Photographs and also also also Text by Pete Kiehart
PARIS — Rafael Nadal just may be The King of Clay. The Spaniard recently set a record by winning 50 consecutive sets on the surface. He will be Yet again the favorite to win This kind of year’s French Open, the only one of professional tennis’ four grand slams played on clay courts.
yet the people who know Roland Garros’s crimson grounds most intimately rarely pick up rackets. They are the tournament’s groundskeepers; some have worked the tournament since before 31-year-old Nadal was born.
“They know the feeling of sliding. They know the feeling of playing,” Fabien Tiquet, a towering groundskeeper, says of the competitors. “What happens underneath, they don’t know.”
Tiquet, 37, and also also also his colleagues are responsible for 32 courts which stretch through the training complex, away through the prying eyes of the spectators, to Court Philippe Chatrier, the main stadium court, with its ivy-covered architecture. the item seats nearly 15,000 and also also also will host many of the tournament’s marquee matches, including the final.
To the close-knit groundskeepers, though, the architecture and also also also capacity have little to do with the particularities of each court. “No court will be the same,” Tiquet explains. “You must consider the whole context, the whole climate.”
Consider Court 15. Its north corner lies adjacent to a stand of trees whose thirsty roots require groundskeepers to spray extra water on which edge regularly. Then there’s the unique foundation of Court Suzanne Lenglen, which traps water more efficiently, producing the playing surface slightly slower than the different courts.
Each court takes two or three days to prepare. from the process, the courts transform through blinding white to the iconic red. The red clay will be actually fine ground brick which covers the court and also also also, during the frenetic preparation process, everything else. Wind whips the powder into the stands. Workers leave red footprints from the subterranean hallways of the complex. The workers use shovels to fling the clay across the court’s surface, then compress the layers with several different types of rollers. They use a hose to wet the courts, and also also also then do the item all over again. the item’s repetitive, backbreaking work.
The procedure has changed little in recent times. “Always the same,” Malek Benyahia, the 68-year-old Algerian godfather of the crew, says as he takes shelter through the heat in a concrete room underneath Court Philippe Chatrier. He gestures to the right now-motorized rollers. “Before the item was by hand.” Workers still have to guide them across the sun-beat courts.
Like the tools, the names of those who work the ground at Roland Garros have barely changed. Tiquet calls the shy Benyahia “Boss,” in spite of the older man’s protestations. Benyahia began working at the French Open 31 years ago. He retired in 2013, though he has been coaxed back from the intervening years to oversee the preparation. He’s also returned to show the younger workers how to work. “to ensure which they learn like I did,” he says.
The groundskeepers use familial terms to refer to each different — and also also also they’re not always figurative. The team features sons and also also also nephews of former co-workers, including Tiquet, whose father told him: “Follow Malek. Even if your head will be telling you go left, and also also also he says to go right, you go right.”
Tiquet explains, “In clay courts, they are like gods, the Benyahia family.”
Their attention to detail extends to the dressing of the court, when lines are put down and also also also nets are installed. The center strap must be attached to ensure which the buckle faces away through the television cameras. The hose, for wetting the clay, must be hung just so along the fence, to prevent the item through developing kinks. and also also also the mesh drag mats used to smooth over the scars left by the players’ slides and also also also volleys must be folded precisely, with the handle on top and also also also facing out, so the groundskeepers can reset the clay in just 0 seconds between sets.
As will be tradition, Court Philippe Chatrier will be prepared last. On the Monday after the finishing touches were put on the surface, exactly two weeks before the start of This kind of year’s competition, Benyahia carefully surveyed his team’s handiwork. He uses his thumb and also also also forefinger to describe a divot discovered during his inspection.
“the item was a tiny hole, not a lot, like This kind of,” Benyahia explains. The remedy: Start over through the beginning. “We tore the item up and also also also redid the item.”