Shades of Tennis's Most Unique Tournament

Photo Essay: French Red

Photo Essay By Photo by Henry Phillips

There’s an anecdote about the birth of French red clay. It’s often tweaked based on the storyteller, but the gist is almost always the same. In the late 19th century, William and Ernest Renshaw were the most powerful brothers in tennis. William won the Wimbledon singles tournament seven times (defeating his brother in the final three times), and the brothers won the doubles tournament five times in six years between 1884 and 1889. William, 140 years later, still shares the record for all-time wins at the tournament with Pete Sampras and Roger Federer.

Game, Set, Watch


Though the official match timing at Roland Garros is done using digital clocks, if you’re keeping track yourself in the stands, something a bit more old school is perfectly fine. The Longines Heritage 1973 is a re-issue of a chronograph from Longines’s long and rich history of great timepieces. The tonneau case is a near-perfect 40 millimeters across, and its short lugs mean it will fit just about any wrist size. The dial, with its subtle tachymetre scale, polished indices and recessed snailed subdials, recalls the watch’s namesake year, when Ilie Nastase won La Coupe des Mousquetaires on Roland Garros’s clay. The movement is a Longines column wheel self-winder, perfect for timing a match or just timing how long you should wait before your next kir royale. $3,250

As most successful European athletes do, the Renshaws spent most of their summers in Cannes and quickly built a couple grass courts to play on. Not long after, they found that the hot weather decimated their grass courts. They desperately searched for an alternative hard surface. In a moment of inspiration, they decided to cover the court in a powder of crushed terra cotta pots that came from nearby Vallauris. The new surface was a hit. It required no watering, no mowing and was much better suited to the high temperatures found on the Côte d’Azur. Within a decade hundreds of the courts in Southern France were covered in the iconic crushed red brick.

So a second iconic French red was born, joining similarly recognizable products from nearby Provence and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. And it’s only matured in the century and a half since, becoming pervasive across all levels of tennis, particularly in Europe. Players outside of the continent, too, are finding their way onto clay — a vital step for aspiring pros. At the Longines Future Tennis Aces tournament, players under the age of 13 got a chance to play at the foot of the Eiffel tower during the same week as the French Open. The players were trained on clay courts at a center outside of Paris before the tournament, then got to watch the pros do battle atop the slick surface almost immediately after. Italy’s Federica Rossi took the youth tournament this year, but all 16 entrants were thrilled for even one match on the storied clay. We were on hand to capture all of the week’s proceedings.