French Open is delayed a week
By Matthew Futterman
The French Open has been postponed by one week and will be played from May 30 to June 13, the second year in a row it has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
France, which has faced a third wave of coronavirus infections, on Saturday entered a new nationwide lockdown that could last for more than a month. Nonessential shops and schools have been shut, and authorities have maintained a nighttime curfew that has been in place for months.
Organizers said Thursday that they hoped the new dates would allow spectators to attend in a safe way and give the public health situation more time to improve. The lockdown is expected to lift in mid-May, giving tournament officials about two weeks to prepare for the Grand Slam event.
“Every week is important and can make a difference,” the French Open organizers said in a statement.
The two-week tournament in Paris, one of the sport’s four Grand Slam events, was supposed to begin on May 23 and run through June 6. It will now start on May 30 and finish on June 13, only two weeks before the June 28 start of Wimbledon, which will not be delayed.
The president of the French tennis federation, Gilles Moretton, also suggested fans would be able to attend the event. The delay, Moretton said, “will give the health situation more time to improve and should optimize our chances of welcoming spectators at Roland Garros.”
“For the fans, the players and the atmosphere,” he added, “the presence of spectators is vital for our tournament.”
The plan — an agreement with both government officials and international tennis leaders — means that for a second consecutive year the competition will not take place as scheduled. And while Wimbledon will keep to its schedule, the change in France probably will cause some shuffling of the series of grass-court tournaments that precede it.
Last spring, organizers shifted the start of the French Open to late September, believing that the pandemic that ravaged western Europe in the first months of 2020 would recede over the summer. The move, made with little consultation with organizers of other tennis events, caught the sport off guard.
It also ultimately helped cause several top European players, including the former world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, to skip the U.S. Open, which took place in early September. Players had little time to recover from a Grand Slam event played on a hardcourt and prepare for one on clay.
The move paid off for Nadal, who won a record 13th French Open men’s singles title in October. Organizers limited crowds to just 1,000 spectators each day.
For months, as infection rates in France have remained stubbornly high and as the European Union has struggled to distribute coronavirus vaccines, organizers of the French Open have been studying situations for once again holding the signature event in front of smaller crowds.
Last week, however, President Emmanuel Macron of France enacted a third national lockdown as the rate of coronavirus infections continued to escalate, imperiling the tournament.
Afterward, Gilles Moretton, the president of the French Tennis Federation, said if France’s citizens were still under restrictions next month the organization might have to consider canceling the event.
“If we are told a general confinement for two months, we will necessarily have to take measures — at worst, complete cancellation, but I dare not imagine that,” Moretton told Agence France-Presse.
Before the new lockdown, Macron had tried to keep France open, hoping that increasing vaccinations would help slow the spread of the virus. Instead, with the country’s death toll from COVID-19 approaching 100,000, he closed all but the most essential businesses, limited citizens to a six-mile radius from their homes, prohibited travel between regions and set a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. Professional sports are still allowed to take place, but without spectators.
Macron has said he hopes to reopen the country by mid-May, which would leave mere days for organizers to prepare for the arrival of hundreds of players from dozens of countries, though many of them would presumably be coming from Italy after having played the Italian Open.
Touring tennis players have been living for months in a series of bubblelike settings that each tournament has created with the goal of keeping players and the local populace from transmitting the virus.
At the year’s first Grand Slam event, in Australia, which has all but eliminated community spread of the virus, organizers forced players arriving from overseas into a limited quarantine for two weeks before they could mix with the rest of the population, and dozens of them ended up in a hard two-week quarantine, after multiple people tested positive upon arrival.
The restrictions have begun to wear on players, who are unable to travel with their usual support teams and family members and must limit their movements to their hotels and the tennis venues.
“I understand the reasons for it, but from a physical and mental health perspective I don’t know if it is sustainable,” Danielle Collins, a top American player, said last week after her exit from the Miami Open. “It can be very challenging.”