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Tony Estanguet : "Roland-Garros, a huge asset for Paris 2024"

By Amandine Reymond   on   Monday 15 May 2017
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Besides being a three-time Olympic canoeing champion in the singles slalom (C1) event (in 2000, 2004 and 2012), a member of the International Olympic Committee since 2013, and the vice-chair of the IOC Athletes' Commission since 2016, Tony Estanguet is the co-president of the Paris 2024 campaign. He spoke to us about his personal connections with tennis and Roland-Garros's importance to the French Olympic bid.

What is your relationship with tennis?

I played tennis often when I was a child. It was a family passion and I loved the casual doubles games we'd play with my brothers and parents. Now it is my three sons' turn. My youngest, who is four, has just taken it up, while my six-year-old started two years ago and my nine-year-old plays both tennis and pelota.

What do you like about tennis?

What I like most about the sport is the shared experience, how easy it is to have fun with other people like friends and family. And I enjoy watching as much as playing. I've been to Roland-Garros several times and it's always a delight. Having won Olympic gold in 2000, I received my first invitation to "Roland" in 2001 and I had the chance to see Roger Federer play. I'm a big fan, so that's a fond memory – it's nice to be able to say that I saw him in his early days.

Why do you hold Roger Federer in such high regard?

Because of his classy play, obviously, but also because of the way he conducts himself off court. He's a composed person who exudes humility in his comments. In my opinion, champions should be role models on and off the court, which he is. He's a truly great champion who hasn't been afraid to challenge himself and dig deep to return to an extraordinary level when everyone thought he was largely finished. He's top-notch.

French slalom canoeist Tony Estanguet offers his services for the men's draw.

What impresses you the most about tennis champions?

Their ability to stay focused over such a long time. When I competed, my exertions were reduced to short bursts; I had to go flat out for around 90 seconds and then it was over. They, on the other hand, have to hang tough for several sets. They have to constantly gather themselves, because there are always twists and turns. Beyond the beautiful strokes and the physical exploits, it's this mental side that has always really intrigued and impressed me.

"I was thrilled to get to know Wimbledon with the Olympic spirit in the air and I hope we'll be experiencing similar emotions at Roland-Garros in 2024"

What is it that you particularly love about Roland-Garros?

The mixture between sporting passion, incredible emotions, great organisation and a festive atmosphere. It's magical to experience in the stadium, but that's also the case when you follow the tournament on television. We've all got lots of childhood memories related to the tournament, like revising for the baccalaureate in front of the TV. I like the way it unites elite and amateur sport. That's something we're looking to cultivate through Paris 2024.

Speaking of which, what role does Roland-Garros have in the Paris 2024 bid?

We wanted to bring together the best of Paris and France for this Olympic bid. Roland-Garros is a French sporting showpiece, a place that is recognised around the world, and so is a huge asset, because the IOC members know all about Roland-Garros and the tournament's success year in, year out. They know that it's a magical site that will set pulses racing and serve up great scenes in the heart of Paris. It's also important for the Olympic Games not to be totally at a remove from the city centre, and Roland-Garros has a prime Paris location, with other venues like the Stade Jean-Bouin, the Parc des Princes and the Stade Pierre-de-Coubertin on the doorstep. On top of that, there's a nice subplot with the boxing, which has enjoyed its fair share of highlights at the Stade Roland-Garros in the past, including notably a Marcel Cerdan fight there in 1946. We could see some pretty incredible scenes out on Court Suzanne-Lenglen.

Wimbledon hosted the Olympic tennis tournament during the London 2012 Games, just as Roland-Garros is in line to do in 2024. How can a historic sporting venue of this type and the Olympics complement one another?

I went to Wimbledon during the 2012 Olympics. That was my first and only visit to Wimbledon – it was to watch the match in which Julien Benneteau and Richard Gasquet eventually claimed the bronze medal in the men's doubles. I was thrilled to get to know Wimbledon with the Olympic spirit in the air, because it is a sporting treasure and I really relish it when these great annual sporting events embrace the Olympic Games. I get the sense that tennis players and the tennis world as a whole are passionate about the Games and are really eager to take part in an occasion that is like a big party. Andy Murray winning Olympic gold for his country in front of his home fans was a really moving sight. There were some very powerful scenes at Wimbledon in 2012 and I hope we'll be experiencing similar emotions at Roland-Garros in 2024.

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