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The French Tennis Open opened to the public on Sunday in Paris. With its brand new equipment, the Porte d’Auteuil site feels like it is back to normal, despite the many health protocols to be observed. Reportage.
The French tennis world has found its way back to its annual pilgrimage. On this hot Sunday morning of May 30, the lines stretch out at the Porte d’Auteuil to gain access to the holy of holies: the Roland-Garros enclosure where the Parisian Grand Slam tournament takes place.
In the queues, hosts and hostesses strive to do respect the sanitary protocol : masks on the mouth and nose, social distancing and hydroalcoholic gels distributed. Compliance with these instructions is one of the sine qua non conditions for the smooth running of the tournament, first sporting event in France to welcome the public in 2021.
Covid-19 requires, they are very precisely 5,388 lucky on this first day of the tournament to have the right to take place in the stands. If deconfinement continues according to schedule, they will be just over 13,000 from June 9.
In total, close to 120,000 admissions have been spent for the fortnight. Much more than the 15,000 in 2020, but far from the some 520,000 recorded in 2019 before the pandemic.
“We hope there will be a good atmosphere”
Mathieu Laroche and Romain Pourrat, 21, are two tennis enthusiasts. They saved up all year to afford three days of dreaming in the most prestigious of French tennis tournaments. Under the hats and behind the masks, smiles are out. The two friends are unanimous: “‘Roland’ is better with the public.”
“The weather is nice. There are people. We want to enjoy. It feels good to see the public again. We hope that there will be a good atmosphere”, rejoices Mathieu Laroche. “It’s important, the atmosphere. It can change everything for the players,” adds Romain Pourrat.
“We are in a new world”
The two friends are also blown away by modernization of the premises, titanic project started in 2011 and of which the 2021 edition marks the end. During this decade of work, the surface area of the site was increased from 8.5 to nearly 12 hectares – a precious help for respecting social distancing in times of pandemic. A new court was inaugurated in the garden of the Auteuil greenhouses, the Simonne-Mathieu. Finally, the vagaries of the weather are now mitigated with the possible coverage of the Philippe-Chatrier court, the central court with around 15,000 seats, thanks to a retractable roof that has been operational since last year. With its 10,000 seats, the Suzanne-Lenglen court should have the same facility in view of the Paris-2024 Olympic Games.
“The new Philippe Chatrier court, it’s very modern. We really have the impression of a revival. It’s almost a new site. We are in a new world”, raves Romain Pourrat.
The new arrangements are obvious to spectators. Under the monumental entrance number 1, a statue of Roland-Garros welcomes visitors. A little further away is Rafael Nadal’s, already 13 victories in the competition, and who will try to win one 14e this year.
Bernard Cordilhac has been coming to Roland-Garros for almost 30 years. Last year, he had to give up because of the pandemic. The retired computer scientist is in no particular rush to join the matches. He prefers to take the time to find out what’s new on the site.
“I haven’t had time to go around yet, but I already find the new entrance and its two statues very successful,” notes the 70-year-old retiree. “Now I’m going to go see the new Simonne-Mathieu court in the Auteuil greenhouses.”
Roland-Garros knows how to combine tradition and modernity. The tournament inaugurated a Garden of the Musketeers, nicknamed the four tennis players Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and René Lacoste, whose statues have reappeared on a red brick esplanade at the heart of the site.
Distance in the grandstand … or not?
On the players’ side, it’s Naomi Osaka, the 2e world, the honor of inaugurating this 2021 edition on center court. A match against Patricia Maria Tig, the 63e world, which does not unleash the crowds. The spectators quietly applaud each ball won and respect the distance seats between each group.
For a warmer atmosphere, it is on the side of the annexes courts that you should look, especially at number 9, where the Frenchman Enzo Couacaud, 177e in the ATP ranking, is neck and neck with Egor Gerasimov (78e). Under the cheers of the French supporters, he won in the decisive game the first set, somewhat blowing up social distancing. Roland-Garros is launched.