Analyzing the Roland Garros Court Surface

12 March, 2019
The French Open is one of the main tennis tournaments in the world. Played on a clay court, it's also the second Grand Slam to take place each year.
 

The Roland Garros tournament is the Grand Slam that takes place in Paris, France. This tournament, which is different from the others, is played on a clay court. It runs for two weeks between the months of May and June and since 1928, the home of this tournament is the Roland Garros stadium.

The final game is held in the central court, the Philipe-Chatrier, that has a capacity to hold 15,059 spectators. This year they will unveil a new addition to the compound, which includes a general improvement to the facilities and a retractable roof over the main court.

Previous venues

Since the launch of the French tournament in 1891, it’s had four different venues. The current one is the Roland Garros stadium. Here are the previous venues throughout the history of the French tournament:

  • Île de Puteaux had a court made of sand over rubble in the commune of Puteaux, Paris.
  • Sports Club Racing Club de France located in Bois de Boulogne in Paris, which had a clay surface court.
  • In 1909, for only one year, it took place in the Société Athlétique de la Villa Primrose in Burdeos. Also on a clay surface.
  • Tennis Club de Paris in Auteuil was the venue where the tournament was held before relocating it to its current venue in 1928.
Nadal playing at the Roland Garros
 

The Roland Garros stadium and its courts

The Roland Garros stadium commemorates the famous French aviator. Roland Garros was a huge fan of this sport, hence the name of the venue.

  • Philippe-Chatrier is the name of the central court, which has a clay surface.
  • Suzanne-Lenglen is the second most important court with the second biggest capacity. Its name honors the famous female player who won and dominated the individual female championships. Additionally, this court has a capacity for 10,000 spectators and its use began in 1994.
  • Court One is the third court in the complex. Its use started in 1989 with the famous Musqueteer Plaza, named after four famous French tennis players. The court has the capacity to hold 3,800 spectators and is located on the eastern side of the complex, close to the central court.
  • Additional courts: There are sixteen additional courts in the complex that have less capacity for spectators. They are numbered from two to thirteen and from fourteen to eighteen, skipping the number 13 for superstition. More recently they added three other courts destined for other purposes, making a total of 19 courts in the complex.

Surface characteristics

The clay surface courts in the Roland Garros stadium are designed to slow the ball, making it bounce much higher than on grass or concrete. Therefore, these are the slow courts of the sport. Another popular name for clay courts is “red clay”, (named after their color) since they are mainly powder brick.

 

And so, these courts are ideal for great servers who employ the serve and volley tactic, allowing back of court players to dominate the game.

How do they make the clay courts at the Roland Garros stadium?

  • Firstly, the clay is sourced from a natural stone quarry.
  • It’s then baked in high-temperature ovens where the temperature varies depending on the type of court it’s intended for. Normally between 750˚C and 950˚C.
  • Lastly, the clay is crushed into fine grains and spread evenly on the court’s surface.
Red clay courts are made from crushed brick

The Hawk Eye Technology is not required in red clay court tournaments due to the marks left behind by the ball on the clay.

A professional court requires between 1,100 and 2,200 pounds of powder brick. However, they may also have two additional layers below the clay. The first layer is thick and hard, made out of different stones, then on top, there’s a white limestone layer.

And finally, the last layer is the red clay. The last clay layer is changed daily for each tournament.