When French Open organisers threw their rock in the pond by shifting Roland Garros from May to September due to the coronavirus pandemic, world tennis was stunned at the audacity of the decision that controversially placed the Paris Grand Slam just one week after the US Open on the calendar.
Roland Garros is the driving force of tennis in France, it is what feeds the players in our ecosystem. We think of them first, protecting them. We made a courageous choice and today, no one regrets it. 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. Bernard Guidicelli, FFT President
They did so without consultation with the other governing bodies of tennis and have defended the action to this day.
Now organisers are considering playing the clay court major behind closed doors in empty stadiums.
FFT President Bernard Guidicelli said on Sunday that organisers are weighing up the options amid the spread of the coronavirus crisis that has halted tennis since mid-March and will not resume until 13 July at the earliest.
Wimbledon has already been cancelled for the first time since the Second World War, while The US Open, due to take place in New York from August 31-September 13, is also in question with a decision expected in early June.
Guidicelli added that the FFT had ‘no regrets’ over its unilateral decision to move the clay court major.
“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 [accounting for more than a third of the tournament’s revenues] to go ahead. This cannot be overlooked.”
An early indicator of the idea came on on Thursday when the FFT decided to reimburse all tickets bought for the original date of the tournament, rather than transfer them to the 500,000 fans that regularly attend Roland Garros every year.
Guidicelli admitted that the start of the rescheduled French Open could be pushed back a further week to begin on 27 September to allow a two-week break between the US Open and Roland Garros in a move seen to appease the other Grand Slams, the ITF, ATP and WTA.
“I have regular discussions with Andrea Gaudenzi [ATP Chairman], Steve Simon WTA CEO} and David Haggerty (ITF President) 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.”
Meanwhile, the USTA’s goal is to hold the 2020 US Open in New York on its currently scheduled dates of 31 August to 13 September, although organisers recognise that the pandemic situation remains uncertain in a rapidly changing environment.
While modelling many contingencies, including scenarios with no fans, shifting the event location or date is not at the forefront at this point in time, and a decision regarding the status of the US Open will be made in six to eight weeks in mid-June.