x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Fight for expansion at Roland Garros goes on

After surviving assaults from those who wanted to move the greatest of French tennis events out of Paris, the French Open now is now besieged by environmentalists opposing expansion.

French Open organisers are looking to expand Roland Garros for the 2016 staging of the tournament.
French Open organisers are looking to expand Roland Garros for the 2016 staging of the tournament.

Roland Garros is not out of the woods yet. After surviving assaults from those who wanted to move the greatest of French tennis events out of Paris, the French Open now is now besieged by environmentalists opposed to the modest expansion of the smallest of the four grand-slam venues.

Roland Garros, site of the French Open since 1928, was nearly given a death sentence in February when the French Federation mulled three options to move their operations, and their grand tournament, to new and sprawling venues planned in the suburbs.

The survival of the French Open in Paris, probably the ultimate in tennis destinations, now hinges on authorities being able to deliver on plans to expand the grounds by about 50 per cent to a still-cosy 13 hectares.

The extra space would allow the construction of a 5,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof that would allow matches in inclement weather, as well as improving the grounds and bringing them up to a modern global standard.

Unfortunately, it is not just an issue of official preference and taxpayer money (US$390 million, Dh1.43 billion).

The land Roland Garros would expand into is currently is part of the Serres d'Auteuil botanical gardens in southwest Paris, and traditionalists are ready to fight over the possible removal of 19th century greenhouses at the site.

The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoe, has promised opponents that Roland Garros would be expanded with the utmost care.

"I can tell you we will not destroy one single plant or one single flower," Delanoe said at a news conference over the weekend.

"This botanical garden will be totally preserved."

He said only the greenhouses lacking in historical value would be torn down, and that every displaced hothouse flower would be moved elsewhere in the city.

As beloved as Roland Garros is, in a picturesque setting near the Bois de Boulogne and just a short Metro ride from the grand sights of the city, it may not have much of a future without that 5,000-seat court, as well as another 2,000-seater envisioned in expansion plans, as well as some leg room for both players and spectators.

"We don't necessarily want more people to come to Roland Garros, we just want people to feel good when they are at the French Open," Gilbert Ysern, the tournament director, told the Associated Press.

The plan is to have the improved and expanded Roland Garros ready for the 2016 French Open.

But resistance has not yet ended, and the "greenhouse effect" could still derail the process.

If that were to occur, expect new calls inside France to move the federation, and the tournament, out of the City of Light.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae