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Serena might not be a hero in France
By Greg Garber

“ As far as I'm concerned, war always means failure.”
—Jacques Chirac,
president of France “ As far as France is concerned, you're right.”
—Rush Limbaugh,
radio talk show host

The rebuilding has already begun in Iraq, but what about those prickly French-American relations? When U.S. President George Bush invited France to join the "coalition of the willing," America's oldest ally was unwilling.

That was when the French jokes started.

"The last time the French asked for 'more proof,' it came marching into Paris under a German flag," David Letterman observed.

Serena Williams' new French accent did not go over well in France.

Conan O'Brien wondered, "You know why the French don't want to bomb Saddam Hussein? Because he hates America, he loves mistresses and wears a beret. He is French, people."

The Web site drew more than 500,000 hits during the first few weeks of the war with Iraq.

And after she won the NASDAQ-100 Open in April, Serena Williams -- the reigning French Open champion -- smiled mischievously, mustered a cartoonish French accent and said, "We want to make clothes. We don't want the war."

The backlash in France was immediate. A number of Paris boutiques removed clothing endorsed by Williams and a French firm canceled plans to design blouses with her.

War has given way to the occupation of Iraq, but mutual distrust remains between Americans and the French. To quell any further potential backlash for her faux pas in April, Williams apologized again for her remarks during last week's Italian Open.

"I think it was a very bad comment to make," she said, fielding a question with nervous laughter. "I didn't mean to make it as a jeer or anything like that. I definitely didn't mean anything by that statement.

"I feel really, really terrible because the French (Open) was my stepping stone. I apologize to all the French (and hope) that they didn't take it the wrong way. Now I, obviously, know war is a very, very sensitive subject. You live and you learn."

There is no truth to the rumor that this year's French Open, which begins on Monday, has been renamed the Freedom Open. Well, perhaps only in America, where Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) ordered the staff of the House of Representatives cafeteria to rechristen french fries as freedom fries. Clearly, he was unaware that French fries were actually invented in Belgium.

Williams is the clear favorite in the women's bracket; she has won four consecutive Grand Slams, defeating her sister Venus in each final. Paris could well be their fifth straight major showdown, although it won't be in the final.

The two Belgians, Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin-Hardenne, are the only two other serious contenders. Clijsters has surpassed Venus as the WTA Tour's No. 2-ranked player, but she lost to Serena in the semifinals of the Australian Open. Henin-Hardenne is one of two players to beat Serena this year -- at the Family Circle Cup final in April -- but she lost to Venus in the Australian Open semifinal. Amelie Mauresmo topped Serena at the Italian Open semifinals last week. Plus Mauresmo was leading Venus 6-7 (6), 6-0, 3-0 in the Warsaw final when Venus retired due to an abdominal strain. (Venus had won their five previous matches.) But Mauresmo has never been past the fourth round of her home Grand Slam tournament.

Andre Agassi, at 33 the No. 2 player on the ATP, defeated German Rainer Schuettler 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 for his fourth Aussie title in January. He won at Roland Garros in 1999, but might have difficulty winning his ninth Grand Slam singles title in Paris, which would vault him past Fred Perry, Ken Rosewall, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl.

The smart money is on Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain. At 23, Ferrero has progressed at the French Open from semifinal appearances in 2000 and 2001 to last year's final, where he lost to fellow countryman Albert Costa. Ferrero, a winner this year at the Tennis Masters Series event in Monte Carlo, is ranked No. 3 behind Agassi.

Roger Federer, the 21-year-old Swiss player, has won three titles this year. Spain's Felix Mantilla recently won the Telecom Italia Masters. Spain's Carlos Moya, the 1998 French Open champion, has been playing well. American Andy Roddick, a finalist in Houston and Memphis, has demonstrated an ability to play on clay. Australian Lleyton Hewitt, who just regained the No. 1 ranking from Agassi, has played sparingly this year and clay is his most challenging surface.

So what reception awaits the Americans, particularly as they advance through the draw?

"I would agree with you that French-American relations are tense but only on the political scene," French Open spokesman Stephane Simian said in an e-mail. "I can assure you that we, Roland Garros, have not felt any difference or any potential problem. We are extremely excited at the idea of welcoming back all the American players of which several are amongst favorites.

"The public (has) been fond of Andre since the early '90s and even more since his victory in '99. The Williams sisters have been well supported in the past and that should not be different this year. I can tell you that the French public is very much a connoisseur public that is most interested in the level of play and excitement than the political tension."

“ I would rather have a German division in front of me than a French one behind me.”
—George S. Patton,
World War II general “ Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without your accordion.”
—Norman Schwartzkopf,
Gulf War chief commander

Gene Kelly played the role of an ex-G.I. in the 1951 film classic, "An American in Paris." His character, Jerry Mulligan, remained in Paris after World War II to study to become an artist.

"For a painter, the Mecca of the world for study, for inspiration and for living is here on this star called Paris," Kelly muses early in the film. "Just look at it. No wonder so many artists have come here and called it home. Brother, if you can't paint in Paris, you'd better give up and marry the boss' daughter."

Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean says he has experienced some anti-French sentiment.

The film celebrates the joie de vivre of Paris, but outside of establishing shots in the open, the film was shot entirely on MGM's sound stages in California.

For American athletes, there will be no such refuge in virtual reality. Most of them will be staying in downtown hotels where interaction with Parisians will be unavoidable. Todd Martin, playing in his 10th French Open, will be one of them.

"I would hope the public understands we have different priorities and different beliefs," Martin said recently. "In our free part of the world, that's a great luxury. Say what you want, but at the very least it should be respectful. I would hope, based on some of the things I've read, it would be less public and more private."

