'Millions of euros up in smoke': Roland Garros braced for fewer fans, plenty of rain

Paris (AFP) –


French Open chiefs admitted Friday that the decision to radically slash the number of fans allowed at the tournament to just 1,000 a day will mean "millions of euros up in smoke".

However, that's just one of a number of headaches facing the organisers, two days out from the start of the season's final Grand Slam event.

'We regret these restrictions'

-- The French Open should have been staged in May-June but was pushed back four months to avoid the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. However, with cases on the rise again, the French government has insisted a maximum of 1,000 fans a day be allowed into the Roland Garros grounds.

Initially, the French Tennis Federation (FFT) had hoped for 20,000 which then became 11,500 before suffering another downsize to 5,000.

"We deeply regret these new restrictions," the FFT said in a statement.

For FFT president Bernard Giudicelli, "5,000 spectators daily in the stadium was already in our eyes a minimum".

There will be huge financial implications.

"We are in the process of quantifying but tens of millions of euros have gone up in smoke," admitted FFT marketing boss Stephane Morel.

When 1,000 equals 750

-- Last year, more than 500,000 fans attended the Roland Garros fortnight.

This year even the figure of 1,000 fans each day will not be quite what it seems as 250 places are set aside for guests.

The 250 daily places will go to "guests of our partners, in very, very limited numbers" (200) and to "elected officials and personalities", explained Morel.

"The hospitality services (offered to business customers) have been completely removed."

If there is good news for the ticket holders who survive the cull, it is that the few hundred lucky winners of a draw will have the opportunity to sit as they please in the stands to comply with rules of social distancing.

Welcome to rainy, cold Paris

-- If fewer fans and fears over the pandemic were not bad enough, players will have to get used to competing in a Grand Slam in the autumn.

Former champion Garbine Muguruza arrived at a pre-tournament press conference on Friday dressed in a yellow raincoat.

Earlier in the week, there was bright sunshine for qualifying and practice in the French capital.

On Friday, however, that gave way to rain and even hail with a maximum temperature of 14 degrees (57F).

"I would like the weather to improve quickly, I have a little trouble with the cold," admitted top seed and 2018 champion Simona Halep.

Forecasters say there will be a wet and windy start to the tournament on Sunday with temperatures at 16 degrees (60F) accompanied by winds of up to 60 km/h.

A week of rain is forecast from Thursday.

At least, those on Philippe Chatrier Court will be protected as the arena's new retractable roof readies for a busy two weeks.