PARIS: Roland Garros will take place in cold and humid Paris on Sunday still in the grip of the coronavirus who hope their organizers will escape by unilaterally pushing back the claycourt Grand Slam event for four months.
On opening day, 2018 champion Simona Halep will start her quest for a third major title, while 40-year-old Venus Williams will kick off her 23rd French Open.
Andy Murray will face fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in the day’s marquee in an epic 2017 semi-final duel rematch.
However, it will be a very foreign tournament, even for defending champion Rafael Nadal, chasing the Paris 13th title, and winners of 2016 and world number one Novak Djokovic, as well as Serena Williams, chasing an elusive 24th major title.
The re-emergence of COVID-19 cases meant that only 1,000 spectators were allowed into the field each day.
In 2019, more than 500,000 people watched the two-week tournament on-site.
Organizers hoped to welcome 20,000 fans a day but within just a few weeks that figure was quickly lowered to 11,500, then 5,000 before the French government slashed it to a maximum of 1,000.
“Tens of millions of euros have gone into smoke,” said French Tennis Federation marketing chief Stephane Morel as he mourned the loss of ticket revenue.
Players, meanwhile, have been confined to the two tournament hotels with strict restrictions on their movements.
This happened at the hotel where they were undergoing Covid-19 testing, a source of controversy and accusations in the community.
Last weekend, five players who will participate in the men’s qualifiers withdrew.
Two have tested positive while three others have been in contact with coach Petar Popovic who has also tested positive.
Popovic told L’Equipe that it was a “scandal” and if “(Rafael) Nadal was in our position he would have the right to a second or third test.”
On Friday, Spain veteran Fernando Verdasco said he was “angry and frustrated” after being withdrawn following a failed Covid-19 test which he claims fell among a steady stream of negative results.
Verdasco said he should have been allowed a second test.
Inside Roland Garros Square, located in Paris’s prosperous western district, there are further signs of the effects of the pandemic.
Usually busy shops, food outlets and other commercial outlets have closed.
Everyone in the tournament, including the players if they are not in action or training, will be covered up. Hand sanitizer filled this site.
Instead of the early summer sun usually associated with tournaments in the traditional May-June slot, players will be shivering in temperatures of 16 ° C on Sundays with rain and strong wind forecast for the first week.
That means overtime for a new openable roof over the Court Philippe Chatrier showpiece.
In court on Sunday, Halep, the top seed in the absence of world number one Ashleigh Barty, who chose not to defend his title for health reasons, will face Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo, who is ranked 70th.
Wimbledon champion Halep is a particularly favorite with US Open champion Naomi Osaka missing through injury.
Former world number one Murray handled 2015 champions Wawrinka in his first appearance in Paris in three years.