Coronavirus pandemic

French open may be closed to fans

French tennis chief preparing for various scenarios, including a new Sept 27 start date

Czech Marketa Vondrousova (left) and Australia's Ashleigh Barty competing in the French Open final last May. This year's tournament is set to conclude on Oct 4.
Czech Marketa Vondrousova (left) and Australia's Ashleigh Barty competing in the French Open final last May. This year's tournament is set to conclude on Oct 4. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • French tennis chief Bernard Giudicelli yesterday admitted Roland Garros, already controversially pushed back four months due to the coronavirus pandemic, may be staged behind closed doors.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) chief revealed that with the government banning all events over 5,000 people until September - with every possibility of an extension - he had to prepare for all eventualities to get the clay-court Grand Slam off the ground.

On the possibility of barring close to 500,000 fans, the average yearly attendance at the Major, Giudicelli told local daily Le Journal du Dimanche: "We haven't ruled out any option... There is the tournament taking place in the stadium, and the tournament on TV screens.

"Millions of viewers around the world are waiting. Organising it behind closed doors would allow part of the business model - television rights - to go ahead."

TV rights account for more than a third of the tournament's €260 million (S$398 million)revenues.

He added that the tournament's start could be pushed back another week to begin on Sept 27, allowing for a two-week break between the US Open and Roland Garros, and he was in talks with the ATP and WTA tours as well as the International Tennis Federation.

The spread of Covid-19 has halted all tennis since mid-March and will not resume until July 13 at the earliest. Wimbledon has been cancelled for the first time since World War II, while the US Open, due to take place from Aug 31-Sept 13, is also in question, with a decision expected next month.

With the sporting calendar shredded by Covid-19, Giudicelli insisted the FFT shift the event - even though the decision in March was slammed by players, analysts and other tournament organisers due to the lack of consultation.

"Roland Garros is the driving force of tennis in France, it is what feeds the players in our ecosystem (accounting for 80 per cent of the FFT's turnover)," he said.

"We think of them first, protecting them. We made a courageous choice and today, no one regrets it.

"A tournament without a date is a boat without a rudder, we don't know where we're going.

"We positioned ourselves as far in the calendar as possible, anxious not to harm major events, so that no Masters 1000 or any Slam would be affected. The turn of events seems to have proved us right."

But there are no guarantees the French Open will eventually take place. Many people, including world No. 2 Rafael Nadal, have continued to express doubts about whether tennis can return this year because of its international format and the global travel restrictions.

ATP chief Andrea Gaudenzi is not losing hope just yet, saying the circuit was working on a time frame of six to eight weeks to decide on which tournaments are viable in the second half of the year.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2020, with the headline French open may be closed to fans. Subscribe