PARIS: The French Open starts on Sunday with an ever-shrinking number of spectators allowed at Roland Garros, the players facing tight restrictions and bad weather threatening to wreak havoc during the fortnight.
Organisers were hoping to welcome up to 20,000 fans a day into the grounds but that number was reduced to 11,500, then 5,000 and eventually 1,000 as the French government intervened amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in the country.
At the recent U.S. Open, players and guests had to pass two COVID-19 nasal swab tests 48 hours apart after their arrival in New York, and the tournament did not allow any fans on site.
In Paris, players will also face tough restrictions with organisers crossing fingers that the two-week Grand Slam tournament can be completed just as the number of daily coronavirus cases in France reached a new high of 16,096 on Thursday.
All participants will be parked in two different hotels with no possibility of renting private accommodation. They will only be allowed out in order to play their matches at Roland Garros or for practice sessions at the neighbouring Jean Bouin stadium.
Players and their guests need to provide a negative COVID-19 test to enter the draw, a rule which has already prevented six players from competing in the qualifiers.
Bosnian Damir Dzumhur said he would take legal action against the French tennis federation after being barred from the tournament following his coach’s positive test.
This year marks the first time the main Philippe Chatrier court is equipped with a retractable roof, which will allow organisers to schedule late matches.
This option could be vital for a tournament postponed from its initial late spring slot to the autumn, when days are shorter and rain spells longer.
While 12 courts will be equipped with floodlighting, which will allow play to continue later into the evening, rain is forecast for six of the first eight days of the two-week tournament when the schedule is at its most crowded — just one covered court might not be enough to stay on schedule.
Yet at least some fans will be able to cheer on the players.
“I think having a few people, just put in 1,000 people and they will be louder than they’ve ever been before so 1,000 might sound like 10,000,” former French Open champion Mats Wilander told Reuters.
“So I think it’s great the fans are back. I have no idea if it’s a smart move.”
(Additional reporting by Martyn Herman and Sudipto Ganguly; Editing by Toby Davis)