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The two days I spent at Roland Garros (the French Open) in 2013 were momentous for me. As someone who picked up tennis at a young age and has watched the game on TV for as long as she can remember, I couldn’t believe that I was finally in watching a ball being batted around on the terre battue in the country it belonged in (rather than in Houston, which still plays host to a clay court tournament every April). Not only that, but as I stepped foot into the Roland Garros grounds, I completed my personal Grand Slam after having been to the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open previously.
Having spent time at all of the other Grand Slams, as well as some of the smaller tournaments on the ATP Tour, there were a number of things I noticed that were quite different than the English Grand Slams. Things like the gorgeous ivy around the stadium and the insistence of the French on doing the wave every five minutes gave the tournament its own unique personality.
That unique personality extends to the logistics of the event as well. If you have tickets and are blessed with perfect weather and a lineup of all your favourite players on the court you bought tickets to, you’ll probably have a great time regardless. Often that’s not the case, but as long as you’re prepared it won’t put a damper on your day. Here are five of my top tips on how to be best prepared:
Roland Garros takes its ticket sales incredibly seriously. I’ve never encountered such a strict system at any other tennis tournament (although I have seen it at music festivals and other similar events). When you buy your tickets, you provide a name to go on the tickets. This name is set in stone the day before play, so if you want to transfer the tickets to someone else, you have to do so before this point. Then, you must show acceptable ID (passports, no foreign driver’s licenses) to get in the gate (which sounds like it will take forever, but is actually quite efficient).
This system appears to be quite effective at stopping both scalpers and fans alike from purchasing tickets, as you can tell from the tiny crowds you see on TV in the first few days. You cannot purchase tickets at the door, so there is no point going to the tournament grounds unless you have a ticket in hand (I saw a number of frustrated people turn around and leave when they realised this). Like at all major events, scalpers line the streets outside of Roland Garros hawking tickets of every kind, but I’m really not sure how you would be able to buy these and sneak past the ID check. So my recommendation is just don’t do it.
Roland Garros provides two official methods of buying tickets: through the Roland Garros ticketing website, which opens in early March to the general public, and through their official resellers, who generally sell them as part of package tours.
The RG ticketing website has two ways of buying tickets — you can either get them when they go on sale in March, or you can watch their resale website starting in April in hopes that the ticket you would like becomes available. When I started looking in April 2013 for specific tickets — the first two days on Phillippe Chatrier — neither had anything available. As the event inched closer, more tickets became available and I eventually found the tickets I wanted for roughly €110. If I’d waited until closer to the event I could have gotten them cheaper (as of writing, tickets for the first day of this years’ event are €78), but as I was planning my trip to France around the tournament, I wanted to have guaranteed seats.
It’s worth noting that Roland Garros used to partner with Viagogo for the official resale of tickets, but this partnership has ended and they make it very clear on this official announcement that they consider any resale of tickets on Viagogo to be illegal.
Also, since you have to purchase tickets in advance, it’s very likely that you’ll be buying tickets without knowing who is actually playing on that court. It’s good to know that there’s usually about 3 matches per show court and will be a mix of men’s and women’s matches. Unless you want to see Rafa Nadal play (like I did), it’s hard to even pick which stadium your favourite player will be playing on. Even I had to guess with my tickets, since the first round is now spread out over three days and I could only attend for two; I ended up guessing that Rafa would play on one of the first two days on Phillippe Chatrier and he played on Monday (thankfully).
My only recommendation for getting to see the player you want to see is to go at least two days in a row. Alternate halves of the draw play on successive days, so if you go on say, Monday and Tuesday you’ll see a much larger spread of the draw than if you went on Tuesday and Thursday. Otherwise, your guess is as good as mine!
Roland Garros is situated in Paris’ 16th arrondissement, which is the westernmost in the city. If, like most people, you don’t want to stay that far out of the city, you’ll have to find a way to the grounds. Aside from the fact that the French seemed to be crazily aggressive drivers so I wouldn’t want to be duking it out on the roads with them, there is also very little close parking to the tournament. There are a number of free car parks provided, but they are about 1km from the grounds, so you’ll either have to walk or wait in line for one of the courtesy shuttles to the grounds.
