Corinne Dubreuil is one of the best tennis photographers in the world — and she’s had a front-row seat to history for decades.
Although the Frenchwoman is now covering her 32nd French Open, she says working at Roland Garros in Paris is still a privilege.
“What is so special here at Roland Garros is of course the clay and the courts,” Dubreuil told CNN.
“It is beautiful, especially so late in the day with the sun, we have amazing shadows, and there is also the clay flying in the air,” said Dubreuil, who works for the French Tennis Federation and the tournament’s official website.
Dubreuil first fell in love with photography when her uncle, who was an amateur photographer, gave her a camera when she was 11 years old.
Dubreuil, a keen tennis player from the age of six, was hooked, and told her parents she wanted to become a tennis photographer.
If it hadn’t been for 18-time grand slam singles winner Chris Evert, Dubreuil’s dream may never have come true.
In 1987, when Dubreuil was 16, she went to Roland Garros for the first time and she took pictures of Evert, who had been playing on Court One..
“After a few days, I tried to get an autograph,” she said. “I got it and after awhile, Chrissie gave me her phone number and I was able to call her at home and she gave me tickets to Wimbledon and to the US Open. And that’s how it started.”
Although she was still in school, Dubreuil started to go to tournaments, funding her travels by selling pictures she took with her first camera, a Minolta X-300, of players including Steffi Graf, Andre Agassi and Boris Becker, for 10 francs (€1.50) each to fans.
“At the same time as I was traveling a little bit and shooting tennis, I was still at school,” she said. “I remember in 1989, Chris Evert was playing in Wimbledon and I was still trying to graduate, I had some exams and I was in Wimbledon.
“So I called my mum, and she said ‘You have to come back because you have to do exams’ and I said ‘I’m sorry, Mum, but Air France is on strike, I cannot come back.’ So I didn’t come back and a few months later, my dream came true when I started to work at Tennis Magazine, the French one.”
In 2003, Dubreuil left Tennis Magazine to go freelance, mostly covering tennis.
During her long career, Dubreuil has come to know some of the game’s top players very well.
“I remember when Amélie Mauresmo started, she was 11 years old the first time I shot her. And I followed her all her career,” she said about the former Wimbledon winner from France.
One of her favorite players to photograph is Rafael Nadal, the 10-time French Open winner from Spain.
“He is very photogenic, for me he is the one to photograph,” she said. “Each time he is hitting the ball, you have a good picture … it is always a pleasure to shoot Rafa.”
As one of five official photographers working for the website of the French Open, Dubreuil has better access than normal press photographers, which allows her to shoot more intimate pictures.
For example, she is allowed to take pictures of the players when they are waiting in the hallways underneath the two main show courts a few minutes before entering the court.
“We are very lucky,” she said. “We have more opportunity to be behind the scenes, you can cover a few areas, like the locker rooms.”
A special time to photograph the action at Roland Garros is at around 6 pm, when the shadows start falling over the court.
“After 7 pm, you have half of the court in the dark and the player can be in the sun with a lovely shadow,” she said. “I have done a lot of good pictures there, especially of Rafa but also Serena Williams.”
During this year’s French Open, Dubreuil is keeping an eye on the next generation of tennis stars.
“We have a lot of new players, the next generation is very exciting,” she said. “I think we are coming at the end of a big story with Rafa and Roger … the new ones are coming, and I am very excited to discover these guys.”