x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

History of the tennis French Open wins over future

The notion of moving the French Open away from Roland Garros appalled romantics, but there was logic in its reasoning.

It is common for visitors to Paris to come away smitten and convinced that the City of Light should never change.

With the intellectual backdrop of "we love you just the way you are" it is perhaps no surprise that the casual observer was stunned and perhaps appalled at the lively debate over plans to move the French Open out of the capital. Mon dieu! Leave Paris?

However, a strong case was made that the unthinkable needed to be considered, and it has been, these past months.

Since it was built, in 1928, on the western edge of the city, Roland Garros has been the home of the French Open. As a brand, "Roland Garros" has at least as much cachet as Wimbledon in England or Flushing Meadows, home to the US Open.

But the French Open's spartan home is also, by a wide margin, the most primitive and cramped of the complexes which play host to the four grand slam events, standing on 21 acres compared to the 34.5 acres at Flushing Meadows and the 47 at both Wimbledon and Melbourne Park, which stages the Australian Open.

Player amenities are poor and the place is not particularly fan-friendly. The narrow seats around some of the show courts seem unsuited to the larger proportions of 21st century humans, and finding food and drink can be an ordeal.

Hence, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) seriously considered moving the French Open to planned facilities at one of three suburban sites: at Gonesse, at Marne-la-Vallee, already the home to Disneyland Paris; and at Versailles, well-known as the retreat of French kings.

The idea was to give the tournament room to stretch and to provide French tennis with a new national training centre away from the bustle of the big city but still within a short commute of it.

On Sunday, the FFT voted to keep the French Open at Roland Garros after guarantees of improvements such as a roof for the centre court and an expansion that would more than double the size of the grounds.

For tourists, traditionalists and Parisians, it must have seemed an easy decision.

Jean Gachassin, the president of the federation, said: "Roland Garros has a strong and unique image and possesses global prestige due to the city of Paris. We could not fail to consider that."

Others, however, decried the decision. "French tennis still has an aristocratic and elitist perspective in terms of choosing sites," Jean-Pierre Blazy, the mayor of Gonesse, told The New York Times. "It's a missed opportunity for French tennis and for greater Paris of the 21st century. This is not the choice of the future."

The mayor may be on to something. Paris is a small place, and keeping the federation's glamour event inside its borders may stunt the growth of the sport in France.

But in the end, leaving Paris was just too difficult for the federation. Millions of tourists understand.