Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 29 May 2020

French Open prepared to go behind closed doors as tennis chief defends decision to reschedule

The spread of the coronavirus has halted all tennis since mid-March and will not resume until July 13 at the earliest

Rafael Nadal will be aiming to win a 13th French Open title when the tournament takes place in September. Reuters
Rafael Nadal will be aiming to win a 13th French Open title when the tournament takes place in September. Reuters

The rescheduled French Open could be played in empty stadiums, French tennis chief Bernard Guidicelli said on Sunday as tournament organisers weigh up options amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Guidicelli, who said that the French federation (FFT) had "no regrets" over its unilateral decision to move the clay court Grand Slam from May 24-June 7 to September 20-October 4, insisted all options remain on the table.

"We haven't ruled out any option. Roland Garros is first and foremost a story of matches and players," he told the Journal du Dimanche.

"There is the tournament taking place in the stadium, and the tournament on TV screens.

"Millions of viewers around the world are waiting. Organising it behind closed doors would allow part of the business model - television rights (which account for more than a third of the tournament's revenues) - to go ahead. This cannot be overlooked."

The spread of the coronavirus has halted all tennis since mid-March and will not resume until July 13 at the earliest.

Wimbledon has already been cancelled for the first time since the Second World War.

The US Open, due to take place in New York from August 31-September 13, is also in question with a decision expected in mid-June.

Close to 500,000 fans regularly attend Roland Garros every year.

However, an indication as to the thinking around the 2020 edition came on Thursday when the FFT decided to reimburse all tickets bought for the original date of the tournament rather than transfer them.

Guidicelli admitted that the start of the rescheduled French Open could even be pushed back a further week to begin on September 27.

That would allow a two-week break between the US Open and Roland Garros.

"I have regular discussions with Andrea Gaudenzi (president of the ATP), Steve Simon (president of the WTA) and David Haggerty (head of the ITF) and another call is planned next week to see how we have progressed.

"We are working well together, but it is still a bit early to precisely determine the schedule."

Guidicelli is adamant that the FFT was right to shift the tournament back by four months with the death toll from the coronavirus in France standing at 26,310 by Saturday night.

"Roland Garros is the driving force of tennis in France, it is what feeds the players in our ecosystem (€260 million in revenue, or 80 per cent of the turnover of the FFT)," added Guidicelli, describing himself as the "good father".

"We think of them first, protecting them. We made a courageous choice and today, no one regrets it.

"A tournament without a date is a boat without a rudder - we don't know where we're going.

"We positioned ourselves as far in the calendar as possible, anxious not to harm major events, so that no Masters 1000 or any Grand Slam would be affected. The turn of events seems to have proved us right."

Updated: May 10, 2020 09:18 AM

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