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Serving up a socially distanced Grand Slam

China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-29 09:43
Preparations are continuing to stage the French Open-with fans-in September. The Grand Slam is set to feature a renovated Court Philippe Chatrier (pictured on Wednesday), with the tournament's main arena now equipped with a retractable roof. [Photo/REUTERS]

French Open planning to welcome fans-but at the same time keep them apart-at renovated Roland Garros

PARIS-Roland Garros chiefs insisted on Wednesday the French Open, delayed until September due to the coronavirus pandemic, will have fans attending even if they still have to abide by social-distancing rules.

The clay-court Grand Slam, which should now have been into its first week under its traditional schedule, was pushed back by four months because of the outbreak.

However, tickets bought for the Paris event in its May-June slot were reimbursed rather than transferred, prompting fears that the tournament, whose official Sept 20 start date could reportedly be pushed back to Sept 27, would be played behind closed doors.

"In the autumn, we will play Roland Garros with an optimum spectator capacity which allows fans to respect social distancing," Jean-Francois Vilotte, the director-general of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said.

A working group has already been created consisting of the ministries of sports and foreign affairs as well as Roland Garros officials and health bodies.

"The aim is that there will be spectators but we will have the capacity to organize Roland Garros whatever the option decided, including behind closed doors."

For the players, "the prize money is very important" as is the eco-system of tennis in France for which Roland Garros accounts for 80 percent of revenue.

If fans are to be welcome at the rescheduled tournament, then tickets would have to go on resale.

"We have set ourselves a deadline (for resale) ... but you will not know it," added Vilotte.

"It will be an exceptional tournament anyway," he said, adding the organization was working on holding a "postponed tournament" and not a "downgraded" version.

In other words, juniors, singles, doubles and wheelchair tennis events will still be staged.

International tennis has been suspended globally since mid-March while Wimbledon was canceled for the first time since World War II.

The US Open in New York, due to start on Aug 24, is still under a cloud with organizers due to decide its fate in mid-June.

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