Roland Garros Behind Closed Doors? It Could Happen.

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

Don’t be surprised if Roland Garros is played behind closed doors. It could happen. The dates for this year’s event have already been moved once. They could be moved out a week later. On Sunday, Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the French Tennis Federation (FFT) told Le Journal du Dimanche, “We don’t rule out any options. …

“Organizing it behind closed doors would make it possible to turn part of the economic model, television rights and partnership. This should not be overlooked.”

Imagine, though, how awkward the visuals would look like of Rafael Nadal standing on the awards platform of an empty Court Philippe Chatrier lifting a 13th La Coupe des Mousquetaries, if he should successfully defend his title. Comme c’est maladroit! 

Already, the FFT announced last Thursday that all tickets previously purchased for the original May 24 to June 7 dates would be refunded. This would presumably enable Roland Garros to go forth with plans for either playing behind closed doors or to limit ticket sales if fans are allowed to attend this year’s tournament.

When Giudicelli was asked how he assesses the chances of the French Open opening on September 20, the date the FFT unilaterally changed the starting date of Roland Garros to back on March 17, which sparked much criticism, he said: “We are not working by probability but with options to which each of the FFT teams is fully dedicated behind director general Jean-Francois Vilotte. 

“We are determined and we think we have made the right decision. A tournament without a date, it’s a boat without a rudder, we don’t know where we are going. We positioned ourselves as far out as possible in the calendar, anxious not to harm major events, so that no Masters 1000 or any Grand Slam touches. The turn of events seems to prove us right.”

Guidicelli said the Grand Slam tournament on red clay could possibly be postponed for another week. “On September 20 or 27, it doesn’t change much,” he said. “The tournament is the engine of tennis in France, it is what feeds the players in our ecosystem. So, in these moments, we first think of them, to protect them.”

One-on-one: Mattek-Sands and Svitolina

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who during the coronavirus lockdown has become one of the primary faces of the WTA through her “InstaLive” chats on Instagram, connected with Elina Svitolina last Friday for a 20-minute conversation. As of Sunday evening, it had received 23,000 views – an effective way to communicate. Mattek-Sands is at home in Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband Justin Sands, while Svitolina is spending the hiatus in Switzerland with boyfriend Gaël Monfils, where as Mattek-Sands describes, “she has been crushing Tik-Tok. It feels like 1,000 degrees here in Arizona.”

“The first day in weeks with sun,” said Svitolina, describing the Swiss weather. “It was almost snowing. It has been so cold. We are living in the mountains. It’s so nice and relaxing.” The World No. 5 has been spending her time both working out and relaxing, enjoying good food and wine, finding the right balance in her peripatetic life. She is learning how to speak French and improving her ping pong skills. “This time is so nice to be at home and do something that you never have time to do. I’m doing some different stuff, like cooking. It’s something I enjoy doing – and now I have the time to do it. I’m improving my skills,” she said.

Mattek-Sands pointed out that players are so used to having a schedule. “We still need small, little goals – I’m learning Italian. I think part of the routine is staying sane,” she said. Svitolina agreed. “I think we all need to have goals. If we don’t have a goal we get bored. I have my routine just like I do at a tournament. For now, it’s enjoyable to be at home and to do something different.”

Both concur, it’s important for players to remain balanced and fit, not knowing exactly when pro tennis will return. “Its going to be tough coming back and playing without crowds. Its going to take time,” said Svitolina.

In the meantime, the Ukrainian native can think and wax poetically about the Italian capital city. “I miss Rome so much. I love Rome,” she said. “Everything from the food to playing on the Centre court. Rome is one of my favorite tournaments to play.” 

Svitolina, who has won the Italian Open twice (2017, 2018), said she feeds off the crowds. “The fans get behind you and it’s super nice.” 

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InstaLive takeover w/ @matteksands 🇺🇸 and @elisvitolina 🇺🇦 #BMSingAround

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Way Back Machine – 2019 Mutua Madrid Men’s Final

Last year, Novak Djokovic defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas to win the 2019 Mutua Madrid Open. In doing so, Djokovic tied Rafael Nadal’s record of 33 ATP Masters 1000 titles.

