1956: First time at Roland Garros for Rod Laver
From Rod Laver’s book The education of a tennis player
Three of the Grand Slam tournaments are held in English-speaking countries, and an Australian gets along all right. The fourth is on alien ground – Parisian clay. The first time I saw Paris, in 1956, I had a few phrases ready in my atrocious French, so that I could eat and get to my hotel room. Bob Mark, who was my doubles partner, and I got taken for a few elaborate rides by the cab drivers, and we had trouble with the money, our pockets stuffed with francs that didn’t mean much. This was when the exchange rate was 350 to the dollar. The French seem less sympathetic to foreigners than other people, and the masterpieces of French cooking don’t do much for me, since I’m a typical Aussie, a steak-and-eggs man. You don’t need Maxim’s to fix that for you.
So Paris, as such, isn’t one of my favorite places, but I look forward to it because the French Championships is the tournament I enjoy the most from the standpoint of emotional involvement. I love to watch matches in Paris, grim struggles on that slow clay, beauties for the spectators.
When an Australian is playing, the rest of the Aussies show up for moral support because you know, if the opponent is European, and especially if he’s French, the gallery will be very anti-Australian.
That’s Europe. The crowds make more noise, they take it to heart, they cheer and boo. My introduction to Roland Garros, the tennis complex in the Bois de Boulogne, was a shaky experience in 1956. Bob Mark and I were playing a Davis Cup style junior match against a French team of Christian Viron and Mustapha Belkodja.
In the doubles, the crowd went all out for their countrymen, hissing us and even throwing some stones. They weren’t angry at us, but they didn’t leave any doubt about their sentiments. They really psyched us out, but you get used to that in Paris and Rome and Barcelona and Mexico City where the national pride seems to ride with every shot. When you realize this, the French tournament becomes great fun.