Called “red gold”, clay is the surface of choice for the French Open at Roland-Garros.
This ocher color is typical of clay and during Roland-Garros, you will only see that through your television… But do you know where this very special clay comes from and what is it made of? For the record, this surface was born in the South of France and comes from an experience with unexpected results. In the 1880s, the Renshaw brothers, professionals and British tennis pioneers, settled in Cannes, tired of the English climate which did not facilitate the practice of their sport. But if the rain is less abundant there, the Cannes summers also prove to be deleterious for the grass which is then the surface of choice for the players…
Ernest and Wiliam Renshaw then had an idea: to use a terracotta powder to cover the courts and protect them from violent heat waves. The success of the process will exceed their expectations and clay will gradually impose itself in the world of tennis.
Here is the composition of the clay courts of Roland-Garros
If you only see its final appearance, on the surface of the court, know that the clay court at Roland-Garros is made up of several layers with different materials. In detail, the earth is made up of five layers about 80 centimeters thick in total: large pebbles, gravel, a layer of clinker (residue of volcanic rock), limestone and finally a thin layer of crushed brick. two millimeters thick gives it its ocher color.
- 1- Crushed brick: 1 to 2 mm
- 2- Notch (pounded limestone): 6 to 7 cm
- 3- Clinker: 7 to 8 cm
- 4- Crushed stones: at least 30 cm
To go even further, the powdered brick comes from the company Supersol, in Oise (Pontpoint), which ships between 50 and 80 tonnes of clay during the Paris tournament. And the trade secret is still well kept. The Parisian tried to unravel the mystery, in vain, a few years ago. “We use a special trick…”, indicated Didier Durand, director of Supersol. “The materials are prepared around 15 days before the tournament. We take some precautions but we don’t have any special device. Our factory is well-oiled.” Finally, the crushed limestone which constitutes the base of the tennis court comes from the quarries of Saint-Maximin, also in the Oise.