Red Clay Meets Red Clay in Paris

Published in June of 2007, here’s a flashback of our unforgettable experience….

GOLFERS dream of smelling the grass and catching a Tiger lurking behind the woods at Augusta National, home of The Masters. Hoop fans envy fellow columnist Homer Sayson, who owns NBA Finals reserved seats in San Antonio and Cleveland. The feet of soccer fans get ticklish with the words “Germany World Cup.” We all have dreams. I own one. No, four. To watch all the tennis grand slams: Wimbledon, the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and the US Open. The US Open? That dream became reality eight years ago when I spent four straight weeks with my dad Bunny in New York. Seeing Andre Agassi and Serena Williams hold aloft those trophies sent shivers up my spine. I had to pinch myself and slap my face left and right to ensure I was awake.

Wimbledon? The Australian Open? Dreams, yes. Roland Garros?

Six years ago, my father-in-law Jack Mendez gathered the family and announced: “We’re going to Europe!” Three months later, we’re aboard Galaxy, the Princess Cruises ship that’s seven stories tall complete with theaters, a casino, restaurants, and Broadway musicals. By boat, we hopped from city to city. The place I loved the most? Paris.

Imagine the Eiffel Tower, Nortre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Louvre Museum, Versailles Palace. Touring those sites, it felt like watching a movie. Only this time, the screen was “live,” right before your eyes. The place I loved the most? Roland Garros.

We arrived late in the afternoon. As our van stopped at the entrance, I gripped my fingers, smiled and screamed, “This is it!” To our surprise, no guards manned the gate. We entered. Our first stop was to the right as we walked inside a side court. There it was, before our bare eyes, the red clay, or le terre battue, as the French call it. I stepped on it, bent down and felt the dirt rub against my fingers. Almost like our courts here in Cebu, only thicker and red.

We moved to the open air pavilion. This is the area, I imagined, where spectators relaxed, dined and chatted between matches. We mimicked the statues of the Four Musketeers, some of the best French netters in history: Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet, and the clothing wear founder, René Lacoste.

Finally, we entered the main stadium, Court Philippe Chatrier (named after the former head of the French Tennis Federation). We absorbed every detail and gazed around. Compared to the US Open’s Arthur Ashe Center Court, this is intimate, I told my wife Jasmin. With us were my daughter Jana, Jasmin’s sisters Michelle and Monette, and brother Jake. It was just us inside, the court laid bare all to ourselves.

We snapped photos, took videos, and lingered wondering how it must feel when the court is jam-packed and inhabited by warriors with rackets. All of a sudden, as we marveled around and chatted, my daughter blurted out, “I want to make poo-poo!” Poo-poo? My two-year-old Jana? At the center court? Was this possible? Will we be caught? Jailed?

As parents all know: When a child has to go, she has to go. And so Jana, with her diapers on and standing on Court Philippe Chatrier, dropped a bombshell that rocked Paris. POOOOT! POOOOT! POOOOT!

We shook our heads. Laughed. Who would have believed such a sight. That was our family’s Ripley’s Believe It Or Not episode. On center court, dozens have been crowned champions, knelt down and wiped tears after victory—the Bjorn Borgs, the Michael Changs, and, this Sunday, Rafael Nadal will win his third straight—but how many can claim they dropped red clay on the red clay of the French Open?

John Pages

By John Pages

I've been a sports columnist since 1994. First, in The Freeman newspaper under "Tennis Is My Game." Then, starting in 2003, with Sun.Star Cebu under the name "Match Point." Happy reading!


  1. It’s nice to read about your travels. Someday you’ll get to fulfill your dreams of being there (at center court finals) during the Wimbledon and the Australian Opens. Was that you on the photos? You looked different; must be the hair. Jana was a cutie and more so now. With an athletic dad, I have no doubt that sports is going to be a major part of her life.

  2. I only have one tennis dream, to watch Maria Sharapova live. I’ll record her grunts and maybe use it as a ring tone.

    Nagdala tani ka racquet bag and tennis gear, para Jasmin can take your photo “walking off the court,” “waving to the fans,” or approaching the net, then you can photoshop that to walking off the court, waving to the fans after a match with Rafa or Roger, or going to the net to shake Roger’s hand…hehehe

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