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'They'd rather drink champagne!' Pouille slams empty French Open stands

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PARIS (Reuters) – Ticket-holders for the French Open’s prime courts are more interested in drinking champagne and tucking into a good lunch than they are in the tennis, bemoaned Frenchmen Lucas Pouille after crashing out in the second round on Friday.

In keeping with tradition at the French Open, Roland Garros’ new-look Philippe Chatrier centre court is lined with hospitality boxes – a layout Pouille said would hardly deter the thirsty from leaving their seat for a glass of Bollinger.

“That’s the problem with putting the hospitality boxes where they are,” Pouille was quoted as saying by radio RMC Sports. “They’d rather have a glass of champagne than watch the tennis, that’s the main reason they come. They should (fill the stands) with people who want to watch the tennis.”

While ‘le dejeuner’ is an institution in Paris, it has a tendency to run from 1230 until around 3 p.m. At Roland Garros, corporate clients find themselves drawn to the generously laid table at Le President’s Club for a gourmet meal and bubbles rather than the exchanges on court.

The French Tennis Federation has tried different means over the years to tackle the problem, including splitting men’s semi-finals day into two so that holders have a ticket either for the first semi or the second, aware that empty stands look poor on television.

Pouille began his second-round match against Slovakia’s Martin Klizan on Thursday but bad light forced the players off before they could finish — much also to the Frenchman’s irritation — and when Pouille resumed his game on Friday, it was, unfortunately, lunchtime.

“After the stopping of the match, I was frustrated and angry, because after losing the first I was dominating. I was ahead. I was playing better tennis. And I was (leading with) two sets and one break,” Pouille told a post-match press conference.

“I slept very well. I tried to focus back to move on and tried to start a new match.”

Pouille, 25, lost 7-6(4) 2-6 6-3 3-6 9-7.

(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Toby Davis)

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