Roland Garros in autumn: No fans 'sucks', water to celebrate birthday

Paris (AFP) –


It's a French Open like no other and for Simona Halep that means toasting a lonely birthday with a bottle of over-priced hotel water while for John Isner, it "sucks" seeing so few fans at a shivering, rainswept Roland Garros.

Taking place four months later than usual due to the coronavirus, the early summer warmth normally associated with the tournament has been replaced by a bone-chilling 10 degrees.

As a result, the world's best players are putting on extra layers as well as brave faces.

"Having no fans stinks," said Isner, the giant American 21st seed who made the second round with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-3 win over home hope Elliot Benchetrit.

"The atmosphere at this event is unbelievable, one of the best we have all year long. We don't have that right now.

"At the same time it's a Grand Slam."

All the players at this year's tournament are staying at two city centre hotels. Apart from playing and training, they are barred from leaving.

Many have compensated by posting pictures of the Eiffel Tower, a perfect background prop for their Instagram accounts.

"We're wearing our masks. We're not leaving the hotel, of course, to go out to dinner or do anything like that," added Isner.

"Speaking for myself, I feel very safe. There's no doubt about that. I think they've done a good job. The hotel, it's nice. It's got everything you could ask for. The rooms get really cold at night when you open your window. That's awesome."

The restrictions will make for a lonely 29th birthday for 2018 champion Halep, the women's top seed.

"The perfect present was that I won today," said Wimbledon champion Halep after seeing off Sara Sorribes Tormo 6-4, 6-0 under the roof of Court Philippe Chatrier.

- 'Grateful for any fans' -

"I cannot celebrate much, because I have to stay in the room, so I will just have a bottle of water!"

The pandemic has made the world a very different place and tennis hasn't escaped its impact.

Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II while the US Open was played out behind closed doors.

For Venus Williams, now 40 and who made her Paris debut back in 1997, it was a bonus to at least see a smattering of the permitted 1,000 fans watching her first round tie, a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

"There were a handful of people there, and I was super grateful for them," said the American seven-time Grand Slam title winner who was dressed in leggings, a long-sleeve shirt topped off by what looked liked a black, knitted, sleeveless cardigan.

"It was fantastic, really. At this point, grateful for any fans that are here. Miss them desperately."

Greece's Maria Sakkari arrived in Paris having trained in Athens where it was a sweltering 35 degrees.

The 20th seed eased past Australia's Ajla Tomljanovic 6-0, 7-5 before hailing the efforts of the French Tennis Federation on getting their long-delayed event up and running.

"They are doing a great job because it's more players, more people, less space, worse weather," said Sakkari, comparing conditions in Paris to those of the recent US Open in New York.

The few ticket-holders who made it inside courtesy of a random draw made the most of the dismal conditions.

"We have access to all the courts, to all the matches for the whole day, we can enjoy Chatrier court, we know that we are a little privileged," Julien Grisard, president of a Lyon tennis club told AFP.

"It's almost disconcerting to be so close to great players like these, you have the impression of being on a (third-tier) Challenger tournament. It's a real opportunity."