Paris (AFP)

Faced with the outbreak of Covid-19 at the start of the year, Roland-Garros first repositioned itself illico presto.

But four months after its usual springtime programming, its fall 2020 edition, which opens on Sunday, continues to be written to the rhythm of the new coronavirus.


Presto report

"Excuse me ???", tweets ex-world No. 1 Naomi Osaka at the announcement, in mid-March, of the surprise postponement of Roland-Garros from late spring to early autumn by the Federation French tennis court (FFT).

A major astonishment, expressed in French in the text by the Japanese player, which reflects the general feeling of the moment.

If he claims to have "exchanged with" the ATP, the WTA and the International Federation "before the decision was taken" and "informed" the other three Grand Slam tournaments, the president of the FFT Bernard Giudicelli assumes a unilateral choice: "It's true that it's a decision that ultimately belongs to us," he admits then.

"The option that seemed completely unthinkable to us was to remove Roland-Garros from the calendar. It's just unthinkable," he defends.

And too bad if this decision was worth the Parisian Grand Slam to attract the wrath of all the other governing bodies of tennis, who, in unison, strongly deplored that it was taken without adequate consultation.


Decrescendo gauge

The optimism of the beginning of the summer has given way to the realism of the start of the school year, marked by the resurgence of the pandemic in Europe.

From a maximum of 20,000 daily spectators that it aimed to welcome at the beginning of July, that is to say "from 50 to 60% of its maximum usual tonnage", here is Roland-Garros fallen, at this stage, to 5,000 per day, the fixed limit by the government in the departments where the viral circulation is strong.

Twice since the beginning of September, the deterioration of the health situation in the country and the threat of a second wave have caught up with the tournament.

First, the health authorities have approved the division of its 12 hectare, 1 km long stadium into three "hermetic, independent and autonomous" sectors, organized around its three main courts.

But this option, which allowed it to receive up to 11,500 daily spectators, 5,000 on the Philippe-Chatrier, as many on the Suzanne-Lenglen and 1,500 on the Simonne-Mathieu, in the garden of the Auteuil greenhouses, did not resisted.

Ten days before its launch, Roland-Garros had no other choice but to tighten the bolts again: there will only be 5,000 spectators in its stands, at best.

A further lowering of the gauge does not seem to be excluded, to hear the health authorities.

"We are studying new measures, necessarily more restrictive, depending on the evolution of the situation in the coming days", among which the "limitation of the number of participants in major sporting events", declared the director of the Regional Agency for health (ARS) of Ile-de-France Aurélien Rousseau in the Journal du Dimanche.

Qualifications, which began on Monday, are being played behind closed doors.


Fortissimo health protocol

If the organization is careful not to describe its health protocol as a sealed bubble, the restrictive measures are considerable for players and their entourage, reduced in this case.

First there is the repeated chopper of PCR tests, the first two in the space of 48 hours on arrival in Paris, the following every four or five days following the programming of the matches, explains the head of the medical department of the FFT Bernard Montalvan.

There is also the strict obligation to stay in one of the two hotels reserved for them almost exclusively.

No more that of not leaving, at the risk of losing his accreditation, except to go to the stadium - only on match days - and to training, or for medical reasons.

"But even for that, it will be very framed, with a dedicated car and a fixed appointment," said Bernard Montalvan.

According to trainer Sven Groeneveld, who accompanies Japanese Taro Daniel, coaches have been asked to wear the mask even in training since Tuesday morning.

So there is no question of strolling with your nose in the wind in the capital.

"Sunday, a player was stuck in a traffic jam 500 meters from the hotel because of the Tour de France after his training," said the doctor.

"He called to see if he could get off" and walk back, "he was told no."

© 2020 AFP