French Watercolor: It Never Rains in Paris – Except Today

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Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Bill Simons

PARIS—The afternoon rains have turned Roland Garros into something that approaches an upscale refugee camp, if there is such a thing. The most congested corridors in tennis become impassable. Panchos, coats and already soggy towels now become makeshift ground cover as beleaguered fans sit and squat.

The corridor may be jammed to a standstill – still, the mind indulges a certain wanderlust. Yannick Noah said his best moment in tennis was the romantic encounter he had under these stands when he was just 14. We can only imagine his virginal delight. And there are those (as dark as the sky) recollections of this old stadium being used as a prisoner of war encampment during World War II.

But never mind that sad past. We have a rain delay to endure. So kids show off their autographs. The waffle and crepe concession draws the hungry masses. World-class players and hangers-on crowd the lounges. The people watching astounds. Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou strolls purposely by – his almost-famous notebook in hand. Jack Sock has a slightly absent expression in his eyes as he plays cards to pass the time. Journalists gossip and debate the confidence of David Goffin. Chinese writers quibble over the opening leads of their stories and photographers mutter about the wretched light while others watch replays from 1969 when Charlie Pasarell was trim and imposing.

Lines in the player restaurant gain depth as Slovakian wives wait to order their double Creme Lavassa. Everywhere there is a French din. Does any other culture so excel at chatter? Yes, lyrical Italian and Spanish voices are heard, while American sounds are almost as rare as red Federer caps, which sadly seem out of place and kind of yesterday – a bad omen for Federerians.

All the while in the player lounge, spirited toddlers roam free until their suddenly-startled moms rein in their delight. Serena Williams’ agent Jill Smoller talks up a security guard, while the line for the ladies room seems to stretch to Belgium, and a longtime photographer creatively uses the hot air blower in the men’s room to dry his soaked coat.

Meanwhile, former stars like Henri LeConte and two-time Slam finalist Cedric Pioline hold court. Laughter abounds, they seem to relish the spotlight – why not?

But one burly workman is not amused, as he desperately twists a huge wrench to try and free up a clogged drain. Worse yet, top executives are worried stiff. The power is off in the broadcast center.

In the depth of the corridors, red pants, orange shoes and Hollister hoodies are commonplace. But finally the rain has stopped. The covers are off the courts, the net is being dried, the clay is being manicured. But there are problems with the power on center court, and there are problems with Serena’s power game. Broadcaster Chris Bowers tells us, “We have milky sunshine and the shadows are long. The wait has been long. Now it’s time to go back to tennis.”