The walkways that wind around the 17 tennis courts at Roland Garros are lined with charming booths rented by companies such as Lacoste, Puma, Babolat and Wilson -- each selling tennis-related wares or promoting their image to the French Open's upscale clientele.
Among them for the first time this year is the al-Jazeera Sports Channel, whose booth is furnished with a flatscreen TV and staffed by Einat Yogev, an elegant, multilingual Parisian who describes herself as half Moroccan and half Iraqi with a Jewish mother.
The al-Jazeera Sports Channel was launched in November 2003 and currently broadcasts eight to 10 hours of sports programming a day, having secured rights to such events as Euro 2004 soccer, Euro handball, volleyball and Golden League track and field. It has a crew of about a dozen at Roland Garros preparing reports from the French Open, with former Moroccan tennis great Karim al Ami serving as the chief on-air commentator. The channel will also broadcast from the Olympics Games in Athens this summer.
The al-Jazeera satellite news channel, based in Qatar, has been criticized by some American officials for having what they say is an anti-American slant.
Nasser G. Al-Khelaifi, the network's director of rights acquisitions and a member of the Qatar Davis Cup team from 1992 to 2001, said the sports channel is completely independent from the 24-hour satellite news network.
"We're not part of al-Jazeera news," Al-Khelaifi said in an interview this week. "We don't want to talk about politics. It nothing to do with politics."
Even though the al-Jazeera Sports Channel isn't available in Europe, officials feel it's important to have a presence at the French Open to publicize the fact that al-Jazeera is more than an information outlet. Said Yogev: "It gives the channel another aspect -- one that is more sporting and not only an information channel."
Around the Courts
Defending champion Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, who has been slowed by a rib injury, was defeated by Russia's Igor Andreev, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. "It's pretty difficult to defend a title when you are not 100 percent," Ferrero said. . . .
Glee over the ouster of all 10 American men from the French Open was palpable in Paris on Thursday. L'Equipe, the country's sports-related daily newspaper, printed a chart detailing the Americans' failing with the headline: "U.S. GO HOME."
One of those ousted, Andre Agassi, accepted a wild card Thursday to play in the Wimbledon warmup tournament at Queen's Club. Agassi, knocked out of the French Open in the first round by qualifier Jerome Haehnel, reached the semifinals of the London grass-court tournament last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.