Why is Roland-Garros (French Open) the Toughest Grand Slam Tournament?

There is novice, easy, medium, master and then there is winning Roland-Garros.

Grand Slams being the biggest stage in professional tennis are in general very competitive. But Roland-Garros takes it to a whole new level making it the toughest grand slam in tennis.

A lot of tennis players who are considered to be all-time greats have struggled to win a title or more and loathed the Parisian Clay.

Big names in tennis such as Pete Sampras (0 French titles), John McEnroe (0 French titles), Boris Becker (0 French titles), Roger Federer (Just 1 Frech title) & Novak Djokovic (Just 1 French title) have had an arduous time at Roland-Garros.

But why is Roland-Garros so difficult to win?

First of all, Roland-Garros is the only grand slam to be played on clay.

Clay court tennis demands a specific style of play.

The amount of physicality and mental toughness that the Parisian Clay demands from a player to win the tournament can be gruesome. The surface itself is very physically demanding and combine this with the unpredictable conditions in Paris.

And then there’s the ultimate challenge in sport – Beating Rafael Nadal over 5 sets at Roland-Garros.

Let’s just say this isn’t every player’s cup of tea.

Why is Roland-Garros the most Elusive Grand Slam?

1. The Surface​

I feel that clay is the most challenging surface to play tennis on.

What makes clay so tricky to master?

Clay is a crackerjack when it comes to absorbing the ball’s momentum. It slows down the ball producing exceptionally higher bounces that most pros aren’t comfortable handling.

As modern tennis has evolved and many players are making use of topspin, typically grass court and hard court specialists find it difficult to adapt to the bounce of the ball & the surface. Clay is tricky as it can completely pull a player off their comfort zone.

2. The Conditions at Philippe Chatrier

Clay as a surface is definitely challenging testing the physicality and athleticism of a player.

Couple this with unpredictable and difficult conditions in Paris. It can be bright and sunny during your practice session making you feel at your confident best. But when you hit the red clay courts in the afternoon for the arduous challenge over 5 sets, the weather might become humid & windy making things worse for players to get into their rythm.

Nadal vs Federer in the Semi-Finals of Roland-Garros 2019 is a classic example of how tough the weather conditions can be for players.

Thus, it takes a lot of versatility for players to adjust to such conditions and keep things going on the red dirt.

3. The Mental Challenge

Clay also tests a player’s decision-making skills like no other surface and over the course of a gruelling 5 setter at Roland-Garros, it can be really strenuous for the body, more so on the mind.

Clay doesn’t care for champions.

It isn’t easy to hit winners on clay and there aren’t many free points on serves either. A player needs to be able to mentally dominate an opponent. This requires patience, picking up the right opportunity for the forehand punch or creating an acute angle setting the point up for the winner.

This is why winning Roland-Garros over 5 sets is one of the most difficult feats in tennis.

Not convinced? Here’s a video by Star Sports stating why Roland-Garros is the most elusive slam out there.

Have a look.

My Personal Take on Roland-Garros

Personally Roland-Garros is my favourite tournament.

Now why is that?

I’ve always loved how clay challenges all the aspects of a player’s game. From long and gruelling baseline exchanges to sliding on the red dirt to pick that drop shot up, winning Roland-Garros has never been anything close to easy. Except of course, for the infamous Rafael Nadal.

This is why Roland-Garros is the most elusive Grand Slam out there. This isn’t merely a statement that I’m making and I would like to justify the same with stats.

Let’s have a look at the number of slams won by the all-time greats and then, let’s have a look at their performance and stats in Roland-Garros.

Perfomance of All Time Great Tennis Players at Roland Garros

Player No. of Singles Grand Slam Titles No. of French Seasons No. of Roland Garros Titles
Pete Sampras 14 13 0
John McEnroe 7 10 0
Boris Becker 6 9 0
Martina Hinges 5 8 0
Roger Federer 20 18 Just 1 Title
Novak Djokovic 17 15 Just 1 Title

As you can clearly see, a lot of champions whom we today consider all time great tennis players have struggled on the Parisian clay at the French Open.

So many champions struggling to win this tournament definitely can’t be a coincidence.

This is why winning Roland-Garros is a feat not many tennis players can vouch for making it one of the most difficult tournaments to win.

What’s your take on the toughest grand slam out there? Let me know in the comments below!

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