On Sunday I won a tennis tournament!!! Admittedly, this was the final of the 4eme serie which is about as low down the scale as you can get but - and this is the bit that I like! - I played against six people who all have a ranking MUCH higher than mine (although my ranking will go up as a result). The tournament organisers have now decided that it is an international event as there were four English players (me, my husband, my son and a friend of ours so not that diverse really!).
The point of this isn't only that I want to blow my own trumpet but that tennis in France is so much more accessible than in England. In 1980 Yannick Noah (remember him with the hair??) won the Roland Garros (French Open) and as a result tennis was democratised here. It was no longer a sport reserved for the rich but open to everyone. Tennis courts were built in villages all over the country, paid for by the commune. My village has less than 2,000 inhabitants, but we have two good outdoor courts as well as access to the sports hall which we share with the basketball, the badminton and also the firemen who use it for fitness training on Friday nights. Access to the courts is free if you are a member of the club or three euros if you are not.
Not all villages with a court have a tennis club but obviously those that do are more dynamic than those that don't. Joining is not expensive (less than 100 euros for a couple) and your membership means that you have a tennis license from the FFT (Federation Francaise de Tennis) that allows you to enter competitions all over France and indeed Europe if you so wish. Once you've played in a couple of tournaments you are given an official FFT ranking which starts at 30/5 and moves up in the 4eme serie to 30/1. If you are good enough you move up into the 3eme serie where the rankings start at 15/5 and go up to 15/1. After that I'm not sure but I don't think I'll ever need to know!
Our village has a tournament (we are just entering the second week) and during the fortnight there are BBQ's on the two Sundays and the "club house" is allowed to sell wine and beer as well as soft drinks so people come along each evening to watch the matches and socialise.
Does all this have an effect on French tennis generally? It must do. Not everyone wants to play obviously and children (boys especially) still seem to prefer football but the point is tennis courts are available to all and children do start young. The winner of the 3eme serie last week was only 13 years old! She beat a (very cross) woman of 45ish as well as plenty of younger women on the way. In the Roland Garros this year there were about ten French players who were still playing in the second week - how many English players will be left at Wimbledon in the second week? Do we have ten British players at Wimbledon?
In the meantime, please wish me luck. My next match in the Morannes tournament is on Thursday evening when I will be playing my team captain for a place in the semi-finals. I'll let you know how I get on.