By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – There are still a few workers on site, but the new Roland Garros will be ready to host fans and players when the main tournament opens on Sunday in a classy environment featuring an 80% rebuilt Philippe Chatrier and a brand new semi-sunken court.
Named after France’s second-most decorated female player, the brand new 5,000 seat Court Simonne Mathieu nestles amongst the area’s graceful 19-century greenhouses.
The Roland Garros redevelopment involved expanding the venue into the picturesque Serres d’Auteuil, the famed botanical garden that is home to 6,000 square meters of greenhouses built in 1898 and which contains works by the sculptor Auguste Rodin.
Court Simonne Mathieu is therefore surrounded by four greenhouses showcasing rare plants with the expansion adding more than 1,300 sqm of greenhouses to the existing ones.
“It’s all finally come together, we have our new court at Roland Garros, and I’m keen to see the first players take to the court here because I think there’s going to be an electric and extraordinary atmosphere,” tournament director Guy Forget.
“It’s a kind of smaller version of the Philippe-Chatrier court, surrounded by greenery, it’s a really unique court.
“Players who participate in Wimbledon and other Grand Slam tournaments can find Roland Garros a little bit outdated. I believe they’ve been supporting this little metamorphosis at Roland Garros for the last two years and this Simonne Mathieu court is a perfect example (of that),” he added.
“We can sell more tickets, welcome more people, have star players playing on a luxurious court, and I think it’s something we’ve been lacking until now.”
The new Roland Garros, which will be completely finished in 2020 when the main court, Philippe Chatrier, has a retractable roof to match the other Grand Slams, still has its own feel.
Crowd favourite Roger Federer, who won his only French Open title in 2009, said on Friday: “Now, I feel still it’s the old Roland Garros, it has kept its flair and everything, you know, and, of course, I’m excited to see how it is when it’s all going to be filled up with the fans and the crowds and the people”.
Roland Garros has certainly kept its French identity, naming the new court after Mathieu, twice a French Open singles champion and a member of the resistance during World War II.
“It’s significant to have this name, Simonne Mathieu, this woman who was both a great tennis champion and a great member of the resistance, who didn’t hesitate to risk her life physically, to stand by General de Gaulle – a person who should enlighten us and enlighten the younger generations,” said Forget.
Fans and players will also this year bid farewell to Court One, known as ‘the Bullring’ due to its round shape and unique atmosphere, before it is demolished to make space for a lawn.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ken Ferris)