Occasionally news from the outside world filters it way into Roland Garros. So it was fascinating – well, OK, merely delightful -- to witness a German newspaper headline marking the 50th anniversary of the release of one of the most significant pop music albums of all-time: The Beatles’ LP, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In large part, this was the album that kicked off the infamous “Summer of Love.”
Trust me, though, we will make our way back to tennis.
The Beatles are also known as the Fab Four. And tennis has its Fab Four, a quartet of major tournaments -- the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open. Each of these events is personified by a Beatle, be it the happy-go-lucky Ringo Starr and the Australian Open, the music hall joy of Paul McCartney and Wimbledon, the street-smart New Yorker John Lennon and the US Open.
Which leaves us with George Harrison and the tournament at hand. Like Harrison, Roland Garros has that special “Something” in the way it moves. Also akin to Harrison, Roland Garros is arguably the most spiritual of the Slams, its combatants bound to the earth and attracted to the clay like no other tennis lover. We will never know if Harrison was aware of the demands and texture of the clay when he wrote his contribution to Sgt. Pepper’s, “Within You Without You.” But surely there is a deep connection: “And to see you're really only very small/And life flows on within you and without you.”
Has any Slam inspired more such Harrisonesque notions as emotional deliverance and the pursuit of redemption? Consider the joy when Novak Djokovic at last won this title a year ago. Ditto for Maria Sharapova’s twin wins in ’12 and ‘14, the ’09 victory by Roger Federer, the ’99 triumphs of Andre Agassi and Stephanie Graf, the clay court quartet earned by Justine Henin and the literal heart drawn on the court by three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten (like Harrison, an affable, happy-go-lucky gent).
A year ago, it rained so much at Roland Garros that the tournament was jokingly called “The Drench Open.” Twelve months later, fortunately, the reigning tune is Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun.”
The physical and emotional toll of a clay court match is like nothing in tennis, triggering anguish to the point where a player might scream out a Harrison solo song, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” – “Give me hope/Help me cope, with this heavy load.”
For many years Roland Garros, much like Harrison, toiled in the background, not quite on the level with the twin titans of Wimbledon-McCartney and the US Open-Lennon. But all that has passed, to the point now where Roland Garros is no longer a dark horse but instead its own sweet lord. Harrison put it best in “What is Life?” -- “What I feel/I can’t say/But my love is there for you/any time of day.”
Read more articles by Joel Drucker
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