Behind The Racquet – Marco Cecchinato

In a recently-penned first-person essay that Italian Marco Cecchinato wrote for the Instagram series Behind The Racquet, he recalled the difficulty he encountered when he moved from Palermo, Sicily, where he grew up, to Caldero, a small town in the north, to live and train with coach Massimo Sartori and a young Andreas Seppi. As Cecchinato described: “I am an only child, has had all my parents attention and I was always their number one priority. In Calgary I was on my own, from cooking and cleaning, to doing laundry or just spending time with someone. I had no friends there and all I would do was train and give it my all on the court. This experience was so important to me because it helped me grow as a professional tennis player and person.”

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“Being in a completely different place and environment, from Palermo to Caldaro, made me think a lot. It never felt like I was home, more like I belonged to a different country. It was all a shock for me. During my free time, when I was alone, I would start crying over the phone with my mom. Other times I would be laying in bed and stare at the ceiling until I fell asleep. Quitting tennis was never a concrete thought but it did cross my mind a few times during this period. I was just too determined to do well and keep going. My coach, Sartori, always believed in me and motivated me to give it my all, no matter what. I can see why people think tennis players are a bit psycho; we deal with times that are very frustrating and brutal and the week after can be so rewarding. ⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ When I met my girlfriend Peki, starting our relationship helped me transition into becoming a man. Interesting enough it corresponds with the time period when I started to win and climb up the rankings. Peki is a few years older than me, with a stable job and two kids. To keep up with her I had to grow up fast. I’ve learned a lot from her and I’ve matured on and off the court. This helped me deal with so many different situations throughout the last two years. Her kids were two and four years old, now five and seven. The three of them lived in a city in northern Italy, that I now call home. Funny to think about all my time complaining about northern Italy and now I am ‘that guy’! The moments I realized she was ‘the one’, I also had to accept that she came with kids, not just herself, and I was never going to be her #1 priority. I would start this new life journey immediately as a family, not a couple. While figuring out how to manage the situation, we knew most importantly we wanted to be together. I’ve always been stubborn, challenging and at times hot headed, but that has changed a lot since her. I have become a family man. I feel stronger, more mature and braver than ever before. I’ve also learned so much from these kids and I have tried teaching them everything I know, treating them like they are my own.” @ceck1⁣ ⁣⁣ Go to behindtheracquet.com for extended stories, podcast and merch.

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What they’re writing

Howard Fendrich, Associated Press Tennis Writer, from “Analysis: Tennis pros’ US return amid pandemic no true model”:

“The four players sure seemed thrilled to be playing some tennis with some prize money (amount undisclosed) at stake amid the coronavirus pandemic – even if the court was near the backyard swimming pool at someone’s mansion and there were zero ATP rankings points on the line, zero locker rooms, zero spectators, zero ball kids and barely any officials.

“Those starved for live sports on television got a chance to see a quartet of men ranked from No. 29 to No. 57 — even if the format was gimmicky, with no-ad games and first-to-4 sets.

“And those in charge of organizing future tennis matches could observe the social-distancing and other precautions put in place at what was billed as the sport’s “first competition on U.S. soil between ranked players” since pro tennis was suspended – even if two participants drove to and from the match site together from the home they share.”

What they’re saying

Tommy Paul, one of four participants in the UTR Pro Match Series played in West Palm Beach, Fla., told the Associated Press, “This is so different from a tournament. “We have four people here and we’re taking everything super cautious and going to the extremes. I don’t know how they would do it with any more than four people. … It felt real in the way that I was playing and the way the players I played against did. But, it’s hard to still feel real when you look around and there’s no one watching and it’s just at a private court at a house.”

What they’re sharing on social media

Elise Mertens / Happy Mother’s Day

Juan Sebastian Cabal / Welcoming a new baby

Views we’re missing / 2019 Aix-en-Provence final