For most visitors it will be simpler to catch the Metro. While it seems like there are stops every 50m, it actually only takes a bit over 20min from the centre of Paris out to Porte d’Auteuil on the 10 line (the 9 line to Michel-Ange Auteuil or Michel-Ange Molitor is also an option). You won’t have to worry about missing your stop, since everyone on the train will get off with you.
When leaving Roland Garros, you should go to either Michel-Ange Auteuil or Michel-Ange Molitor stations for line 9 or Michel-Ange Molitor for line 10. There will be signs pointing out how to get there from the grounds. Unless you’re going outbound, there is no point going back to Porte d’Auteuil as it is on a one-way section of track and you’ll have to continue outbound and then change trains. Walking a bit further is definitely the quicker option here!
For more information on every mode of transport possible, visit the Roland Garros “Getting There” page.
It’d be nice to think that, because the tournament is held in late May, the weather will be summery and warm. That’s often a pipe dream, as I found when the thermometer hit 6ºC the morning of the first day of play last year. Because I was traveling around the continent with just a backpack, I wore pretty much all the clothes I had that day and was very tempted to buy a jacket on the Champs Elysées on the way to the tournament. Then, on the second day, temperatures were up in the mid-20s and I felt bogged down by the extra clothes I’d brought to bundle up in.
Moral of the story: be prepared for any temperature. Pack layers and a decent thickness coat; it’s much nicer to carry them around not needing them than to freeze in the completely uncovered stadiums all day, especially since there are very few places where you can hide indoors at Roland Garros. There are a few shops, but unlike the Australian Open, where there are multiple covered courts, everything is left to the elements here.
Another very big possibility is the chance of rain. Make sure you bring an umbrella — or a poncho, but I don’t know if the Parisians sitting next to you would appreciate that fashion sense — and be ready to sit under it for a fair amount of time, since you’ll want to see as much as you can if it does stop raining. You will only receive a full refund if less than 90 minutes of play happen on your court; you’ll get a 50% refund if less than 2 hours of play are completed.
I was hoping that the food at Roland Garros would be typically French, but while there were baguettes and macarons on offer, it all seemed to be of the generic quality you’ll get at any event around the world. I ended up having a double hot dog one day, and that’s about as American as you can get!
Unlike at many American events, though, there were no regulations regarding what food and drinks you could bring onto the grounds (provided they weren’t in glass containers). With as many options for food as Paris has to offer, it’d be a shame to waste all those meals on event food. Pick up a baguette or whatever other food you can and bring it into the grounds with you. You’ll save quite a bit of money this way as well.
As mentioned above, unless you’re buying tickets online at the last minute, it’s impossible to know who will be playing on your court on any day. Luckily, a show court ticket gets you access to all of the non-show courts around the grounds, giving you 18 courts (your show court + courts 2-18) to choose from (although it’s important to note that courts 2 and 3 are only available to grounds pass holders for the first week of the tournament).
In the first few days of the tournament especially, these courts are packed with big names and fascinating matches that just couldn’t be squeezed into the three main courts. While it didn’t happen at Roland Garros, the Nicolas Mahut-John Isner epic that spanned 3 days and 5 sets (including a 70-68 final set) is an example of the type of match you might be lucky enough to watch on an outside court. Starting towards the end of the first week, there are plenty of entertaining doubles matches to watch too — which are worth a watch especially since they so rarely get aired on TV!
Big name players often warm up on the outside courts as well. I was at a bit of a loose end on my first morning at Roland Garros because Serena was playing on Court Phillippe Chatrier and I really wasn’t interested. I saw huge crowds packed around courts 9 and 11, so I wandered over to find Novak Djokovic practicing right next to Rafa Nadal, who was getting ready to defend his 7th Roland Garros crown. Needless to say, it was quite difficult to get a spot in the crowd, so I stood on a box behind Rafa’s court to snap a few shots. There were about 5 or 6 of us packed onto something that wasn’t supposed to hold anyone’s weight, so eventually the security guys made us move along — but they at least let us take a few photos first!
Getting around the grounds is quick and easy, since they are by far the smallest and most compact of any of the Grand Slams. A map is provided on every e-ticket although it doesn’t have a lot of detail; I believe the daily schedule of play/guide would have better maps inside.
Hopefully, with the help of these tips you’ll have a fantastic day out at Roland Garros. I wish you many long topsy-turvy matches and even more renditions of the wave!