by Jane Voigt
What would the French Open be without Rafael Nadal winning yet one more title? Sunday marked his eleventh, a run of bold, brave and impenetrable tennis we may never see duplicated by another player. But with the eleventh championship locked up, could there be a 12 or 13? Of course the answer is yes. Yet, additions to Nadal’s resume in Paris won’t occur on this version of Court Philippe Chatrier. They won’t unfold inside this iteration of the wonderful stadium called Stade Roland Garros.
After many years of litigation and design alterations, Roland Garros is scheduled for a massive facelift said to cost in the neighborhood of €350 million. Beginning Monday, as the women’s and men’s tours move to the grass season and leave the terre battue behind, throngs of workers will begin to break down the stands in Chatrier while office spaces inside Stade Roland Garros are dismantled as well.
“All the problems with people suing the project are behind us,” Guy Forget, tournament director of the French Open, told Tennis Channel.
Stade Roland Garros was constructed in 1928 specifically for Davis Cup competition. It seats 14,480 spectators and is the eleventh-largest stadium in the world. By comparison, Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York seats 23,200 people.
The French Open is the only Grand Slam event that has not made accommodations for rain. The Australian Open has two enclosed show courts. Wimbledon has one and the U.S. Open recently debuted its roof over Arthur Ashe.
Don’t get your hopes up. Rain delays are on their way in 2019 in Paris because the roof for the completely new Court Philippe Chatrier won’t be operational until 2020, “though it might not be fully operational until 2021,” The New York Times reported.
That’s the same year all outside courts will have lights.
“In 2020 we’ll have lights on all the outside courts, so we can finish matches,” Forget told Tennis Channel. “In 2021 we’ll have the first night sessions, at least we’ll give it a try.”
The Summer Olympics will be held in Paris in 2024, so deadlines have to be kept.
“We’re hosting the Olympics in 2024 and boxing will be on Court Suzanne Lenglen,” he added. “We’ll have the Lenglen court covered as well.”
But unlike Arthur Ashe stadium, which did not reconstruct that stadium before adding the roof, Stade Roland Garros will have a complete reconstruction that will alter its look, feel and capacities.
Gilles Jourdan, manager of the project, hasn’t been sleeping well because of the emotions and sentiments he attached to the stadium.
“I’m so attached to this stadium that I want to do this project well and do it justice,” he told The Times. “That’s what’s keeping me from sleeping.”
Jourdan calls the roof “an umbrella.”
Before play began this year, Court 2 had been closed. Many who attended the tournament weren’t aware of its closure until they arrived.
Court 1, or the “Bullring,” as it has been affectionately called by patrons from Paris and around the world, will also be demolished. It was erected in 1980. Until Court Suzanne Lenglen was built in 1984, the Bullring was the second-largest stadium on the site located southeast of the Parisian city center. In its place will be a green space.
“There will be lots of trees around and places for people to rest,” Forget said, per tennis.com.
Many historic matches have been played in the Bullring, but one stands out. In 1997 Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten began his surprising march to his first of three French Open titles on Court 1. Parisians and fans worldwide probably have not lost sight — or memory — of the hearts “Guga” drew in the red clay each time he won a match.
Guga was ranked number 67 in the world in 1997, one of the lowest-ranked players ever to win the French Open. This year, Marco Cecchinato pressed hard in an attempt to walk the same path. The Italian, who was ranked 72, ran through the first five rounds of the draw, upsetting Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, though, Cecchinato was routinely dismantled by Dominic Thiem, the runner-up to Nadal in Sunday’s men’s singles final.
“Cecchinato’s story is very similar to mine,” Kuerten said, according to the Gazetta dello Sport. “An almost unknown player who has the greatest two weeks of his life. And he has an extraordinary way of playing his backhand, a one-handed, which is rare.” Guga, too, had a one-handed backhand.
Kuerten’s affection for Paris and the tournament it hosts has followed him over the years and turned him into a legend. This year, he was given the position of Roland Garros’s first-ever tournament ambassador.
“We’re thrilled to announce that @gugakuerten has become the first ambassador of Roland Garros and will help spread the love of the tournament and the terre battue around the world,” the tournament’s Twitter feed posted.
A public relations campaign from the ever-smiling Brazilian will hopefully stave off disgruntled patrons, players and media… when the rains will probably fall sometime over the course of next year’s tournament, which begins May 26, 2019.