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French Open notebook

News and notes on the French Open, tennis' second major championship of the season:

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 26, 2002

Many power players (like Pete Sampras) have struggled on the red clay at Roland Garros.

But why?

According to CBS Sportsline, the surface makes footing slippery, change of direction difficult and causes balls to bounce higher and slower. As a result, mobile players and baseliners who hit consistent shots throughout longer points can dictate play and are more likely to have success.


Jennifer Capriati and Gustavo Kuerten, the 2001 champions, are not considered prototypical clay-court players. Capriati prefers faster surfaces and Kuerten, a three-time winner in Paris, is a risk-taker.

Here are some other clay tidbits:

Matches run longer, but the softer surface is believed to be easier on the body.

Clay stays cooler than concrete and asphalt and is more absorbent. As a result, it dries more quickly after rain.

Strings wear faster than on other surfaces because of abrasion from the court's sediment.

A TRUE HONOR: Having a stadium bear your name is pretty easy these days ... if you're rich, that is (see Enron Field and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium).

Roland Garros, however, was a French aviation pioneer who made the first successful crossing of the Mediterranean on Sept. 23, 1913. He was killed in combat during World War I when his plane was shot down in 1918, five weeks before the armistice.

In 1928, a new stadium, which has been the French Open's home ever since, was named in his honor.

CROCODILE ROCK: Paris native Jean Rene Lacoste, who died in 1996 at the age of 92, is known for introducing the world to his polo-style, short-sleeved cotton shirt that included his familiar trademark, a crocodile, on the breast (You remember them from the 1980s, right?). Lacoste first gained fame on the tennis courts. He won three French (1925, '27, '29), two United States (1926, '27) and two Wimbledon (1925, '28) championships.

Lacoste, nicknamed "The Crocodile", debuted his revolutionary shirt in the 1920s.

There are several accounts as to how he earned his moniker. In one, Lacoste was likened to the animal by friends because of his tenacity. In another, he was said to have won a crocodile bag in a bet, and the media ran with it.

YEAH, THAT COULD HAPPEN TODAY: In 1966, Istvan Gulyas of Hungary allowed the men's final to be postponed 24 hours so his opponent, Australian Tony Roche, could receive treatment on an injured ankle. Roche recovered and won 6-1, 6-4, 7-5, the only Grand Slam singles championship of his career. It was Gulyas' lone Grand Slam final.

DARK HISTORY: No French Open was held during World War II, but Roland Garros wasn't empty. For part of the German occupation, the stadium was used as a temporary prison for Jews before they were transported to concentration camps.

30-LOUVRE MEETS 30-LOVE?: The Tenniseum, a museum dedicated to the history of tennis in France and, in particular, Roland Garros, is scheduled to open in 2003. Built under one of the courts at Roland Garros, it will house photos, illustrations, 5,000 hours of broadcasts, exhibitions and a permanent collection of about 100 rare objects of historical value. One exhibit will include rackets from the past 120 years.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: The tournament first took place in 1891 (women began playing in 1897), when entry was restricted to players registered with French clubs. The championship was opened to include the best foreign players in 1925.

ODDS AND ENDS: Approximately 360 umpires take the chair each year throughout the tournament. ... Only once has the top seed lost in the first round (Stefan Edberg, 1990). ... Ilie Nastase (1973) and Bjorn Borg (1978, '80) are the only men to win the title without dropping a set. ... Chris Evert leads all women with 12 semifinal appearances. She won the event seven times.

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