© Ella Ling

Clay court

Roland Garros diary - late nights and heavy balls


It probably won’t have escaped anyone’s attention over the past 10 days at Roland Garros that there seem to have been an awful lot of late finishes, with play going past 9.30pm local time on a number of occasions. With Wimbledon now having a roof, the French Open remains the last grand slam event yet to give in to floodlights, which is a great thing for the press, who at least have half a chance (and it’s still no more than that) of escaping the place in time to grab something to eat on the way home before doing it all again the next day. It is inevitable that lights will be introduced at some stage, especially when the site is redeveloped in a few years’ time, and some of the players who have been involved in the late night sessions would probably approve of the help of a little light.

Another reason the play has been going on for so long is the length of each match, especially in the men’s event. Before the start of play on Wednesday, there had been 27 five-set matches in the men’s singles, up from just 16 (over the entire tournament) in 2011. The average number of five-setters over the 10 previous years (2001-2011) at Roland Garros – again over the entire tournament – is 23.8. With many players desperate to get into the Olympics, perhaps everyone is trying even harder than usual. Perhaps the increase in prize money for the early rounds is an added incentive to give absolutely everything.

But – and this is the important thing – 27 is high (it could, of course, end up even higher), but not extreme. There were 33 here in 2001 and it seems that perhaps 2011 was exceptionally low. Then, the players complained how hard and fast the new Babolat balls were; this time they have noted that the balls are softer and heavier and that it is harder to hit winners.

The French Open is also the only one of the grand slams not to use the Hawk-Eye challenge system. This, traditionally, is because the ball mark can be seen by everyone concerned, with the umpire having the final say if he or she decides to come down onto the court to have a look when it is close. It’s an integral part of the tournament and one of the things that people identify with. In theory, there is no need for the technology when the mark is there but it always leaves open the chance for human error.

This fortnight, there have been a number of occasions when the umpires appear to have picked the wrong mark, including matches involving Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki. The television companies here do have access to Hawk-Eye, as a broadcasting tool and several times, it has suggested calls made by identifying the marks were “incorrect”. Hawk-Eye’s margin for error is 3 millimetres so there is always an element of chance but some players have been annoyed by poor officiating. However, don’t expect Hawk-Eye to be used officially here in the near future. The French Tennis Federation told The Tennis Space there are no plans for it to be introduced nor is it likely to be on the table at any time in the near future.