The French Open for Dummies

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The French Open for Dummies
(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Maybe you’re reading this to impress your new tennis freak boss or that cute girl who always walks around with her tennis racket. Or maybe it’s to prep for the $1000 question in the Tennis category on ‘Jeopardy’ and make sense of the 10 hours of tennis you’re recording because you hate empty space on your DVR.

 

Whatever the reason, you want to learn about the French Open. So here are the few things you need to know but are too busy to ask. They’re the essentials distilled down to the five Ws.


WHAT

 

The French Open is one of four really, really important tennis tournaments known as the Grand Slams and the only one of them played on clay courts. Clay courts are slower, so it’s hard for players to hit outright winners. As a result points last longer, and matches require more physical endurance.

 

The tournament, which has both men’s, women’s and mixed events, is also referred to as Roland Garros.

As with all Grand Slams, winning the men’s and women’s singles events requires going through seven rounds (and winning seven matches). To win a match men have to win three sets of a possible five, and women have to win two sets of a possible three. 


WHEN

 

The tournament starts on May 24, and like the other Grand Slams, lasts two weeks. The quality of play is generally better in the second week, when the fourth round matches, quarterfinals, semifinals and finals take place.

 

The French Open is the second Grand Slam of the year. The Australian Open, which starts in January, precedes it. Wimbledon, which starts in late June, follows it. The US Open, the last Grand Slam of the year, starts in August and takes place in New York.


WHERE

 

The French Open is held–you guessed it–in France. It takes place in Paris in Roland Garros Stadium, a venue that’s more intimate than the other Grand Slams.

 

For general French Open news, tennis player statistics and other information, you don’t have to go all the way to Paris. Your computer will do:

 

* Official French Open website: http://www.rolandgarros.com

* Official women’s tennis (WTA) website: http://www.sonyericssonwtatour.com

* Official men’s tennis (ATP) website: http://www.atpworldtour.com

* TV schedule: http://www.rolandgarros.com/en_FR/about/tvschedule.html

 

Your best bet is to watch the tennis on TV. In the United States you can catch it on ESPN2, The Tennis Channel, and NBC.


WHO

 

Rafael Nadal, that’s who. Nadal has never lost at the French Open. That’s right…never. He’s World No. 1 and defending champion. The big story–the only story according to some–is whether he’ll win a fifth straight French Open. If he does he’ll become the first man ever to do that. If he doesn’t he’ll shock the tennis world.

 

The other story is Roger Federer’s quest to win his first French Open. Federer may be on his way to becoming the greatest tennis player ever. Currently though he’s No. 2 and in a bit of a funk (by Federer standards anyway). Winning the French Open would give him much-needed confidence and keep him moving toward greatest-ever status.

 

The top of the women’s game has been in flux since Justine Henin inexplicably retired last year while still No. 1. No one’s been able to hold on to the top ranking–not even Serena Williams, who’s practically a living legend (if you don’t believe it, just ask her).

 

Dinara Safina became No. 1 in April and won the last two clay court tournaments, but she’s never won a Grand Slam. Many in the tennis world don’t consider a player without a Grand Slam a legitimate No. 1, and the media’s made sure Safina knows it. A French Open title would grant legitimacy to her ranking–and shut her critics up.


WHY

 

So Nadal fans can froth at the mouth as their beloved Rafa hoists yet another French Open trophy? The tournament will serve to answer this and other questions (some more important than others):

 

* Can Nadal win his fifth straight French Open? Can Federer win his first?
* How much hair product will pretty boy Fernando Verdasco (aka 'Hot Sauce' or No. 8) use in Paris?
* Can Safina win her first Grand Slam and prove she deserves the No. 1 ranking?
* How many physical ailments will World No. 5 Jelena Jankovic complain about during her stay in Paris?
* Will there be chaos on the women’s side? Will the top four players make the semifinals on the men’s side?
* How will tennis superstar Maria Sharapova play after a nine-month break owing to a shoulder injury?
* Which top players will have to skip the French Open because of injury?

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