PARIS, June 11, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli and Roland Garros tournament director Guy Forget held a joint press conference on Sunday to express their overall satisfaction regarding the 2019 French Open championships. They disclosed that four main courts at Stade Roland Garros would be lit starting in 2020, which will prevent top matches from being interrupted by darkness, in addition to a retractable roof being installed on Court Philippe Chatrier.
During a Q & A that was held before the men’s singles final, the FFT president confirmed that completion of the retractable roof for Court Philippe Chatrier is on schedule for the beginning of the 2020 tournament with night sessions being targeted to start in 2021.
“The night sessions in 2021 impose an organization which requires methodical and deep work, so that’s why we scheduled them in 2021 and not in 2020,” said Giudicelli.
Forget and Giudicelli confirmed that beginning in 2020, there would be lights installed for the four main courts at Roland Garros – Chatrier, Lenglen, Mathieu and Court No. 4 – and by 2021 all other courts would be lit. Also, with both a day and night session on Chatrier, it would allow for the scheduling of three day matches and one night match on the biggest show court.
Typically, matches are usually halted by 9:30 p.m. when fading light sets in. However, Giudicelli noted, “It’s the last year where matches will end because of night time.”
Other press conference highlights:
• Forget addressed the subject of finishing the tournament on time following Wednesday’s washout and other rain and high wind delays that occurred on Friday, when there were two women’s and two men’s semifinal matches scheduled. One semifinal match, between Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem, was suspended during the third set and wasn’t completed until Saturday, which delayed the start of the women’s final by 90 minutes. Forget said, “Our priority is, one, sports fair play for player recovery, and the second challenge was to finish the male and female draw on Saturday and Sunday.
“The decision was difficult indeed. Many people who commented on these decisions didn’t have all the parameters in their hand. It’s indeed a tricky decision.”
Because Friday’s men’s semifinals in Chatrier were ticketed as separate events, it forced both women’s semifinals to be pushed to Lenglen and Mathieu, which drew criticism from WTA CEO Steve Simon.
“I understand the frustration of the WTA members who had the impression that we had decreased the value of these semifinals,” said Forget. “We think that the court Suzanne Lenglen and Simonne Mathieu, who have been praised, was not a downgrading, but how the semifinals took place and the women’s finals proved we weren’t wrong.
“Of course, if the weather had been milder, we wouldn’t have made differently, but according to the emergency, the weather conditions that were quite unstable, we thought that this was the best decision, the best possible solution.”
Of course, starting next year, there will be a roof on Court Philippe Chatrier, and “this kind of issue,” said Forget, “will not bother us anymore.”
• Giudicelli gave an overview on State Roland Garros enhancements. He said, “I would say that on a site where work is in progress, having succeeded in organizing this tournament up to now is a real satisfaction. We have to remain focused on our objective, which is to deliver by 2021 the most beautiful stadium in the world.”
• The FFT president citied the popularity of newly-delivered courts in the Fonds des Princes area, which proved to be popular among fans and players, as well as the critically-acclaimed Court Simonne Mathieu. He cited that the rebuilt Court Philippe Chatrier, with its new profile and size, magnified the tournament.
• Later this month, the deconstruction of Court 1 – the “Bullring” court – will take place in order to prepare the future Mousquetaires Square. Other enhancements scheduled to take place include: a new general entrance on Avenue de la Porte d’Auteuil, and the first phase of a new museum space of the Federation and Roland Garros. Also, other internal enhancements of Court Philippe Chatrier will take place and the installation of a roof for the biggest show court, “which is the most emblematic part of our project,” said Giudicelli.
• With a long-range objective of having a stadium that is “eco-responsible, respectful of the environment, of the planet,” Giudicelli emphasized, “We really want to make this stadium alive throughout the year in a configuration that will enable to offer the best for the people living close by (in Paris and Boulogne) and the best for the players and the audience during the tournament.”
• Meanwhile, Forget noted that Roland Garros enjoyed a “record participation” of 520,000 spectators for this year’s tournament, from May 20 through June 9. “We have exceeded the half-million threshold on which we stopped over the past years, and the tournament was sold out as of the first day of the opening of the ticket sales,” he said.
• Also, Forget noted that in terms of broadcasters, an average of 1.3 million viewers (15.6% share) watched on France 2 throughout the host country, and Eurosport “also had extremely positive figures, increasing with respect to last year.” He also spoke positively of the exposure that the French Open received via digital platforms. “We have more than 5 million single visitors on RolandGarros.com, and 25 million active users on our App Roland Garros who have followed the tournament with a score which is very high, 4.3 stars on the stores,” he said.
• Forget addressed the criticism of noticeable empty seats in Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen, the two largest show courts at Stade Roland Garros. “We had the problem of the loges that are empty. It’s not something which is new,” he said. “It’s something on which we have been working for the past years.
“We are trying, as of next year, to find new means to fill up those loges that are empty sometimes. At some times, economically speaking, we cannot allow us to refuse these partners and sometimes these people who pay a more expensive ticket, who consume tennis in a different way as in the past and have difficulty in spending eight to nine hours sitting on the chair.
“We are aware that we have to go further to avoid what we see today. And I remind you that the tournaments such as the U.S. Open … are facing these same issues.”