Roland Garros conquers greenhouse effect
PARIS – Agence France-Presse
Players and fans who make the annual pilgrimage to the clay court showpiece, which gets underway on May 27, will notice radical changes this year as the tournament plays catch-up with its Grand Slam big brothers at Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens.
Where those three have expanded effortlessly, embracing 21st century technology with modern stadia and retractable roofs, Roland Garros planners have spent their time in legal wrangles, fighting opposition to plans to extend from their well-heeled and powerful neighbors in one of Paris’s plushest suburbs.
That was when earlier plans were dropped after Paris lost out to London in its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Always at the heart of court battles -- and consequently the cause of the delays to expansion dreams first hatched in 2002 -- were a batch of humble greenhouses.
Built in the 19th century, the greenhouses in the adjacent Autueil gardens are home to rare flora and fauna.
The Serres d’Autueil, said campaigners, would be in peril from plans to build a 5,000-seater stadium next to them.
It will be called the Simonne-Mathieu stadium in honor of a former national women’s champion and French resistance fighter of the World War II.
“It will allow the tournament to breathe.”
Another new stadium -- Court 18 which will, bizarrely be renamed Court 14 for next year -- is already finished and is being used for the 2018 tournament.
Matches in this week’s qualifying competition are being played on the arena tucked away in the western corner of the complex.
Court 18 can accommodate 2,200 people and with Court One -- affectionately dubbed “The Bullring” -- set to be demolished to open up public spaces even more, it will be one of the event’s showcase arenas.
Two other courts, right in the shadow of the center-piece 15,000-capacity Philippe Chatrier Court will also be new additions.
Court Seven can hold 1,500 fans and Court Nine, 500.
Demolished already, however, is the popular art-deco Court Two.
“It was time for the complex to have a fresh look. It was starting to get a little outdated,” 24-year-old Jordan Sacksick, a spectator watching qualifying this week, told AFP.
“The whole place is more airy.”
As well as making rain delays a thing of the past, the roof will facilitate lucrative night sessions which are expected to generate between 100,000-150,000 extra ticket sales in the two-week event.
Wimbledon and the U.S. Open will have two roofed courts; Melbourne already has three.
“We are not trying to battle to be the biggest or to be all about quantity. It’s rather about quality,” said Christophe Fagniez, the French federation’s director general.