By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Legal challenges have pushed the promised overhaul of Roland Garros back to 2020 but with construction finally well underway, this year’s French Open is poised to offer fans a “nouvelSle” experience.
A stroll down the alleys of the venue reveals how far work has progressed, with the expansion continuing apace days before the tournament starts.
Court Two is gone, enabling the modernisation of neighbouring Philippe Chatrier, the Centre Court, which barring further delays will sport a new retractable roof two years from now.
The roof, which can be set up in 12 minutes, will bring the French Open on par with the other three grand slams — the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open.
After this year’s tournament, which runs from May 27-June 10, 80 percent of Philippe Chatrier will be destroyed.
“It is one of our biggest challenges,” Gilles Jourdan, director of the expansion project, told Reuters. “The stands of the Centre Court will be destroyed so they can be rebuilt next spring and be ready for 2019.”
A little further on, work on Court Simonne Mathieu is almost complete.
Named after France’s second-most decorated female player, the arena will replace Court One, the stadium’s third-largest court, affectionately known as the “Bullring” because of its shape and atmosphere.
The Bullring’s 5,000-seater replacement will be nestled among the area’s graceful 19-century greenhouses, and will be ready in time for the 2020 tournament.
Concern for the greenhouses was at the heart of the fierce opposition the French Tennis Federation faced when it announced the revamp, because the plan involved expanding the venue into the picturesque Serres d’Auteuil.
The famed botanical garden is home to 6,000 square meters of greenhouses built in 1898 and contain works by the sculptor Auguste Rodin, and the Roland Garros expansion has added more than 1,300 sqm of greenhouses to the existing ones.
“For the moment, the construction works are taking a lot of space,” said 73-year-old Jean-Pierre, who often walks among the greenhouses. “We fear that the tournament will attract people there who will not respect the place.”
FARWELL TO THEBULLRING
“There are three new courts: 7, 9 and 18, which will eventually become court 14,” French tennis federation president Bernard Giudicelli said.
Courts 7 and 9 have 1,500 and 550 seats, respectively, and are located in front of the new village, allowing guests to watch the action from the terraces.
Court 18 is a semi-sunken arena that can hold up to 2,200 spectators, making it the stadium’s fourth-largest in terms of capacity. The court was built in less than a year, after the litigation finally ended.
Court One will be demolished only after the 2019 French Open, and Giudicelli plans to allow supporters with a general access pass into the Bullring next year to give them an opportunity to bid adieu to the arena.
Fans with general stadium access are usually allowed into all the courts apart from Chatrier, Lenglen and Court One.
“It will be an occasion for a nice farewell party,” Giudicelli added.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Simon Jennings)