Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Roland-Garros tennis tournament is being held at the end of September. But between the binding health protocol and the specter of a second wave, the Parisian competition hangs by a thread.
Roland-Garros usually rhymes with first heat and summer. Covid-19 requires, the French Grand Slam tournament this year is accompanied by the first fall rains and the disaster linked to the resumption of the pandemic. Between its displaced dates, its almost closed session and its health protocol, deemed ultra-severe by members of the circuit, Roland Garros is playing a balancing act this year.
Qualifying for the tournament began behind closed doors on Monday, September 22. The organizers of the tournament were also forced to lower their ambitions as to the number of spectators. The optimism of the beginning of the summer has given way to the realism of the start of the school year, marked by the resurgence of the pandemic in Europe.
From 20,000 to 5,000 spectators
At the beginning of July, the tournament still hoped to welcome a maximum of 20,000 daily spectators, or already “50 to 60% of its maximum usual capacity”. Then, a first plan validated by the health authorities had authorized the cutting from the tournament location 12 hectares and 1 km long in three “hermetic, independent and autonomous” sectors, organized around its three main courts.
But this option, which allowed it to receive up to 11,500 daily spectators, 5,000 on the Philippe-Chatrier, as many on the Suzanne-Lenglen and 1,500 on the Simonne-Mathieu, in the garden of the Auteuil greenhouses, n did not resist. Ten days before its launch, Roland-Garros had no other choice but to close ranks further: there will only be 5,000 spectators in its stands, at best. A further lowering of the gauge does not seem to be excluded, according to health authorities.
A health protocol too much severe ?
In addition to this question of spectators, the players and their sports entourage are subject to a strict health protocol which is reminiscent of the “sanitary bubble” implemented on the Tour de France.
Competitors are regularly subjected to PCR tests: the first two take place within 48 hours of their arrival in Paris, then they are tested every four or five days.
Players are also under a strict obligation to stay in one of the two hotels reserved for them almost exclusively. They do not have the right to leave, at the risk of having their accreditation withdrawn, except to go to the stadium, only during match days, during training, or for medical reasons. “But even for that, it will be very framed, with a dedicated car and a fixed appointment,” said Bernard Montalvan.
The management of the Roland-Garros tournament confirms that two qualifying players have tested positive for Covid-19 and three other players are declared “contact cases” of their coach who tested positive for Covid-19.
>> https://t.co/WM0UG8nZF6 pic.twitter.com/qtRidxJQmq
– Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) September 20, 2020
According to trainer Sven Groeneveld, who accompanies Japan’s Taro Daniel, coaches are even required to wear a mask during training.
An anecdote illustrates the severity of the protocol: “On Sunday, a player was stuck in a traffic jam 500 meters from the hotel because of the Tour de France”, says Dr Bernard Montalvan, responsible for the health protocol of the Parisian Grand Slam, at the ‘AFP. “He called to see if he could get off” and walk back, “he was told no.”
A complaint against the tournament
A severity which had its first consequences. Sunday, the tournament announced the exclusion of five players and, the next day, a player.
“Two players tested positive for Covid-19 and three other players declared contact cases of their coach tested positive for Covid-19. In accordance with the health protocol, these five players were excluded from the qualifications table (…) and will remain isolated for seven days, “said the Paris tournament in a statement, before announcing the exclusion of a player in another statement.
Among the five players concerned, the Bosnian Damir Dzumhur, ex-top 30 who fell back beyond 100th place in the world, pays the consequences of a positive test from his trainer Petar Popovic, with whom he shares his hotel room. But the latter already had the Covid-19 some time ago, which raises the question of the reliability of the test.
After the four packages announced (Escobedo, Krstin, Zapata, Istomin), Damir #Dzumhur also withdraws from the Parisian major …
– Matthere Battue (@MatthereBattue) September 20, 2020
“We’re sure it was a false positive because my trainer has antibodies,” Dzumhur laments on Instagram. “He was not allowed to take a second test. I am devastated.”
A test on their return to Serbia confirmed their intuition. Having come into contact with a lawyer, Popovic and Dzumhur intend to sue Roland-Garros, according to the daily newspaper the Team : “If I am prevented from fighting on the court, I will fight in another type of court,” said Damir Dzumhur.
According to the French daily, they could obtain possible damages for the damages suffered, whether they are sporting, moral or financial.
An “anxiety-provoking climate” for the players
‘For us, only the PCR test matters. We wrote it, the players read and signed it. If a coach (like Popovic, Editor’s note) who has been ill sleeps with his player, in the same room, when he knows he can be tested positive, the player will be contact at risk. This is why we advised against, in the protocol, coaches to sleep in the same room (as their player) “, explains Dr Bernard Montalvan.
However, this health protocol is a source of anxiety for many competitors, like the French Alizé Cornet. To BFM TV, she confides arriving at Roland Garros with fear in her stomach: “I have had feedback from players who have been stranded in their rooms for almost 30 hours, I find that also excessive,” she explains. I have the impression that everything is complicated, but at the same time, we are all a little helpless in the face of this situation. It scares me, it’s crazy! I’m really struggling with the situation, more and more because of it. I tell myself that it can just be bad luck, after that we can also really be positive. But it is an anxiety-provoking climate for the players “.