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Tennis News • Roland Garros Delayed by One Week as Covid Rates Rise in France

By Alix Ramsay

The French Open has been delayed by one week due to the Corona virus pandemic. The hope is that by pushing back the start date until May 24 for qualifying and May 30 for the main draw, the tournament can go ahead as normally as possible – and with spectators.

Last week, France went back into lockdown for a month as the infection rates continued to rise around the country. However, the government was determined to have sporting and cultural events up and running again once those lockdown restrictions were eased. The timing of that “unlocking” will depend on how far the virus can be supressed in the coming couple of weeks.

On Thursday, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) published a statement explaining the rationale behind their move.

“Welcoming the fact that the French public authorities have maintained large sports events despite the health measures tightening,” it read, “the FFT, for this 2021 edition of Roland-Garros, aims at maximising the chances – for the players and for the overall tennis community – that the tournament is played in front of the largest possible number of fans, while guaranteeing health and safety. Regarding both objectives, every week is important and can make a difference.”

The change of dates will eat into the grass court season and the build up to Wimbledon but, nonetheless, the Grand Slam Board immediately announced its approval.

In a statement published on the Wimbledon website, the board said: “All four grand slam tournaments are united in their view on the importance of a meaningful build-up to every grand slam, to provide players of all competitive levels with appropriate opportunities to practice, prepare and compete on the relevant surface. It was for this reason that the grand slams, together with the tours, were supportive of changes to the calendar to create an enhanced grass court season of three weeks between Roland-Garros and The Championships from 2015 onwards. It is widely agreed that this change has been very successfully received. 

“However, given the considerable challenges ahead of the FFT in staging Roland-Garros, and to avoid further impact on the rest of the calendar, the grass court season between Roland-Garros and Wimbledon will be reduced by one week in 2021.”

Last year, the FFT made a unilateral decision to move the French Open from its usual springtime dates to a three-week slot in the autumn. At the time, the move was condemned by one and all but, as it turned out, the new dates did not compete with any other events as the pandemic caused most other tournaments around the world to be cancelled.

This year, with vaccine programmes in operation globally, countries are slowly opening up again. Life may not be returning to normal just yet but it is inching towards a state of being that is slightly less abnormal than it was last year. As a result, there simply will not be the space in the calendar to uproot a grand slam and drop it into another slot a few months down the line.

As it is, the grass court tournaments in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Stuttgart and Nottingham will be hit hard by the FFT’s move as they will now clash with the second week of the French Open. As for Queen’s, Halle and Birmingham, they will now start the day after the men’s final in Paris and they may find that some of their big names would rather have a couple of days off rather than dive straight into competitive action on the grass.