Change fi­nally comes to Roland Gar­ros

New Straits Times - - Sport -

Af­ter years of le­gal bat­tles the French Open has be­gun to ex­pand its fa­cil­i­ties, hop­ing to match other grand slam events — in­clud­ing hav­ing a roof over Cen­tre Court to ban­ish weather de­lays — while pre­serv­ing its Parisian piz­zazz.

Roland Gar­ros lags be­hind the other three grand slams in terms of cov­ered courts — the Australian Open has a roof over three courts, the US Open will have a sec­ond roof by 2018 and Wim­ble­don will add a sec­ond one by 2019.

The French Open has none, which has had an ad­verse ef­fect on rev­enue from tele­vi­sion rights since, with a court roof, play is guar­an­teed now mat­ter how bad the weather may get.

The ex­panded Roland Gar­ros — which is the only grand slam event played on clay — will be de­liv­ered in 2019 with the roof over Cen­tre Court avail­able by 2020, ac­cord­ing to Jean-Fran­cois Martins, a deputy mayor of Paris in charge of sports.

Roland Gar­ros has in re­cent years been at risk of los­ing its grand slam sta­tus, Martins said.

“In 2010 there was some real com­pe­ti­tion from Madrid. Spain were the king of clay and they had what it takes to host a grand slam. There was also com­pe­ti­tion from the Gulf coun­tries, who were ready to of­fer some crazy prize money,” he said.

“The only way for us was to be able to get more spec­ta­tors.”

Court One will be re­placed with the “Court des Ser­res” (Green­house Court), flanked by trop­i­cal veg­e­ta­tion, and the number of seats in­creased from 3,600 to 5,000.

Court One, also known as The Bull­ring given its round shape, was built in 1980 and has been the the­atre of mem­o­rable matches.

“I will per­son­ally miss Court One and the mem­o­ries I keep from those high and low mo­ments spent in that small sta­dium,” said Jim Courier, twice French Open cham­pion in the early 1990s.

“I never lifted a tro­phy on that court but it will re­main my favourite ten­nis court in the world long af­ter it is gone.”

French ten­nis fed­er­a­tion pres­i­dent Bernard Gi­u­di­celli be­lieves the Parisian flair of the French Open will be pre­served in the ex­pan­sion of Roland Gar­ros.

“If we de­cided to stay in Paris (af­ter other plans were drafted to move to the out­skirts), it is be­cause we wanted to keep this Parisian iden­tity,” he said.

“Roland Gar­ros is Paris, it’s France, its savoir-faire, it’s el­e­gance and glam. And the Court des Ser­res will show just that. It will be a veg­e­tal ar­chi­tec­ture, com­pletely unique.”

Martins added: “The French Open will re­main unique be­cause it’s al­most in cen­tral Paris — con­trary to Wim­ble­don or the US Open for ex­am­ple. What will change is that spec­ta­tors will have a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence walk­ing around the courts... The venue (up to now) has been too small.”

One of the tra­di­tional charms of Roland Gar­ros has been the sus­pense cre­ated by the need to halt un­fin­ished matches at dusk due to the lack of a roof, re­quir­ing them to re­sume the next day.

“I agree it was nice to have those (Gael) Mon­fils v (Fabio) Fognini matches in­ter­rupted at 9:43pm, for in­stance, but peo­ple who paid to see a match re­ally want to see the end of it,” said Martins.

“We have to make sure the matches are seen by as many spec­ta­tors and TV view­ers as pos­si­ble.”

The Roland Gar­ros ex­ten­sion was planned in 2011 but has only just be­gun af­ter a spate of court cases filed by res­i­dents’ as­so­ci­a­tions against the move were defini­tively quashed by French tri­bunals late last year.

Area res­i­dents had ar­gued that the ex­ten­sion would en­croach on the nearby Au­teuil botan­i­cal green­house com­plex.

“We have to ad­mit the (res­i­dents’) op­po­si­tion has forced us to make the project bet­ter. The Court des Ser­res would not be that great if it weren’t for this op­po­si­tion,” said Martins. Reuters

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