French Open Diary — Kits and Clay
I’ve been watching videos from old tournaments, mainly Roland Garros. Not for a reminder of styles long dead or a test of my eyesight — tracking tennis balls in 480p is outrageously difficult.
As a kid I think I appreciated the French Open the most because aesthetically it looked different. It had blemishes. Wrinkles that made every match unique.
Wimbledon felt like a fantasy. Like I’d have to find a golden ticket in a cereal box to get there. But even that dream was grounded in reality. I’ve seen a lot of grass in my time and people attempting to remove all vivacity from their lives via beige and bland clothing like they do at Wimbledon had, by then, bled into all facets of daily life.
The hardcourt tournaments I watched on television were places that seemed down the street from my house, apart from the Du Maurier sponsor decals — turns out smoking was bad. You can also only dress up asphalt so much though. Toxic heat emerging from worn out sneakers ultimately reveals where you really stand.
Clay was different. There was no reference point. How did the ball bounce? Why did the players slide? Playing on it looked difficult, dangerous and pointless at times. The colours though, that was the hook. Everything popped with red clay as the backdrop. Gustavo Kuerten’s journey to immortality in 1997 was one of the first tennis viewing experiences that stuck for me. The blue and yellow kit with the absolutely perfect collar made that Diadora outfit one of the greatest of all-time (I think it’s the greatest).
Years on I’ve come to conclude that everything looks better on clay. The players themselves, moving in a dance of balance and aggression. But also their fashion. We see the best in Paris year after year and though I should congratulate the kit makers for becoming less rigid and more willing to listen to their players, I think they owe thanks to the clay.
As you’re watching the early rounds, keep an eye out. Headbands take on a regal quality at RG.