Lawn tennis remains a luxury in France

“Grass is good for the cows!” », railed Guillermo Vilas, a dominant tennis player in the 1970s but borrowed from the London lawn of Wimbledon. An enchanted parenthesis today, playing on grass was the norm yesterday when three of the four major Grand Slam tournaments on the tennis circuit were played on grass.

Since the end of the 1980s, the US Open and then the Australian Open have been played on “hard courts”. A fast surface par excellence, grass still enjoys its credentials in Great Britain, which still has more than 1,200 courts according to the British Tennis Federation.

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The queen surface across the Channel has never been democratized in France. The oldest grass court in France is located… at the British Embassy, ​​in the heart of Paris. It is in this bucolic setting that handpicked personalities try their hand at the lawn mowed close to the ground – 5 to 7 millimeters high – to the tunes of Wimbledon-sur-Seine.

For the governing bodies of French tennis, the game on grass is not a priority. “We have never visited a club, we have never developed any particular expertise, because it is a surface that we do not do”, explains with lucidity Nicolas Maignan, equipment manager of the French Tennis Federation (FFT). The courts available represent only a tiny part of the 31,000 tennis courts in France.

Very expensive maintenance

The only grass courts belong to private structures. In addition to the British Embassy, ​​Lagardère Paris Racing has three. The Moliets tennis club (Landes), yet a pioneer in the field, abandoned its two courts in 2021.

Destined to become an international center at the beginning of the 21st century, Moliets-et-Maa was equipped with the three surfaces (hard, grass, clay) of the Grand Slam tournaments, with the aim of attracting French players. in their preparation for Wimbledon. This project was nipped in the bud and the land was gradually abandoned by the licensees.

The particularity of the lawn is that it deteriorates very quickly and therefore requires pharaonic maintenance. Therefore, it can become impractical and any ambition for profitability is futile. “Per year, the grass courts brought us a maximum rental of €1,000”explains Frédéric Casenave, teacher at the Moliets club since 1989.

Profitability was one of the challenges of the Lawn tennis club of Deauville (Normandy) which had the project to create a “French Wimbledon”. In 2016, eleven natural grass courts came out of the ground in record time, with the ultimate goal of creating a professional tournament. But far from attracting the expected crowds, the club closed down three years later.

Cloister of greenery

Being played outdoors, the turf is also sensitive to the weather, which makes maintenance difficult. The daily regrowth must be monitored, the tracing of the lines must be regular: the courts are usable during the summer, “beyond that, it’s more difficult”says Frédéric Casenave. In September, for example, we made sure to play in the afternoon because with the morning dew, the supports gave way and the grass deteriorated. In October, it became unplayable ».

The charm of an English green does not, however, leave you indifferent. So, some use it for its shine. The castle of Villandry (Indre-et-Loire), renowned for its gardens, has the particularity of having a grass court since 2010. Bordered by a green cloister, visitors can lend themselves to a game on the lawn for a visit.

“Barefoot, or in shoes, we lend rackets and balls and they can play tennis, explains Henri Carvallo, owner of the castle. Fabrice Santoro (former French tennis player) even came to give a demonstration a few years ago. » On September 16, twelve companies will compete in a leisure tournament in the heart of the castle gardens, the only lawn tennis event in France for three years.


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