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The Roland Garros tennis tournament, or French Open as it’s popularly known, is usually held in May. But the COVID-19 pandemic has created a uniquely challenging situation. The event has been postponed and will now open on Monday, September 21st. This is the first time it’s ever been held in the autumn season. It will run through October 11th.
The Roland Garros story begins in 1891, with the creation of the “French Clay-Court Championships.” The tournament, subsequently named for the famed French aviator (1888-1918), was reserved for players who were members of French clubs, and was held at venues alternating between the Stade Français, the Parc de Saint-Cloud and the Racing Club de France’s Croix-Catelan grounds.
“The world is affected by the public health crisis connected with COVID-19. In order to act responsibly and protect the health of its employees, service providers and suppliers during the organization period, the French Tennis Federation has chosen the only option allowing them to maintain the 2020 edition of the tournament while joining the fight against COVID-19,” explains the Fédération française de tennis (FFT).
“At this important period in its history, and since the progress of the stadium modernization means the tournament can be held at this time, the FFT is keen to maintain the 2020 tournament. We are acting responsibly, and must work together in the fight to ensure everybody’s health and safety,” explained Bernard Giudicelli, President of the FFT. “Of course, masks are mandatory for everyone, even while seated. “Since the international tennis circuit restarted, Roland Garros is the first tournament with the privilege of hosting an audience.”
The big news this year? After 10 months of extensive renovations, the new Philippe Chatrier court has been unveiled– seating approximately 15,000 spectators daily. The stadium was redesigned to make it more spacious, modern and comfortable. The highlight will certainly be the retractable roof – due to be completed in time for next year’s tournament (May 23rd-June 6th, 2021 – fingers crossed). This means play can continue during rain and in the evenings.
Organizers announced that the site, which spans less than 30 acres, will be split into three zones. Each zone includes a show court and surrounding courts – no movement is allowed between zones.
In accordance with the latest government guidelines capping attendance to 5,000 people in regions like Paris, the Federation has scaled down its plans. Unlike the U.S. Open, a qualifying draw will be held (from Sunday 21st – Friday 25th September, with RG Kid’s Day on 26th and the 1st round on Sunday 27th) without spectators. For the rest of the tournament, fan capacity will be at 50-60 percent– roughly 20,000 fans per day. The limit will be 5,000 fans for Court Philippe-Chatrier (it usually holds 15,255) 5,000 for Court Suzanne Lenglen (it holds 10,068) and 1,500 for Court Simone-Matthieu (with a capacity of 5,000). At the time of writing, entry lists are looking interesting with nine of the Top 10 men, led by Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, entered. All the women’s Top 30 are set to compete with last years’ winner – world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty leading the charge. Last week world No. 18 Milos Raonic expressed concern over the fan allowance.
“The only thing that is of some concern to me is that it’s going to be 20,000 fans,” he said. “Unless they plan on completely shifting around the organization of the venue, it’s hard to get to your practices, get to your matches without crossing tens if not hundreds of people on the ground. That to me is the biggest concern, especially seeing with the spikes that are going on throughout France right now.”
As I write, U.S. Open champ Naomi Osaka just announced her withdrawal due to a hamstring injury and World No. 1 Ash Barty has decided against defending her title. Nick Kyrgios has made the same decision as has an injured Federer.
Despite the large reduction in fan attendance the Grand Slam will still award $45 million in prize money, a drop from $50.3 million last year.
Book tickets on Philippe Chatrier (Centre Court) and you’ll access all the outside (annexe) courts except the Suzanne Lenglen and new Simonne-Mathieu show court, both require their own ticket. Tickets are available in each of the four main tribunes: The “Borotra” and “Cochet” tribunes are on the west and east sides respectively, and the Brugnon and Lacoste tribunes the north and south sides.
Where can we go before/after matches?
Just opposite Stade Roland Garros is The Molitor (MGallery Sofitel), a 5-star, 124-room hotel with penthouse overlooking the city and rooftop bar/restaurant (with great Roland Garros views). The 1930s architectural gem houses the chicest lido style swimming pool in town and is where Olympic swimmer and “Tarzan” star, Johnny Weismuller, was once a lifeguard!
Recently designer Jean-Philippe Nuel rebooted the Molitor, creating a marvelous contemporary version of the historic site. Three words sum up his exciting concept: Pool, Art, Life.
At street level, the Brasserie Urbaine is helmed by chef Martin Simolka (ex-Pavilon Ledoyen, George V). And, there’s an exciting art scene. For the first time, The French Tennis Federation, with At the Heart of the Legend, showcases its unique collection of photographs.
From the 1950s to the present day, discover (and buy) the most beautiful photos of tennis players who have made Roland Garros a legendary tournament: John McEnroe, Steffi Graf, Billy Jean King, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Yannick Noah, Jimmy Connors, Serena Williams, Gaël Monfils and many more.
All profits from the sale of photo prints will be donated to the FFT endowment fund, aimed at raising funds to finance social, solidarity, educational, cultural or environmental projects related to tennis.
Exhibition from September 21st to October 11th, 2020
13, rue Nungesser et Coli – 75016 Paris
Metro: Michel-Ange Molitor/Porte de Saint Cloud
Lead photo credit : Credit Pauline Ballet/ FFT