Le Stade de Roland Garros (‘Roland Garros Stadium’) is a tennis venue hosting the French Open tennis tournament, a Grand Slam event played annually in May and June. The facility was constructed in 1928 to host France’s first defence of the Davis Cup.
The 21-acre (8.5-hectare) complex contains twenty courts, including three large-capacity stadiums; Les Jardins de Roland-Garros, a large restaurant and bar complex; Le Village, the press and VIP area; France’s National Training Centre (CNE); and the Tenniseum, a bilingual, multimedia museum of the history of tennis.
It is named after Roland Garros, a pioneer aviator (he completed the first solo flight across the Mediterranean Sea), engineer (inventor of the first forward-firing aircraft machine gun), and World War I hero (the first pilot to shoot down five enemy aircraft, and to be called an ‘ace’ for doing so), who was killed in aerial combat in 1918.
While the Roland Garros surface is invariably characterised as ‘red clay’, the courts are in fact surfaced with white limestone frosted with a few millimetres of powdered red brick dust. Beneath the 7.6-cm-thick layer of porous limestone are 15 cm of volcanic rock, followed by a 0.91 m layer of sand, all of which rests on a slab of concrete.
Crushed brick is pressed onto the limestone surface with rollers, then drenched in water. The process is repeated several times until a thin, compact layer coats each court. The crushed brick is deep enough to allow footprints and ball marks, but shallow enough to avoid making the court spongy or slippery. In tournament situations workers smooth the surface before matches and between sets by dragging rectangular lengths of chain-link across it. The red brick dust is replenished as needed (daily during major tournaments).
Court Philippe Chatrier was built in 1928 as Roland Garros’s centrepiece and remains its principal venue, seating 14,840 spectators. The stadium was known simply as ‘Court Central’ until 1998, when it was renamed for the long-time president of the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) who helped restore tennis as a Summer Olympics sport in 1988.
Originally designated ‘Court A’, Court Suzanne Lenglen, the secondary stadium with a capacity of 10,068 spectators, was built in 1994. Its namesake, an international celebrity and the first true star of women’s tennis, won 31 major tournaments, including six French Open titles and six Wimbledon championships, between 1914 and 1926.
Built in 1980 and nicknamed the ‘Bullring’ because of its circular shape, Court 1 is the facility’s tertiary venue. Its architect, Jean Lovera, a former French junior champion, designed the 3,800-seat structure as a deliberate contrast to the adjacent, exceedingly geometric Court Philippe Chatrier.
Known officially as the Museum of the French Federation of Tennis, the Tenniseum was designed by Bruno Moinard and opened in 2003. It is housed in a former groundsman’s cottage, and comprises a multimedia centre, media library, and permanent and temporary exhibits dedicated to the history of tennis in general, and the French Open in particular.
The permanent exhibits include a display of the French Open perpetual trophies, such as La Coupe des Mousquetaires and La Coupe Suzanne Lenglen; a narrative and photographic history of Roland Garros; displays documenting the evolution of tennis attire through the years; a comprehensive collection of tennis racquets dating back to the mid-19th century; and a large exhibition of tennis-related photographs and paintings.
The media library houses a diverse collection of documents, posters, books, and magazines, as well as a database of tennis information, statistics, trivia, and match summaries of all French Open tournament matches since 1928.
The bilingual (French/English) multimedia centre contains over 4,000 hours of materials, including documentaries, interviews with many of the sport’s legendary players, and film archives dating from 1897 to the present. Tours are conducted daily. (Two per day, at 11:00 and 15:00, are in English.) During the French Open the normal entry fee is waived for tournament ticket-holders.