To move or not to move?

May 28, 2010

With the rain blighting play at Rolland Garros yesterday and poor light causing some drama for the Monfils/Fogini game, the questions will only be increasing over when and how the French Grand Slam organises are going to deal with the possibility of a new site. With Wimbledon’s new roof fitted and functional, and providing rain-cover and manually-controlled air to the players on Centre court, the French Open is under pressure to follow in its footsteps.

“Sacrilege!” the French, and many of the tournament’s international friends, may cry.  Public and environmentalist outcries have led to even the idea of its move being stalled and stalled. The players themselves are reluctant to see the historical site move, with Roger Federer, Justine and Henin and France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga among some of the names coming out in support of developing the tournament experience where it is.

But as the developers point out, there is just more space outside of the city limits. The Roland Garros stadium has sat on its current site in Paris for 85 years, and so the time for change they argue definitely on its way. With a hectare size less than half of Wimbledon’s 18.5 hectares, it is definitely the smallest of the two European Grand Slams.

Does size matter though? Some, including the heads of French tennis, argue ‘yes’. Wimbledon has space to add a roof, a museum, more and more attractions and facilities for players and spectators alike. In its current site and size, the only way to achieve these sorts of things in Paris would be to massively modernise the whole area, which public lobbyists are ardently against. The pro-move side of the argument points to the Australian Open, the US Open both have moved their sites in the past.

The anti-move side, which vitally has most of the players’ support, believe that Roland Garros should stay as and where it is. And for the most part, I have to agree. Imagine the idea of moving Wimbledon? The outrage would be phenomenal. The Parisian site is one of the most charming in Europe, in one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Its heritage and history is so embedded, so extensive, so European, so French, that surely the tournament would lose its heart and soul if it were to move? One of the possible new locations is Disneyland Paris; I think the tennis world would have a coronary at the idea of Mickey Mouse playing Goofy during rain delays. Sure, other tournaments have moved their historic sites. But this is France. The site may be smaller and may not have a fantastical new retractable roof that can balance temperature, light and oxygen to the accurate levels within minutes. But as someone who lives in both Britain and France, I can hardly see that mattering to the European and most importantly French pride in the tournament. Plus, you don’t take the gems of French national sports away from their site without a bit of kicking and screaming, and it’s whether the heads of French tennis want that kicking and screaming when they are trying to keep ticket sales up.

For the sake of sentiment, the French Open should stay where it is. For the sake of profit, maybe some improvements should be made. But I feel it’ll be a sad day when a Grand Slam goes by without a rain delay, a difficulty with poor light, an errant bird dropping its business onto the heads of spectators, or a little bit of disruption and mayhem. A new retractable roof of Centre Court is one thing, but the sterility of a completely ‘manmade’ Grand Slam happening at Wimbledon, France, Melbourne or in America, is frightening.

The final decision will be made in February 2011.

- SophieG

Written by: SophieG

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