For the first time ever, the red clay at Roland Garros is going to match the hue of the changing leaves.
The French Open was delayed from its original May start date to September due to COVID-19 and is now the final Grand Slam event of the 2020 season (it’s usually the second). While the tournament was cancelled during the First and Second World Wars, it has never been rescheduled from its traditional springtime spot until this year.
Like many other professional sports organizations, athletes are expected to live in a bubble for as long as they are in the tournament. However, in a move not seen much in 2020, spectators will be allowed to attend matches.
“Since the international circuit restarted, Roland Garros will be the first tournament with the privilege of hosting an audience,” French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said.
What’s New at the French Open
The French Tennis Federation wanted to originally welcome fans at nearly 60 percent of capacity to watch the French Open but instead, Roland Garros has been divided into zones based on the three main courts.
French Open tournament director, Guy Forget, said all players for 2020 would be tested upon arriving in Paris and be authorized for play only if they return a negative test. As a follow-up, they will have to take a second test 72 hours later.
Despite the impact of COVID-19, there is one exciting new announcement for 2020: the Philippe-Chatrier court is now has a retractable roof. It features 11 trusses, which pay tribute to french war hero Roland Garros (who, of course, gave his name to the tournament).
“This roof gives the tournament a whole new dimension, by ensuring that play can continue while providing consistent playing conditions, particularly from the quarterfinals onwards,” said Giudicelli.
Who to Watch
On the Men’s side, you can’t have a French Open preview without talking about the greatest player on clay in history: Rafael Nadal.
The 34-year-old captured his record 12th French Open title in 2019. Since 2005, there have only been three years that Nadal didn’t win the French Open title: 2009 (lost in the fourth round to Robin Söderling), 2015 (lost in the quarterfinals to Novak Djokovic), and 2016 (withdrew because of injury).
Despite his age, he should very much be considered a threat again in Paris.
Other men to keep an eye on include: Austria’s Dominic Thiem (who won his first Grand Slam title at the U.S. Open in September), Germany’s Alexander Zverev, Canadian Denis Shapovalov, and reigning No. 1, Djokovic. Fresh off his win at the Italian Open, Djokovic will be looking to bounce back from his disqualification at the U.S. Open after he accidentally hit a line umpire with a ball.
On the women’s side, Serena Williams (who counts three French Open titles among her main Grand Slam titles), Simona Halep, and Garbine Muguruza are all ones to watch.
Last year’s French Open winner and current No. 1, Ashleigh Barty, announced she would not defend her title, citing COVID-19 and travel concerns from her native Australia.
Also missing from action are American Naomi Osaka and Canadian Bianca Andreescu. Having missed most of the season already, the 20-year-old Andreescu officially withdrew from the tournament last week and will skip the rest of the 2020 season. She says she will take the time to focus on her health and training so she can “come back stronger and better than ever” in 2021.
Story by Adam Stanley.
Header image by TPN/Getty Images, courtesy of Wilson.