American Amy Frazier will be playing in her 12th French Open. Although clay is her least favorite surface, she's looking forward to the event.

"It's a sporting event," she said. "I hope everybody keeps it in perspective. We're there to play a game. I'm expecting everything to be totally fine."

Nevertheless, Martin expects at least a little friction.

"The French players, at Key Biscayne and Indian Wells, they experienced at least a little inappropriate behavior from some of the fans," Martin said. "I would imagine we'll run into some of the same at the French.

Sebastien Grosjean, the ranking Frenchman on the ATP (he's currently No. 28) has lived in Boca Raton, Fla., for three years. He has seen the tide of anti-French sentiment in America.

"I don't really want to think about it," he told Charles Bricker of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. "I'm a tennis player and not a politician. But I don't feel uncomfortable here at all. I feel really great here. This is where I live. This is where my family lives. My daughter goes to school here."

"Here," the anti-French Web sites are urging Americans to boycott all things French. Some products are less obvious -- B.F. Goodrich (owned by Michelin), Car and Driver magazine, BIC (razors, pens and lighters), Krups, Nissan (owned by Renault), RCA, Wild Turkey bourbon and Universal Studios -- than others, such as Air France, L'Oreal, Louis Vuitton and Moet champagne.

So far, there have been no calls for boycotts of American imports over "there" at Roland Garros.

"We have our governments and we live our lives with our nation's decisions," Martin said. "Hopefully, we support our nation, regardless of our personal beliefs.

"Listen, it's all fine. It would be nice if we could all just get along. But that being said, it's great that we can express ourselves the way we want. We can support the things we want."

Greg Garber is a senior writer at

34,742 Posts
Isn't it time you started taking the American media reports with a grain of salt? I know plenty of French people, the anti-American feeling is greatly exaggerated by the American press.

Personal view: US-France spat

Stefano Catalano, 42, was born and brought up in Santa Barbara, California, but has lived for the past 10 years in Paris where he is an orchestra conductor.
With indignation at France's anti-war stance strong in the US, he explains his feelings about being an American in Paris.

Several weeks ago I was asked by friends in California to send some tips and travelling advice to relatives who were planning a trip to Paris.

Having already had plenty of experience showing the 'City of Light' to friends and colleagues passing through over the past 10 years, I was more than happy to oblige.

Hence my surprise to hear them voice their worries about the French 'spitting on Americans', in accordance with reports they had received.

This was quickly followed up, as if to react to the Gallic assault, by 'anti-French sentiment over here is pretty bad now... what do you know?'

What I know is that those who passed on such rumours concerning French behaviour either got into a row with someone over another matter and chose to turn it into a political statement, or more likely got in the way of someone spitting onto the street, a rather common practice here.

During the months leading up to the American-British intervention in Iraq, I did not once hear or see an act of anti-Americanism directed at a citizen of the United States, despite the various organised official demonstrations against the war.

As I am constantly travelling through the city using public transport, I witness daily stress levels and political currents, quite aside from countless conversations had with French citizens from many social strata.

To this day I have been astounded by the lucidity with which Parisians have dealt with insults and attacks from an American press which seems to be projecting its own fears of judgement by the international community through the designation of an easy scapegoat rather than self-analysis.

Colonial pain

Since the conquest of Algiers in 1830, the French people's history of colonisation in the Orient has taught them many, often painful, lessons.

Hence the bewilderment here that the American government would react so violently to the French opposition to any military action in Iraq.

The French remember Algeria and the decades of compromise in a finally failed attempt to prepare this country for integration into the Republic.

When my friend's relatives finally arrived, they were overwhelmed by the warmth and helpfulness accorded them by every Frenchman encountered during their visit.

They also agreed that the war, and the 'pitiful' collapse of Baghdad were nothing compared to the struggle ahead, for which the experience and pragmatism of the French shall be sorely needed.

As they were themselves part of a group, I was able to gather varying opinions, but there seemed to be a general consensus on two important points.

First, Americans are bombarded with misinformation through the media, specifically geared to discreetly manipulate their outlook on world events.


Those who make a real effort to inform themselves find their trust in the American government's political and military strategy severely questioned.

They begin to understand how foreign countries look at their purported altruism with a very sceptical eye: business interests are usually not far behind and often end up costing lives.

Second, regardless of any supposed or real threat posed by a country, we are certainly confronted by the best-travelled series of weapons of mass destruction in modern history!

As a 'preventive' war in the 21st century, this precedent now permits any country that feels truly threatened to take care of its neighbour without the accord of any international body of law.

The simple idea that France should be 'punished' for its position has been rejected by every American I have spoken with as 'perverse and anti-democratic'.

Indeed what democracy would be possible without an opposition?

But the beauty and hope of what democracy is can only evolve when the American government realises that the world is not divided into good and evil, but every shading in a constant movement between the two.

The only step to enlightenment and reason can be made by letting go of fear, which only succeeds temporarily as an instrument of control.

A great admirer of France himself, Thomas Jefferson spoke of an 'informed electorate' as the true base of a 'healthy democracy' - we would all do well to heed him.

Vive l'Amérique-Vive la France

444 Posts
I don't think the french crowd will be bothered with politics. They probably just want to see good tennis.

34,218 Posts
"Deux" a web search re. the late Josephine Baker and you'll understand the special bond between the French and any talented black American entertainer (inc. athlete) that no bad joke will break (unless the person overtly said "the French suck", or something like that). ;)

4,096 Posts
One would hope that the french crowd would not take out their feelings about being on the losing side in a war yet again on Serena. The Paris crowd is a strange beast though and she needs to be very careful how she treats Amelie. If she dodges the kiss encore she might well get a Martina Hingis style reception in the semi.
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