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Of French exotica


Rolland Garros is a tough nut to crack.
| Photo Credit: Getty Images

The French have had an important influence with their manifold contributions in modern world history. Though a small country matching only up to the size of South India, its burgeoning influence during the European scientific and cultural revolution in the 14th century elevated its stance on the world map. The French’s contributions are wide and versatile. The English language is replete with French words which add a certain degree of gravitas to proficient English speakers. Words such as entrepreneur, ballet, café, genre, bon appetit and bon voyage have French provenance.

Apart from literary contributions, the French have had significant other additions to our mundane lives. The French kiss (a passionate lip lock of a loving couple), French door and windows (a door with glass panes extending its whole length), French fries (sliced crispy potato fries, though first originated from Belgium), French toast (a bread toasted after soaking in eggs and milk), French leave (sneaking out without permission) and the lip-smacking French cuisine springs up in the mind immediately.

Often missed, I would like to add one more to this enticing list — the French Open. One of the four coveted grand slam tournaments usually happens in the first week of June, coinciding with the start of the academic year. As I glanced through the opening round matches of this year’s tournament, I had nostalgic memories of my childhood where the fragrance of new school books with their brown wrappers, the excitement of having new bags and boxes, and the apprehension of meeting unfamiliar, new teachers and friends, all interspersed with the 14 days of the French Open. Those were the days when Doordarshan would telecast only the semi-finals and finals, which kept us glued to the television screen over the evening on weekends. While the reddish-brown turf, eye-catching fluorescent yellow balls and the skilled muscular players offered a psychedelic delight, the thumping sound as the racquet meets the racing ball, the crowd’s cheers, boos and roars, and the players’ grunts and groans were auditory ecstasies.

The French Open is a different ball game because of its unique clay court. The ball takes some time to reach the racquet and the surface is completely different from Wimbledon’s grass and the synthetic turfs of U.S. and Australian Opens. Naturally, the trophy has eluded even much-exalted all-time greats such as Pete Sampras and Boris Becker. Contrarily, there were a few stalwarts such as Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya who shot to the Hall of Fame with expertise on clay courts.

French Open has had unique winners who cakewalked through the Open while coming a cropper in other courts. They were unknown names with early exits in other Grand Slams but had a meteoric rise in the French Open and were found to be a tough nut to crack. These included the mercurial Michael Chang, the swanky Gustavo Kuerton, the lanky Sergei Bruguera, the sleek Jim Courier and the reverse- flicking Alberto Bersategui. These specialists were quick on their legs, muscular with an athletic frame, and had enormous tenacity and endurance for long rallies.

The view of the crimson centre court with its precise white lines, green side boards, and the red dust that rises up as the racing serve hits the turf are delights to watch and I am sure you will fall in love with it. Au revoir.

rishiortho@gmail.com



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