World No 1 Ashleigh Barty has decided not to defend her French Open title at Roland Garros in 3 weeks time because of travel restrictions in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are two reasons for my decision. The first is the health risks that still exist with Covid. The second is my preparation, which has not been ideal without my coach being able to train with me due to the state border closures in Australia. Ash Barty
The 24-year-old, who claimed her maiden Grand Slam crown at Roland Garros in 2019, is still concerned about the health risks presented by coronavirus.
Barty also pulled out of the US Open, which is currently ongoing in New York, for the same reason, while she has also been unable to train with her coach in Australia, because of travel restrictions.
She posted on Instagram: “It has been a difficult decision to make but unfortunately I will not be competing in Europe this year.
“Last year’s French Open was the most special tournament of my career so this is not a decision I have made lightly.
“There are two reasons for my decision. The first is the health risks that still exist with Covid.
“The second is my preparation, which has not been ideal without my coach being able to train with me due to the state border closures in Australia.
“I wish the players and the French Federation all the best for a successful tournament.
“I now look forward to a long pre-season and the summer in Australia. It has been a challenging year for everyone and although I am disappointed on a tennis front, the health and well-being of my family and my team will always be my priority.
“Thank you to my fans for your continued support, I can’t wait to play for you again.”
Barty was the first major name to pull out of the US Open, prompting 5 of the top 10 to follow her, leaving a depleted field at Flushing Meadows.
A large number of withdrawals from the clay-court Grand Slam, which starts on 27 September, are not expected.
The French Tennis Federation announced on Monday that a limited number of spectators will be allowed in the main three show courts under strict rules.
Protocols for the players will be even stricter than in New York, and they must stay in one of two tournament hotels, nor will they be allowed on site on days when they are not playing.
Serena Williams, a quarter-finalist at the US Open, could be one of those who does follow Barty in withdrawing as she would prefer to stay in private accommodation due to her health issues.
Williams, who suffered blood clots and life-threatening pulmonary embolisms while giving birth in 2017, said: “If there are fans, then we should be able to stay elsewhere.
“It’s just for me I’m super conservative because I do have some serious health issues, so I try to stay away from public places, because I have been in a really bad position in the hospital a few times, so I don’t want to end up in that position again.
“I’m going to have to make the best decision for my health. Maybe it will be good for me to talk to the organisers just to see how that works with the crowd and how we will be protected.”
Williams owns an apartment in Paris and is hoping to get an exemption to be able to use it.
The French Open is normally the second major in the tennis calendar year, traditionally beginning in late May and ending in early June but this year’s tournament was moved because of the coronavirus and now starts later this month.
Fans will be allowed at the French Open this month, despite the growing number of coronavirus cases in France.
The tennis tournament will allow 11,500 spectators per day, split into three different zones, with strict social distancing measures in place.
France has seen a resurgence in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, surpassing 8,000 daily confirmed cases on Friday.
Jean-Francois Vilotte, the director general of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), said: “The FFT has a responsibility to protect the health of anyone involved in the tournament.
“It has a responsibility to international tennis to organise this major tournament and it also has a responsibility to society. What we want people to see is that it is possible to enjoy sport, socialise and interact with other people while respecting strict health and hygiene guidelines.
“We want our tournament to be truly remarkable and to set an example, from all angles. By setting an example with our tournament, we hope to prove that we can get the economy back on track; though it goes without saying that certain conditions and certain restrictions must be respected.”
Organisers originally hoped to have up to 60% of the usual capacity, the equivalent of about 20,000 fans per day.
Fans will be split into three zones, with no movement between the zones allowed and empty seats left between household groups.
People will have to wear masks at all times, while all accredited people at the tournament will have to pass virus tests.
Qualifying matches will be played behind closed doors.
“The primary protective measure is to enable everyone to respect social distancing guidelines and hygiene precautions,” Vilotte tells rolandgarros.com.
“First of all, the health and safety protocol states that everyone must wear a face covering, that the flow of people will be managed so that social distancing guidelines can be respected and, for the same reason, it ensures that enough space will be left between spectators when seated.
“Similarly, a whole series of passive protective measures will be rolled out inside the stadium, such as hand sanitiser dispensers.
“But, in addition to these measures, we have devised a way of physically partitioning the stadium so that visitors can avoid close interaction with other people.”
It appears that partitioning the stadium is the best solution for welcoming visitors in the best possible conditions this year.
“The partitions put in place will be restrictive, but they are there for obvious reasons so the spectators will understand,” Vilotte continues. “The way Roland-Garros Stadium is set out and managed will, of course, be quite different to previous editions.
“But we are lucky to have a 12-hectare stadium that spans 1 kilometre from east to west, and various competition sites: Simonne-Mathieu court to the east, then Philippe-Chatrier court, Suzanne-Lenglen court and, to the west, the outside courts.
“This unique layout means that Roland-Garros stadium is not like any other traditional sporting facility.
“This distinctive feature will allow us to organise the tournament in the best possible way, to ensure that the competition runs smoothly – which is non-negotiable – while ensuring the safety of the various populations.”
Players subject to strict protocols
Conditions for the players are even more stringent than at the US Open, which is currently being played without spectators.
They will be tested on arrival in Paris and again 72 hours later, and then every 5 days as long as they remain in the draw.
Players must stay in one of two tournament hotels and will only be allowed onsite at Roland Garros on the days they are playing matches.
This is a big year for Roland Garros, with the new roof over Philippe Chatrier in use for the first time, while 12 courts have been equipped with floodlights.
In recognition of the difficult times for lower-ranked players, the FFT also announced an increase in prize money for players who lose in qualifying and the first round compared to 2019.