French Open delayed one week in hope more spectators can attend

PARIS: In this file photo taken on October 4, 2020, groundstaff members remove covers across the Suzanne Lenglen court surface after the rain, on Day 8 of The Roland Garros 2020 French Open tennis tournament in Paris. – AFP

PARIS: The French Open was yesterday delayed by a week to May 30-June 13 in the hope that heightened COVID-19 restrictions in France will have eased by then to allow the maximum number of fans to attend the event. The French tennis federation (FFT) said the decision had been made in the wake of French President Emmanuel Macron’s announcement last month that the government wanted some cultural venues to be back up and running from mid-May onwards, “subject to the improvement of the health situation”. FFT president Gilles Moretton said the week’s delay “will give the health situation more time to improve and should optimize our chances of welcoming spectators at Roland-Garros”.

“For the fans, the players and the atmosphere, the presence of spectators is vital for our tournament, the spring’s most important international sporting event,” Moretton added. The qualifying rounds of the clay-court Grand Slam event will now be held on May 24-28, followed by the main draw from May 30 to June 13. Wimbledon, the next Grand Slam tournament after the French Open, said in a statement that the decision had no impact on its planned start date of June 28. The initial Wimbledon warm-up events, however, start on June 7, midway through Roland Garros.

There will now only be a two-week break between the French Open final and the start of Wimbledon. However, the decision to move the French Open was carefully discussed with the other major tournaments, unlike last year when the FFT moved the claycourt showpiece into a September-October slot because of the pandemic in what was criticised in some quarters as a unilateral decision.

Ugo Valensi, executive director of the Grand Slam Board, said: “These remain extremely challenging times for communities around the world, and, while there is optimism for the future, it is clear that this pandemic is very much still with us. The Grand Slams represent the most significant spotlights for our sport and so we will do everything possible to ensure they can be staged successfully. Further to consultation, the decision by the FFT to postpone Roland-Garros by a week in order to enhance the likelihood of the tournament taking place successfully is therefore fully supported by the Grand Slam Board.”

‘Agile approach’
The FFT’s decision was also given the green light by the ATP and WTA, the governing bodies of men’s and women’s professional tennis respectively. “Tennis has required an agile approach to the calendar over the past 12 months in order to manage the challenges of the pandemic, and this continues to be the case,” read a joint ATP/WTA statement. “Both the WTA and @atptour are supportive of the decision and are working in consultation with all parties impacted by the postponement to optimize the calendar for players, tournaments and fans, in the lead up to and following Roland-Garros.”

Crowds were limited to just 1,000 spectators each day at last year’s rearranged French Open. Rafael Nadal will defend his title after winning a record-extending 13th French Open last year, while Iga Swiatek of Poland is the reigning women’s champion. Roland Garros was one of the many sporting events affected by the fall-out from the global coronavirus pandemic. Last season, the professional tours were suspended from March until August, with Wimbledon cancelled.

This year’s Australian Open was also pushed back by three weeks. COVID restrictions were tightened across France last Wednesday although all professional sport is carrying on, albeit behind closed doors. President Macron has expressed a wish to re-open cinemas, museums and theatres in mid-May. – AFP

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