Wednesday, 4 June 2008

The Latest Quest IX

The suits were assembled just in front of the net, the ball boys and girls had formed a guard of honour and there was an air of pomp and circumstance - no it wasn't the award ceremony for a final - it was the launch of Roland Garros dans la Ville.

Wind whipped through the open esplanade adjacent to the Hotel de Ville on which a full sized court had been constructed. And though it was unseasonably chilly for the beginning of June, that was a mere bagatelle for the idea is hot.

Hot. Clearly the product of some blue skies thinking with the aim of making tennis all touchy feely with the people.

Christian Bîmes, the president of the French Tennis Federation and Bertrand Delanoë, the mayor of Paris, made their way past the logo laden goose-pimpled youths accompanied by the former players John McEnroe and Cedric Pioline.

Neither McEnroe nor Pioline ever won Roland Garros during their time on the circuit. McEnroe did win the US Open and Wimbledon a couple of times while Pioline was a runner up at Wimbledon.

But they all smiled for the cameras and while the players knocked up, the Chris and Berty show came to get touchy feely with the media.

They told the phalanx of microphones that it was all about making tennis accessible, giving the scores of disappointed people the chance to watch tennis collectively and maybe even inspiring some future champions. Well it costs nothing to hope.

And from Wednesday afternoon it will cost nothing to watch the matches as they'll be broadcast live on giant screens outside the Hôtel de Ville.

The start couldn't have come at a more opportune moment as Gael Monfils - the issue from the Parisian suburbs - was playing in his first grand slam quarter final. Sadly he was up against the fifth seeded Spaniard David Ferrer.

Of course the same match was on various TV channels but if you happen to be out and about, the giant screen at least affords a chance to stop off and catch up on the crunching and the grunting from way out west in the Bois de Boulogne.

There's also a mini-tennis court for the kids and a couple of stalls dishing out information about tennis and of course the history of Roland Garros, the second of the four grand slams.

I happened upon the French player Mary Pierce who actually has won Roland Garros and she was fulsome in her praise for the idea. Her favourite surface in the heart of her favourite city - maybe she'd been hanging for far too long with the Chris and Berty show.

But you cannot deny the thrust of her sentiments. I've watched a football match or two outside the Hotel de Ville, I can't remember anything about the games but I do remember it was a good experience.

You can't ask for more from a sport.