Because Mallorca native Rafael Nadal has won the French Open a record seven times in the last eight years, some may be inclined to start referring to the famed tennis tournament as the Spanish Open. But this clay-court extravaganza is so much more than brilliant tennis. There are a host of family-friendly activities and a number of high-end hotel happenings as part of the fun, too. We serve up an itinerary for all that Paris has to offer around the Open.
What To Know
If the 2012 installment of the French Open was about solidifying legacies—Nadal won his third straight trophy on the men’s side and Maria Sharapova completed her career grand slam with the women’s title—this year’s tournament could prove to be a repeat. Nadal, who’s aiming for his fourth straight French Open championship, is already a leading favorite, seeing how he dominated in the recent clay tune-up, Barcelona Open Banc Sabadell, back in late April. Still, a revenge-seeking Djokovic, perennial contender Andy Murray and hometown hero Jo-Wilfried Tsonga should make things difficult. On the women’s side, Sharapova’s road could be equally as daunting. World No. 1 Serena Williams looks to be in prime midseason form—she’s won tournaments in Miami and Charleston since March, and she just secured her top ranking in a battle with Sharapova on Madrid’s clay, making her a French Open favorite. And upstarts such as the United States’ Sloane Stephens and Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova appear to be hitting their strides at just the right time.
What To Do
With 20 courts spread across Roland Garros’ 21 postcard-worthy acres, it’s safe to say there’s rarely a dull moment here in late spring. But in those instances when you tire of watching others return and volley from the spectator area, there are plenty of other places to amuse yourself. Located just off the famed Place des Mousquetaires, Longines Smash Corner is the interactive game that lets spectators test the speed of their serves against the game’s best. (If you’re curious, Australia’s Samuel Groth achieved the fastest-recorded serve in history last year at 163.4 mph.)
This year’s tournament is also highlighted by RG Lab, an entertainment area with everything from racket-stringing demonstrations and autograph sessions with tennis pros to hands-on games like Air Tennis, a futuristic take on the sport that involves participants hitting targets from a trampoline. Still, the most impressive attraction could be the Museum of the French Federation of Tennis’ new exhibit, Moi…Roland Garros, a fascinating collection of photos, personal artifacts and other items curated in honor of the French aviator the venue is named after.
Of course, Paris—being the bustling international metropolis it is—wouldn’t dream of having all of its fun contained to just one place. Illustrating that fact is La Terrasse, a family-focused temporary sports complex meant to bring some of the energy of Roland Garros to Paris City Hall. Starting on May 30, guests with (or without) Open tickets will be able to enjoy the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament’s live action on courts set up on the esplanade while also cheering on the professional matches playing out on the giant screen.
Where To Stay
If there’s one thing we’ve noticed during our preparations for Paris to become our next Forbes Travel Guide rated destination in Europe, it’s that the City of Lights has its share of sparkling hotels. And, thankfully for tennis fans, many of them are only a good lob from Roland Garros. The Mandarin Oriental, Paris is a stately property of 177 rooms and suites that’s just a 15-minute ride from the tennis venue’s front gates. Through July 20, the hotel is offering A Gourmet Experience, an overnight package where guests get a daily breakfast of baked goods, charcuterie and eggs for two at Camélia, and the chance to nosh on dishes from a tasting menu (think soy risotto, pan-fried king crab and saddle of young rabbit) at Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx at lunch or dinner.
If you want to stay even closer to the tennis action, check in to Hotel Le Meurice, a Parisian-palace-turned-Louis XVI-styled retreat with 202 rooms and suites, a spa and three restaurants. The hotel also is showcasing its culinary chops right now—what did you expect? This is Paris, after all—with a breakfast-inclusive package that offers an early-morning spread of cooked ham, eggs and other American favorites at the Restaurant Le Meurice every day during your stay.
Photos Courtesy of ESPN-Scott Clarke