Now Is the Time for the Fédération Française de Tennis to Rename a Show Court at Stade Roland Garros After Rafael Nadal
On Sunday 10 June 2018, I was at the Stade Roland Garros to witness Rafael Nadal win his eleventh French Open title. I strongly believe that now is an appropriate time for the Fédération Française de Tennis (FFT) to name one of the show courts at Stade Roland Garros in his honour. In the last year, I have written two letters to the FFT in respect of work allocation at Roland Garros, however, be rest assured that this third letter has nothing to do with what I raised in my previous letters and is solely focused on the greatest male player to ever grace the clay courts of Paris.
With the exception of Wimbledon, all of the other three Grand Slam tournaments have a history of paying tribute to individuals who have left their footprints in the sands of times. Some of these individuals honoured made their mark on the tennis courts while others made their mark in other endeavours. The US Open Tennis tournament takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, which was named in Billie Jean King’s honour for her contributions both on and off the tennis court. Besides winning a total of 39 Grand Slam titles, including 12 singles, 16 doubles and 11 mixed doubles titles in a career spanning 15 years, off the court, she championed equal pay for female tennis players. In 1997, the United States Tennis Association named the Centre Court at Flushing Meadow, the Arthur Ashe stadium to memorialise Arthur Ashe, an anti-apartheid activist and the first black man to win a Grand Slam tournament. Another stadium in the arena was named after Louis Armstrong, the jazz singer.
In Melbourne, where the Australian Open takes place, the Australian tennis authorities named the Centre Court at Melbourne Park after Australian tennis legend Rod Laver, the first and only man to achieve a calendar Grand Slam two times in 1962 and 1969. Furthermore, the second show court at Melbourne Park is named after Margaret Court, the 24 times Grand Slam winner. The French Open has embraced this trend of naming buildings after unique individuals. This year’s tournament marked the centenary of the death of Roland Garros, the man in whose name the Stade Roland Garros is named after. The Centre Court at the stadium is named after Philip Chatrier, the former president of the FFT who contributed immensely to the game of tennis in France and also helped restore tennis as an Olympics sports. Furthermore, the four sections of the Philip Chatrier stadium are named in honour of Jean Borotra, Henri Cochet, Rene Lacoste and Jacques Brugnon. These four players dominated the tennis scene in the 1920s and 1930s and were members of France’s successful Davis Cup team. The second largest court is named after Suzanne Lenglen, the French tennis icon who won six French Open titles and six Wimbledon championships, between 1914 and 1926. The women singles trophy is named the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in her honour.
Without a doubt, all of the individuals mentioned above deserve to be memorialised. My appeal to the FFT is to continue this trend of honouring those who have contributed to French tennis by naming a show court after Rafa Nadal. There is nobody more deserving of such an honour at this time in history than Monsieur Nadal, who has written his name in French clay. By capturing his 11th French Open title, Nadal became the most successful male tennis player at a single Grand Slam tournament. To put this win into perspective, he has dominated the French Open Championship for over a decade by winning 97.7% of the matches he has played. This is a remarkable achievement in a sport where historically, the law of diminishing return sets in after the age of 29. Nadal also stands alone as being the only male player to have won at least one title in ten consecutive years. In addition to having eleven singles titles at Roland Garros, he also has eleven titles at two other clay court tournaments namely the Monte Carlo Masters and the Barcelona Open. Nadal has won 32 Masters title making him the player with the highest number of Masters wins in the Open Era. He has also won over 400 matches on clay.
Through his success on the clay court, Nadal has inspired a generation of young boys to take up the game of tennis. During the trophy presentation at the 2018 French Open Championship, Dominic Thiem, the beaten finalist paid tribute to Nadal by saying as an eleven-year-old boy, he was inspired when he watched Nadal win his first French Open title in 2005. Thanks to Nadal, a number of tennis fans have been keen to watch, follow and even visit the French Open.
I urge you not to dismiss my appeal as the ranting of a biased Rafa Nadal fan. For the sake of clarity, I am not even a Rafa Nadal fan as my allegiance lies with Serena and Venus Williams. However, I strongly believe that honour must be given to whom honour is due. Admittedly, the FFT has given Nadal a replica trophy when he won his tenth French Open title, however more could be done to honour him permanently. Some may argue against honouring him because he is Spanish and not French. But hasn’t he brought the French Open to a wider global audience through his exploits? Moreover, his is a pseudo-French Ambassador whose name would always be associated with France. Furthermore, if he were memorialised, he wouldn’t be the first non-French citizen to have something named after him in Paris. After all Avenue du Président-Kennedy in Paris is named after America’s President Kennedy and a train station is named after President Franklin Roosevelt. Some may suggest that it is unfair to name a Court after an active player. But when would be a better time? Is it when a player is no more, or when a player is old and frail?
In conclusion, the FFT should do the right thing by naming Court One or another other suitable court, the Rafael Nadal Arena or by erecting a statue of Raga Nadal at the newly refurbished Stade Roland Garros.
Ahmed Olayinka Sule, CFA