A gala dinner was held last night as several famous past champions were inducted into the Roland Garros Hall of Fame. Recalling his first win soon after the war, when everything was played at 78 rpm, Charles Aznavour waxed lyrical.
She may be the face I can’t forget,
A trace of pleasure or regret,
May be my treasure or
The price I have to pay
The price the guests had to pay for the privilege of attending this lavish event was almost as eye-watering as the reaction to Aznavour breaking into song. ‘Dance, in the old-fashioned way,’ he implored the audience, pirouetting off-stage with an antique wooden racquet.
After the formalities, a much-anticipated exhibition match was played under the nostalgic flare of gas lights, as Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli showed why they are eternal icons of the game. The inaugural inductees to the Hall of Fame, though venerable, demonstrated passion, dexterity and a unique melding of gypsy heritage with their hot jazz, and the clubbers loved it.
A win by classically trained pianist turned chamber jazz master Jacques Loussier over St Germain was scarcely unexpected. The on-court contrast was marked, with Loussier modelling the best of early 18th Century sports wear while the man known as Ludovic Navarre to his mum looked like a patchwork of tennis fashions from the past fifty years, topped of with a ludicrous sideways baseball cap.
Skills-wise, St Germain had no answers to the dazzling skills of the older player. Loussier’s ability to switch instantly between crosscourt counterpoint to swinging interpolations confounded his unranked opponent.
The press conference afterwards was somewhat strained. One journalist observed that while there is something regressive about jazzing up the classics, it is more authentic than stringing together a bunch of clichés and calling it ‘nu jazz’. This was the point where St Germain exited the room.
Nor was Loussier amused. ‘You don’t know what you are talking about. Bach is the supreme composer,’ he barked,”And no treatment can diminish his sublime music.’ Pushing back his chair, he strode towards the exit, remarking as he flung open the door, ‘How can it be a cliché if you are the first?’
Fans have already started queuing for tickets for the much-anticipated quarter-final encounter between Loussier and folk-rock harpist Alan Stivell.
Stivell, a kind of Gallic one-man Fairport Convention, is through after disposing of art-rock posse Art Zoyd in a rain-interrupted clash on Court 13. Both competitors were philosophical afterwards.
‘I was lucky,’ said Stivell. ‘People seemed surprised to find they could dance to my music, and did.’
‘It was not unexpected,’ said a spokesperson for Art Zoyd. ‘People thought they could dance to our often dark, composed chamber rock, but they couldn’t.’