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The French Plan For A Covid-Ridden 2021 While Rafa Nadal Plans For Another Challenge In Paris

Rafael Nadal of Spain holds his trophy after winning against Novak Djokovic of Serbia in their men’s final match during the French Open tennis tournament at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 11 October 2020.

By Alix Ramsay

It seems like a lifetime ago that Covid first took charge of the world. It certainly does not feel like only eight months since tennis – and every other sport – was suspended, international travel was stopped and everything other than supermarkets and pharmacies was boarded up for the duration.

Back then, we thought it would be for a few weeks, possibly a few months, but it would be all right. Things would get back to normal soon enough. And yet here we are at the start of November in much the same place. Large chunks of Europe have been in lockdown, come out of lockdown and are now being put back into lockdown again. We stay at home, go nowhere, see no one and the infection rates drop; we go to the shops, go to work and try to do the simple little things in life and the infection rates rise. It’s not a comforting equation.

What the scientists, them with their graphs, algorithms and portents of doom, have failed to grasp is that no matter how long we all hide under the duvet, the bug is still out there. When we are released from captivity, the bug is waiting for us and we bump into it again. “Back to the duvets!” the scientists cry so back we scuttle to spend a few more weeks locked in with daytime TV and far too many biscuits (otherwise known as ‘working from home’). It’s all pretty grim.

Of course, we are not supposed to call it ‘lockdown’ anymore. Apparently, we poor saps under the duvet do not look kindly on the term. We think of it as some sort of prison sentence for a crime we did not commit. And it has only taken officialdom eight months to work this out.

Instead, the officials now call it a ‘circuit breaker’ as if it offers some sort of protection if the whole country turns the kettle on at once at the end of Strictly come Dancing (Strictly being the nearest thing to a bit of Saturday night fun that is left to us). “No,” the boffins say, “don’t tell them it’s a lockdown; tell them it’s a circuit breaker. They’ll buy into that.” Because that’s what we all need in the middle of a global crisis: a marketing strategy. You couldn’t make this stuff up.

Guy Forget, though, has not read the government manual. To be fair, he hasn’t had much time on his hands of late what with getting Roland Garros up and running and, without pausing for breath, doing likewise with the Paris Rolex Masters. When they were outdoors on clay, Paris was teetering on the verge of a local lockdown…sorry, circuit breaker; on Monday, they start playing indoors on the other side of town – and the whole country is back under lock and key. Forget, then, was not about to claim that all was well in the world of tennis.

Guy Forget, director of the French Open tennis tournament, speaks during the inauguration of the new Simonne-Mathieu tennis court at Roland Garros in Paris, France, 21 March 2019. The new Simonne Mathieu court is named after a former woman tournament winner and will be able to welcome 5,000 spectators for the 2019 tournament.

Back in the springtime, when it was becoming clear that Roland Garros would not be allowed to go ahead in May and June, the French Tennis Federation made a swift land grab and planted their flag on the calendar to claim the end of September and the beginning of October as their own. At the time, they were roundly criticised for it but now that Rafa and Iga have been crowned champions, none of us really care. We are just glad to see guys and girls running around biffing balls about – we don’t care when they do it or where; we just want to watch.

So, would the FFT do the same again next year if the pandemic is still in full force? Oh, yes. No question about it.

“I know we have been criticised when we moved the dates of Roland Garros,” Forget said. “We did it in a very quick way; we got some people upset. Some players were really surprised. We did it on our own.

“At the time I think we were a bit worried about what was going to happen. If we want to wait for the positive signals from all the different governing bodies, our concern was will they say yes? That would have been possible or not? That’s the questions we had at the time.

“The positive thing is now those same people, and especially players, told us that it was the right thing to do. So it worked.

“So, let’s say if tomorrow, which would be next year, we are facing the same issues, we would probably try to do the same exercise. But we will of course, now that we got together with the ATP, WTA – they will probably be the first people we will be talking to and we will have their support.

“Now we know they have been very supportive, and if that would happen again next year, we will probably in an earlier stage to try to imagine to again move Roland Garros a bit later in the season.”

Hopefully, Forget will have a quick word with his champion if he plans to move the dates for 2021 – Rafa really didn’t like playing in the cold and the wet and the dark last month. It didn’t stop him winning a 13th title (and winning it without dropping a set) but he still didn’t like it.

Rafael Nadal of Spain in action during his quarter final match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France at the Rolex Paris Masters tennis tournament in Paris, France, 01 November 2019.

The world No.2 is back in Paris this week as he attempts to win one of the two big titles that have, thus far, escaped him. He has never won in Bercy or at the ATP finals – 15 times he has qualified and yet he has never got his hands on the last big trophy of the year. A combination of exhaustion, injuries and playing on hard courts has scuppered him so far but this year, he feels fit, he is not shattered after 11 months on the road and he is ready to give it another go: Paris this week and London in a couple of weeks’ time.

“I didn’t confirm [to play in Bercy] after Roland Garros because my goal was to play there and to be there under my best conditions,” he said on the eve of the tournament. “Then I didn’t make any plan after that, so I needed to come back home and speak especially with the team and at the same time with the family, too.

“So, we make decision together with the team and we thought that the best schedule possible for today and for the future. Is true we are living under unpredictable and difficult circumstances, so difficult to plan a lot of things. So, I am just trying to be flexible and adapt myself to the conditions.”

And at least he will be indoors this time – and, with luck, someone will have turned the heating on.