New French Open dates create major clash with events

PARIS (Reuters) - The organisers of the French Open on Tuesday postponed the claycourt Grand Slam tournament until Sept 20-Oct 4 from its May start amid the coronavirus outbreak, with the new dates colliding with numerous events on the scheduled global calendar.

FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the renovated Philippe Chatrier central court at Roland Garros in Paris, France, May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

The French Open, the first major tournament to be hit by the spread of the coronavirus, had been initially scheduled to be played from May 24-June 7 at Roland Garros, but instead will now start just a week after the final of the U.S. Open.

“While no one today can predict what the health situation will be like on May 18 (when qualifications were due to start), the lockdown measures in force make it impossible to prepare for it and therefore to organise it on the dates initially planned,” the French tennis federation (FFT) said in a statement.

The men’s ATP Tour had previously announced a six-week suspension due to the pandemic that has ground global sport to a halt while the WTA, which runs the women’s tournaments, had postponed events till May 2.

The International Tennis Federation has also suspended all its events, including next month’s newly-launched Fed Cup finals in Budapest.

The new French Open dates mean that action at Roland Garros will begin seven days after U.S. Open concludes on Sept. 13.

This will leave players contesting a claycourt major right in the middle of what is traditionally the hardcourt swing of the tennis season and with almost no opportunity to play any warm-up events on the slow surface.

The Grand Slam will also clash with the previously scheduled Laver Cup, which is a team event featuring the best of Europe against a World team and has previously drawn top players such as Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Federer has already confirmed his participation for the fourth edition in Boston this year.

It will also clash with ATP tournaments in Metz, St. Petersburg, Chengdu, Sofia and Zhuhai and WTA events in Guangzhou, Seoul, Tokyo and Wuhan.

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The decision of the FFT did not seem to have gone down well with the players.

“Excusez moi???,” said two-time Grand Slam winner Naomi Osaka on Twitter.

Argentine Diego Schwartzman also vented his frustration in a Spanish tweet: “Once again, we found out on Twitter.”

“This is madness. Major announcement by Roland Garros changing the dates to one week after the U.S. Open. No communication with the players or the ATP.. we have ZERO say in this sport. It’s time. #UniteThePlayers,” said Vasek Pospisil, who sits on the ATP players council.

The ATP, WTA and the ITF did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

FFT president Bernard Giudicelli said the organisation had communicated with the ATP, the WTA and the ITF and also informed the other Grand Slam organisers about their decision.

“For us it was unthinkable (to cancel), the only thing we had in mind was the interest of the tournament and of the players,” Giudicelli told reporters.

A new roof on the main Philippe Chatrier court has already been installed but is not in service yet and needs more testing until the end of April, added officials.

The FFT said that ticket-holders for the French Open could either be reimbursed or change their tickets for the new dates.

“It is a difficult but courageous decision that we have taken at this exceptional and evolving time since this weekend,” said Giudicelli.

“We are acting responsibly, we must stand together in solidarity in this fight for everyone’s safety.”

The coronavirus outbreak has infected over 190,000 and killed more than 7,500 people worldwide as the epicentre of the pandemic has switched from China to Europe.

Reporting by Julien Pretot and Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by Pritha Sarkar