Anyone for tennis?


The French Open (or Roland Garros as it is known in France) is over and Wimbledon is about to start which seems the perfect time to take a look at the differences between the game of tennis in both countries. And now that I am the chauffeur of a budding tennis champion here in France, I am beginning to understand why tennis is such a popular and thriving activity in this part of the world, far more so than I remember it being in the UK where it only seems to capture the collective imagination for those two famous weeks in June.

Tennis seems to be a completely different sport here in France than it is in England. Well obviously the hitting the ball back and forth over a net is the same but that’s pretty much it, in terms of similarities. In the UK I would suggest that tennis is an elite sport whereas in France it is an activity open to anyone and everyone. Even the smallest village seems to have at least one tennis court and the bigger towns often have a selection of clay and hard courts as well as one or two covered courts.

Membership of a tennis club here costs practically nothing and the price of lessons (for children at least) is also minimal. Tennis whites are rarely seen and the plumber and doctor play happily with or against the Notaire and postie. Class, status or occupation are completely irrelevant, the only thing that matters is technique and winning; make no mistake, the French are extremely competitive and play to win – another obvious difference to their English counterparts (I’m asking for trouble here I know!)

The advantage of all this for French tennis of course is that the talent net is spread wide and so every budding champion is spotted young and gets the chance to practice locally – after all, even the best players will get nowhere without the opportunity to practice…and practice.  And of course they need to play matches, compete, win and lose which is another great strength of the French system. Even the youngest players are ranked and this continues throughout their tennis career so everywhere they go, they can play against similar ranked players and they improve their rankings through competing and winning. Believe me, to a teenage boy, this competitive spirit is hugely important in motivating them to train and win and hugely satisfying that they have the chance to reach their potential.

For anyone moving to France or looking to spend time out here, tennis is also a fantastic way of integrating into the local community. Because every club is open to all, you simply need to go along, sign up and add your name to the ladder and you will soon get the opportunity to play. And if you start joining in competitions you will get your ranking which means that wherever you travel in France, you can turn up and offer to play someone of similar ranking (or lower obviously if you like to win!) In fact any type of sport is a very levelling and inclusive and certainly one of the easiest and best ways to become part of a community here.

Having said all that, my money isn’t on a French win at Wimbledon any more than it is on an English one but what is important, I think, is that at least everyone should have the chance to learn and play if they want to, wherever they are from and whoever they are.

Comments are closed.