For a tennis fan, attending a Grand Slam is an unbelievable experience–but if you really want to see courage, sadness, joy, and sorrow you have to go to the Qualifying events, not to the Main Draw ones.
Grand Slams Main Draws are full of players that already did it, players that apart from Qualifiers, Wild Cards, and NextGens reached a stable role (especially from the financial side) in the ATP/WTA Top 100, and you can easily see players that don’t care much, that can tank or play injured only for the rich 1st round cheque (we had multiple examples of similar behaviors during Wimbledon’s first week).
In the Qualifying events, players that have been struggling (most of them for years) financially to keep chasing the dream of the top 100 are aware that they are just three matches away from an amount of ATP/WTA points and (above all) money that can make the difference for them for the rest of year. Especially the 3rd (and last) round matches are so crucial for the players’ year (and maybe career) that the winners are absurdly happy and the losers have the worst feeling a tennis player can have, failing just a step away from Paradise.
That’s why I love attending Grand Slams Qualifying but I have never attended a Grand Slam Main Draw match: you can get much closer to players and their emotions–that inevitably become your emotions.
As I am European I have only two Grand Slams quite close, and after two years in a row in Paris, this year I decided to switch to London, for the Wimbledon Qualifying event that (for those that are unaware) is not held at Wimbledon but at the Bank of England Sports Center in Roehampton.
The goal of the article is to show the difference between Roland Garros and Wimbledon events so that in case you decide to attend one (which I strongly recommend) you may have more info.
Both events are quite far from city center, but with Metro/Train/Bus you can reach them without too much trouble. I suggest anyway to book a hotel/rent an apartment quite close to the tournaments so that you can reach them with a nice walk. In Paris I found a few really nice apartments about a five-minute walk from the courts, while in Roehampton this year I had a room in a very nice pub/hotel with some great food an live music. The trip to the Bank Of England Sports Centre included a nice walk through Richmond Park, a wonderful park full of deer.
Roehampton food was quite disappointing: just one self-service restaurant with little choice and a couple of shops with snacks and drinks. Paris has a bigger offer as you can have ice cream, burgers, salads, pizza, sandwiches, crepes/waffles, but the quality is not great and the food is expensive. if you are a mad fan as I am, be prepared to forget to eat until dinner at the end of the day and maybe bring some snacks with you from home.
In both events you really need to have an umbrella with you, and especially in Paris you can have some big swings in temperature and weather in the same day. I have had rainy hours in every Qualifying week I attended. Just be ready to wear just a t-shirt but you better have a jacket or a hoodie with you just in case.
Removing court 11 cover pic.twitter.com/z9WwkjRhXj
Here Roland Garros beats Wimbledon 6-0 6-0. Roehampton courts basically have no seats, apart from the televised court 11 and a few more courts where people can watch from hills; otherwise be prepared to stand all day long, and it’s not very fun when you have to do this for 4-5 days in a row. Every Roland Garros court has a decent number of seats as they use the same courts for the Main Draw matches. On the other side, you have to wait until a changeover to enter the stands in Paris, while in Roehampton no one cares at the court entrance and you can walk from court to court whenever you want (of course you are expected to behave correctly and not to disturb the players).
If you want to buy some original cap/t-shirts from the event, you can do it only in Roland Garros (and of course it’s very expensive). Roehampton, as it’s not “really” Wimbledon, does not have any official merchandising shop but this year during a couple of days of the Qualifying Event there was a Grand Sale held by the ITF, where you could buy some ITF stuff at very cheap prices–from ITF Officials T-shirts and caps to the ITF Rulebook, from chips for 64-player draws to an ITF plug adaptor.
Look how generous they were, also the travel adaptator pic.twitter.com/A5rLoC82s1
Roehampton’s appeal cant be beaten: as soon as you enter the club you realize you are in a sort of dream, with grass everywhere. Paris is also fascinating but you feel that it’s similar to every other tournament, just way bigger. In Roehampton you can see players warming up in the immense grass field a few centimeters from you and player lounges are very close to the public, while in Paris the players’ lounge is much more separated from the public.
Here Wimbledon gives back the double bagel to Roland Garros: the ticket validating and security crew are so gentle that you will pass hours talking to them while they are checking your ID or inspecting your bag, they are really part of the magic atmosphere.
The French ones are absurdly rude and make you out uncomfortable all the time.
Bad start of the day, today they didnt allow me to bring my camera lens inside: no problem yday and last year…today problem
Contact with players
In Paris you can get quite easily close to players after their matches but in Roehampton (mainly because of the absence of stands) you can get super close even during matches–you can really feel every emotion and take superb photos.
How cannot you love being here even before tennis starts? You can smell tennis everywhere, I am as happy as a child on Christmas pic.twitter.com/2zzrGsmLLI
Ticketing and Prices
This year was the first one as ticketing event for Wimbledon and they put a 1,000 tickes limit per day (I rushed to buy tickets online and it wasn’t even sold out) for a cost of 5 pounds. It’s safe to safe the club could contain a much bigger crowd. The Roland Garros event has always been ticketed at 20 euros per day ticket and you can easily buy them online or at the gates.
The number of matches
Of course it’s the same for both events and you can easily go insane because you can have up to 18 matches at same time and you can’t really decide which is the best, so my tip is to go where you can see more than one court at the same time (you can do it in both events) and to check scores from time to time to switch to crucial phases of matches. Generally you have 64 matches the 1st day (men’s 1st round), 72 matches the 2nd day (48 women’s 1st round + 32 men’s 2nd round), 56 matches the 3rd day ( 24 women’s 2nd round + 32 men’s 2nd round), and 28 matches on the 4th and final day (12 women’s 3rd round and 16 men’s 3rd round): it’s really an amount of matches that would make you forget to eat, drink, and even use the bathroom.
Speaking of which, Roland Garros toilets are clean, easy to find, and there are plenty so that you don’t really need to queue. iIn Roehampton there is just one small toilet inside the restaurant and a few more in a sort of container close to entrance that has some terrible smell inside.
Moving from a match to another
In Roehampton you can switch whenever you prefer and courts are so close that going from court 1 to court 12 (the furthest) takes only a couple of minutes and you can watch the match as soon as you arrive. In Paris, if the stands are packed you need to wait that some people leave and you can enter only during changeovers (as in every other ATP/WTA tournament). Also, you may have to walk up to 6-7 minutes from the courts at opposite sides.
All in all, I consider Wimbledon Qualifying as a better experience than Roland Garros Qualifying, and I can’t wait to attend US Open and Australian Open to judge the out-of-Europe way of organizing a Grand Slam Qualifying tournament.