French Open gets under way but not as we know it with bone-chilled players, anoraks and umbrellas


As the rescheduled French Open got underway in Paris, tennis became a winter sport. On the sunken courts below the stylish new Allée des Princes, a group of soaked, bone-chilled players tried to pretend that it was just another day at the office.

"Paris in the fall - it's definitely different," said the USA's Shelby Rogers, who became the first player to be knocked out of the tournament at around 12.10pm. "Is it fit to play? It's up to the umpire, as they see it from their covered chair. You toss the ball, you're getting rain in your eye. I think we should have stopped maybe a couple of times."

The French government has decreed that only a thousand spectators should be allowed into Roland Garros each day, and that was probably a mercy. Those few people moving across the 21-acre site on Sunday morning had their heads down, leaning into the wind that plucked at their anoraks and umbrellas. Later, the lights on the outside courts had to be switched on at 4.30pm to make up for the blanket of dark cloud squatting over Paris.

Rogers and her colleagues pressed on gallantly, even as the high winds made the ball bend in the air like a boomerang. They might have been surprised to hear that US Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka had already stormed off Court Suzanne Lenglen - one of the show courts where the high stands offer a little more shelter - in protest at "ridiculous" conditions.

The last time the French Open was played, in June of 2019, the temperature peaked at 33 degrees on the middle Sunday. Players sweltered on their chairs with iced towels wrapped around their necks. The Women's Tennis Association invoked the heat rule entitling players to take a ten-minute break between the second and third sets.

But this year's tournament was postponed by the pandemic into the last possible fortnight for outdoor tennis in Europe, as agreed by the tennis authorities. Had the organisers foreseen the risk of eight-degree temperatures, they might have ordered a shipment of patio heaters to relieve the chill.

Were this a cricket tournament, the covers would have been on in a jiffy. The same goes for the grass of Wimbledon, or the rubberised hard courts of New York. Even the first drop of rain makes them unsafe for professional athletes.

But the Parisian red clay - which is actually brick dust - has a unique ability to absorb moisture without becoming any more slippery than usual. Quite the reverse, in fact. It becomes stickier, so that the balls turn orange with the clinging granules.

Azarenka - the former world No 1 from Belarus - was the bolshiest of the early players on deck. When the umpire suggested that she should sit on her chair for a couple of minutes while a sprinkle of rain blew over, she fired back with a flash of temper.

"You guys are joking, right?" said Azarenka. "What are we doing here? This is getting a little bit ridiculous. I'm not sitting here because I'm going to get frozen. It's eight degrees. I live in Florida, I'm used to hot weather."

If it was a grim day to be playing tennis, you had to feel for the officials too. Not only were they taking dog's abuse, but they were rooted to their chairs in branded kagoules. During Dan Evans's match on Court 14, umpire Renaud Lichtenstein could be seen waving his hands around, not to convey instructions but to restore circulation to his fingers.

The competitors sported a wide variety of clothing. Some went for the traditional minimalist tennis kit - which must have been perishingly cold, particularly during the 90-second break at changovers - while others added leggings or sleeves. Azarenka looked like she was playing in a puffer jacket.

Rogers experimented with various solutions, though to no avail as she was bundled out by teenage Russian qualifier Kamila Rakhimova in just 64 minutes. "I started in pants and long sleeves," said Rogers, "but we aren't used to playing in all those clothes, and it was hard to move. So I went back to trying to as normal an outfit as possible. I can honestly say I have never played a match in those conditions."

With the warmth of the locker-room beckoning, a sceptic might whether anyone capitulated faster than usual - especially those players who conceded an early lead. But Rob Morgan, who coaches the top British doubles player Joe Salisbury, stood up for the grit of the average top-100 professional.

"At this level, you very rarely see people check out," said Morgan. "With all the adversity, it becomes a test of character. Ultimately, you know it's going to be ugly, but you have to get the job done."


More Related News

France's Macron to give address as coronavirus epidemic worsens
  • US
  • 2020-10-27 21:31:05Z

President Emmanuel Macron will give a televised address on Wednesday evening, his office said, as French authorities explore fresh restrictions to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Elysee palace did not say what Macron's address would be about, but such televised statements have in the past been the occasion to announce new anti-virus measures during eight months of pandemic. The French government has been exploring bringing in a national lockdown from midnight on Thursday, BFM TV reported, albeit a slightly more flexible one than the two-month shutdown that began in mid-March.

France may be at 100,000 virus cases daily as Molotov cocktails thrown at German public health agency
France may be at 100,000 virus cases daily as Molotov cocktails thrown at German public health agency

Pressure in France for local lockdowns is increasing after the government's chief scientific advisor estimated that the country is seeing 100,000 new coronavirus cases every day. On Sunday, 52,000 new Covid-19 infections were reported in France, another daily record - but yesterday Jean-François Delfraissy, the government's chief scientific advisor, said the true figure was probably twice as high. Dr Delfraissy joined other senior doctors in urging the government to introduce local lockdowns or a weekend lockdown that would effectively extend the current 9pm curfew in force in much of the country to weekends in order to limit social contacts.

France pulled its ambassador from Turkey, and Arab states are boycotting French products, after Macron said he wanted to regulate Islam
France pulled its ambassador from Turkey, and Arab states are boycotting French products, after Macron said he wanted to regulate Islam

President Macron is introducing a new law in December that would give France powers to monitor and regulate mosques and Muslim communities.

Climate at a crossroads as Trump and Biden point in different directions
Climate at a crossroads as Trump and Biden point in different directions
  • World
  • 2020-10-26 06:30:15Z

The two US presidential contenders offer starkly different approaches as the world tries to avoid catastrophic global heatingAmong the myriad reasons world leaders will closely watch the outcome of a fraught US presidential election, the climate crisis looms perhaps largest of all.The international effort to constrain dangerous global heating will hinge, in large part, on which of the dichotomous approaches of Donald Trump or Joe Biden prevails.On 4 November, the day after the election, the US will exit the Paris climate agreement, a global pact that has wobbled but not collapsed from nearly four years of disparagement and disengagement under Trump.Biden has vowed to immediately rejoin...

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply


Top News: Tennis