Sacrebleu! French Open may be forced out of Paris
Originally published on: 23/03/10 08:46
The French Open could be uprooted from its historic home at Roland Garros and relocated to the capital’s outer suburbs under controversial plans to tackle its cramped venue.
In attempts to keep up with the other three ever-expanding Grand Slams, organisers have long considered extending the current stadium and grounds, but have been thwarted by stern opposition from environmentalists and the public.
As a result, possible new homes under consideration for the tournament in the Parisian banlieues (aka outskirts) include Versailles, Marne-la-Vallee, Evrey and Gonesse.
“It would be heartbreaking, but we have to consider it,” said Gilbert Ysern, tournament director and director general of the French Tennis Federation (FFT).
Space is the major issue that has spawned the discussions, and given that Wimbledon occupies 18.5 hectares of lush green grass in south-west London, Roland Garros’ iconic clay courts are crammed into a space less than half that size – at only 8.5 hectares.
“We either move the walls or relocate,” added Ysern about the existing site, built in the 1920’s.
“The other Grand Slams have progressed more than ours. There is a risk that the tournament will lose some of its allure. Roland Garros cannot stay like it is today.”
A retractable-roof is high on the list of priorities for change, with organisers determined to install a permanent cover on its centre court to keep up with the Wimbledon and Melbourne slams.
Options being considered for the existing site include covering the Philippe-Chatrier centre court, or tearing down the Suzanne Lenglen number two court and replacing it with a new stadium with a retractable roof.
Plans to set the ball rolling on a third option, to construct a brand new centre court at the Georges-Herbert stadium (a weighty topspin-lob from the Philippe-Chatrier court), have been rejected.
Such moves would help bring the tournament up to speed with the existing slams, but would fail to solve the issue of ‘lack of space’, which adds more weight to proposals to re-locate the tournament to the Paris suburbs.
While certain to upset traditionalists, the idea of a Slam upping sticks is not without precedent, given that the US Open relocated from Forest Hills to its current home at Flushing Meadows in 1978, before the Australian Open followed ten years later, moving from the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club to its current home at Melbourne Park.
The current front-runner to house a new-look French Open tournament is Versailles, Ysern revealed, with the location “favoured in terms of the continuity of the tournament’s image.”
A final decision on the future of Roland Garros will be made by February 2011.