French Open 2020: Roland Garros 'like a seaside resort out of season'

By Russell FullerBBC tennis correspondent
French Open court
There will be no more than 1,000 spectators a day at this year's French Open

Roland Garros feels like a seaside resort out of season.

It is cold, damp and blustery, and the grilles of many of the concession stands remain firmly shut.

There will be just a smattering of 'tourists' throughout this rescheduled French Open. No more than 1,000 spectators will be allowed in each day because of government Covid-19 restrictions that the French Federation says it "deeply regrets".

And you sense some of the entertainers are less than thrilled the clay season will extend into the middle of October.

"It's a little bit too cold," said the 2018 champion Simona Halep.

"The weather is so, so cold," added the 12-time champion Rafael Nadal. "The conditions are a little bit extreme to play an outdoor tournament."

No doubt, though, that when the lights go on - and they will be needed, believe me, as the sun will be setting at about 7pm by the end of the fortnight - minds will be very much on the job.

There is minimum prize money of €60,000 (£54,760). That 30% first round increase is an attempt to compensate players for opportunities lost during the pandemic.

Serena Williams still seeks that record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title. And if Nadal wins for a 13th time, he will join Roger Federer on 20 major titles.

The Philippe Chatrier Court has room for 14,972 spectators, but after two weeks of virtual silence in the US Open's Arthur Ashe Stadium, even 1,000 fans will bring some blessed relief.

With opportune timing, the court's new roof is ready to slide into place. At 31 metres above the clay, its steel and light coloured canvas is designed to evoke memories of the biplane Roland Garros flew in World War One.

Masks are everywhere. Breakfast, lunch and dinner aside, the only times I am allowed to remove my mask is in my hotel room, or in the BBC commentary box.

And in the impressive and spacious new media centre, where social distancing is not going to be an issue this year, you can see players behind the glass of Interview Room 1 as they address answers to a collage of journalists, in multiple time zones, on a large screen.

One of the burning questions has been who this autumnal French Open will suit best? She may not enjoy the cold, but Halep should still be considered the favourite for the women's title, having won on clay in Prague and Rome in her only two tournaments since the tour resumed.

But what about the men?

"The most difficult conditions for me ever at Roland Garros," says Nadal.

The courts will be much slower than usual, and the balls far heavier as they gather moisture. The ball will therefore not bounce as high, and it will be harder for Nadal to apply his customary heavy top spin.

He does not like the new Wilson ball, either.

"In Mallorca with warm conditions, the ball was very slow," he says. "I think not a good ball to play on clay."

Novak Djokovic with his Italian Open trophy
The Italian Open was Djokovic's first tournament since being disqualified for accidentally hitting a ball at a line judge at the US Open

The conditions may be more to Novak Djokovic's liking. The world number one nearly turned the 2012 final with Nadal on its head as light rain set in.

From two sets and a break down, Djokovic won eight games in a row. Nadal was only too happy to see the rain intensify, and the players asked to settle their differences the following day.

And in case you are wondering, Djokovic's mind seems clear of his disqualification in New York.

"I don't think that this will have any significant negative impact on how I feel on the tennis court," said the man who won the Italian Open on Monday.

"I'm not going to be down on myself because of that. I also try to kind of accept it and forgive myself for what happened and move on. I'm a human being. I have flaws as everybody else.

"I'm back to normal."

Top Stories

Explore the BBC

Featured