I’m in Paris for the first time, and I was given one piece of advice to help me fit in: Don’t wear shorts. Europeans don’t, which means doing so is a surefire way to be pegged as a tourist. This is generally but not entirely true. The crowds at the French Open, in Roland Garros, do wear pants more often than shorts, even though it's been hot, and they are generally the most stylish tennis crowd I’ve yet seen. VIPs at the U.S. Open dress gaudier than those occupying box seats in Paris, but they're balanced out by the distressingly large number of fans who arrive in full tennis gear — headbands, wristbands, Nike shoes — as if they fear unpreparedness should Rafael Nadal be in desperate need of a hitting partner. I have seen no white knit shorts at the French Open, and relatively few ball caps. They’re outnumbered, or nearly so, by white and tan Borsalinos, given for free to those in the ritzier sections.
The players seem to take their fashion cues in Paris from the crowd as well: subtle style, with class rather than glitz. The opening of the French Open has been uneventful for the top men's seeds, per usual, with the only notable upset occurring in the fashion world. Last week, Novak Djokovic announced that he had signed a five-year apparel contract with Uniqlo, a Japanese clothier you’re obsessed with if you’re young and into bright colors and live in New York — or anywhere in Asia — but otherwise probably know nothing about.
I've attended just a handful of sporting events outside the U.S. — rugby and cricket in Cape Town, soccer in Ghana — but never one where everyone was rooting against my guy. (Yeah, I know: No cheering in the press box.) In Paris, “Come on, Isner!” is replaced by “Oi, Arnaud.” There is one French cheer that seems to be taught from birth, given that I have seen it most commonly performed by groups of schoolchildren: The responsible adult in the group hums a short tune, cueing the kids to yell “Allez!” This reality was not a surprise, but no less jarring, and helps to accentuate the Americanness of the American players. On my first day here, I watched Frenchman Gilles Simon beat up on Ryan Harrison, a young American player I admire in no small part because he appears to be the next heir to the grand American tradition, currently mastered by Andy Roddick, of the prickly American tennis interview. Here he was after this loss:
"Il y aura au moins un Francaise en finale NBA puisque la finale de la conference Est opposera le Boston de Mickael Pietrus au Miami de Ronny Turiaf. Il y en aura pour-etre trois puisque le vainquerur de cette confrontation pourrait y retrouver les San Antonio Spurs de Tony Parker et Boris Diaw qui afrontent Oklahoma en finale de la conference Ouest."
I won't bore you with a full translation, but according to Liberation, the left-leaning local newspaper responsible for the news brief above, LeBron James, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Durant are mere afterthoughts in the Conference Finals. The real action involves the four French players, who have combined to average 32.2 points per game — take out Parker and it's 13.2 — just a smidge above what LeBron (29.3 ppg) has done on his own. The only other rightfully myopic view could belong to University of Kansas fans, who have three teams remaining with former players. Go get ‘em, Cole!