How Tennis Stars Spend Their Time Off-court at the French Open
There is almost constant gastronomic temptation for tennis players at the tennis tournament held in one of the world's capitals of cuisine.
A cook prepares a waffle at the French Open tennis tournament at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris. (Image Courtesy: AP)
As a professional athlete who is judicious about what she eats and drinks, Bethanie Mattek-Sands knows all too well how impossible it is to avoid the sweet aroma emanating from a stand selling waffles with a chocolate-hazelnut spread just outside the French Open's main stadium. "We would walk by that every day," the 32-year-old American said last week at Roland Garros, recalling her run to the 2015 women's doubles title. "We could even smell it from one of the match courts."
There is nearly constant gastronomic temptation for tennis players at the annual Grand Slam tournament held in one of the world's capitals of cuisine. Crepes and croissants. Baguettes and pates. Steaks and french fries. The rich sauces. The chocolate. The macaroons. The wine. And on and on and on.
"The French cheese and foie gras and everything they have — it is extremely caloric," said Sergiy Stakhovsky, a 31-year-old from Ukraine best known for his upset of Roger Federer in the second round of Wimbledon four years ago. "But as you can see," he joked, lifting his shirt to reveal a flat stomach, "it doesn't stay. It just goes somewhere. I don't know where."
Some players say they resist the carbs, the desserts, the alcohol. Others simply give in. Others hold out until they're done competing.
"I've gotten better at the 'everything in moderation' thing. But I'm in my 20s, I travel, I work out a lot. So I'm like, 'You know what? I love food,'" said Madison Brengle, a 27-year-old American who reached the second round at the French Open. "I feel like I'd rather work out more and really enjoy the food. The places we get to go to around the world, there's amazing food. Got to try it." Brengle's top treat in Paris? Pistachio macaroons.
For two weeks two years ago, Mattek-Sands said, she thought about those waffles. Then, on the day that she and Czech partner Lucie Safarova won the championship, all bets were off. "Right after the final, I was like, 'We are going to the waffles!' I didn't want anything else," Mattek-Sands recalled with a hearty laugh. "So I had the trophy in one arm and was just eating a Nutella waffle from the other. I was still in my match gear." And, according to her husband, Justin Sands, that long-awaited waffle was washed down with Champagne sipped from the doubles trophy. As they spoke, Mattek-Sands — who was born in Minnesota and is now based in Arizona — was eating her post-match meal: a bowl prepared by Justin in the players' cafeteria with rice, cut-up chicken, carrots, olive oil, salt and pepper. Plus, a red apple.
"For me, when I'm in tournament mode, food is fuel, and I can really look at it that way. There's a time and a place to really enjoy the food. And we go out of our way to try to find places that I can find something that I like and can eat," she said. "I feel like I still eat well, within my parameters. But I definitely look forward to my cheat days. I mean, I plan them out. Because they are few and far between, I am not just going to waste them on just anything."
Petra Martic, a Croatian ranked 290th, said she celebrated each victory with a glass of French wine as she made it all the way from qualifying to the fourth round of the main draw. So when she eventually lost, a reporter wondered whether the routine would change that night. "Still a great tournament, you know," Martic responded. "You can always find reason for red wine." Stakhovsky would tend to agree.
He said he never drank the stuff at all until he was 22, and even then it was only during tennis' brief offseason. And now? Stakhovsky said he has a glass — or half-glass — every evening. Stakhovsky's fondness for wine is such that he plays club matches at a tennis club in Bordeaux sponsored by area winemakers such as Chateau Pavie and Mouton Rothschild. He orders 40 to 60 bottles while there.
"It's interesting now talking to some of today's players: They drink more than I did when I was on tour," said Chanda Rubin, a top-10 singles and doubles player in the 1990s. "I was kind of behind the times, I guess. But I'm making up for it now." Another former player, Mats Wilander, thinks current players' lives are a lot more regimented — how and when they eat, the way they spend their time, etc. "You have a physical therapist. You have a trainer. You have your coach. You have an agent, of course. So that's your team. You're always doing stuff and it's all scheduled. You plan your lunch. And then after lunch you're going to go stretch. And so on," said Wilander, a Swede who won seven Grand Slam titles in the 1980s.
"Professional tennis players don't hang out as much together now. They don't go out for dinner together. And what happens when 22-year-old guys went for dinner together in the '80s, and you just won a five-setter? You might throw in a beer. Or two," Wilander said. "And if you lost? ... I'm going to call the other Swedes that lost in the first round and ask, 'Hey, you want to go to out?'"
John Isner, an American who was seeded 21st at the French Open, has his go-to restaurants in Paris, including L'Avenue, which is popular among tennis players. But Isner, listed by the ATP at 6-foot-10 (2.08 meters) and 238 pounds (107 kilograms), does have a complaint: The steak portions are too small. He said he remedies that by ordering two servings. "I'm used to going to Texas Roadhouse, back in America, getting a 36-ouncer. As good as the food is in Europe, especially in Paris, I miss the food back home," said Isner, who is based in Florida. "You can't beat a good Applebee's or Carrabba's Italian Grill. I do miss that a little bit."
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