By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – At the heart of the Jardin des Serres botanical exhibition, Roland Garros’s new Simonne Mathieu court offers a green experience in tennis’ capital of red dirt.
Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, fired down her serve shortly after 11am local time to christen the new court during her first round match against American Taylor Townsend in front of a 75%-filled stadium – a rarity for a French Open curtain raiser.
The Spaniard carved out a 5-7 6-2 6-2 win in the semi-sunken 5,000-seater arena, which has been constructed with a slick combination of glass and metal.
The court is surrounded by greenhouses featuring rare and tropical plants, giving fans and players a cocooning feel at the east end of Roland Garros.
With two 70-metre long structures stretching along the east and west stands and a couple of 40-metre long enclosures connected to the north and south stands around the concourses, the stadium has a view onto the botanical collections.
“It’s a double experience, it’s not just about sports, you can take the time to see the plants before watching a match. The whole thing is really pleasant and relaxing,” said Jean-Pierre, a 50-year-old spectator who declined to give his last name.
There was, however, no time to stroll around for 19th seed Muguruza, who was offered stiff resistance on a court named after former women’s tennis pioneer Simonne Mathieu who became a leading figure in the resistance during World War II.
Muguruza was unsettled by Townsend’s mix of power and finesse in the opening set before she finally dictated the pace and found her range, hammering a series of forehand winners to gain the upper hand.
“It’s actually cool to be the first player in it. I have been training the last week — this week, actually, on it for a couple of days,” Muguruza said.
“It’s a very cute court. It’s not small, but it’s cozy. It’s in a very different place. You don’t feel like you are around a court. It’s like in a garden. It’s a different feeling.”
She next faces Swede Johanna Larsson.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)