Putting plastic gloves on when opening ball cans and returning used balls.
Of course they don’t touch the players towels, who have to place and retrieve their own issue of towels from strategically placed individual baskets at both sides and both ends of the courts level with the baseline. At the end of a match the players are responsible for taking their own towels and used water bottles off court with them.
Tonight I was working courtside tonight close to “serial Covid protocol abuser” Novak Djokovic as HE demonstrated on his ill-fated though well intentioned Adria Tour earlier this year.
Nole collected a stray ball during tonight’s match that had been thrown back onto the court by a spectator, and knocked it to a ballkid. The chair umpire immediately asked for it to be removed from further play, and a bemused Djokovic asked “why?”
“Because it has has (obviously) been touched by a spectator the umpire told him, but this did not seem to satisfy Novak.
Surely he of all people now understands the risks of picking up the coronavirus from contact? Perhaps not.