Last week, however, the French Tennis Federation announced that the number of fans allowed into the 30-acre tournament grounds had been slashed to 5,000 per day because of Paris city regulations. And on Friday, that number was cut again: Because of new crowd-size limits handed down by France Prime Minister Jean Castex for Paris and other cities, only 1,000 spectators will be allowed each day at the tournament, which begins Sunday.
Tournament director Guy Forget, in a French radio interview, called the news “a bit of a tough blow” and said entry into the tournament will be determined by a daily lottery that will select 750 ticket holders. The rest of the daily crowd will comprise sponsors’ guests or VIPs. Anyone who can’t get in will have their tickets refunded.
Twelve-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal on Friday told reporters that he’s just glad professional tennis is back from its pandemic-induced hiatus, which robbed the sport of Wimbledon for the first time since World War II.
“Of course, it’s not an ideal situation, nobody likes to play with these conditions, no?” he said. “But the only thing that we can say is thanks to the U.S. Open, to Roland Garros, to Rome, because they are trying hard to organize events even probably knowing that they’re going to lose money. That’s the beautiful things that we have.
“So it’s a moment to stay together, to fight for the comeback of our tour, that’s what’s happening, and of course everybody wants to come back to a normal situation. But before that, we need to fix the most important thing, and that is the worldwide health, that today is still [having] big problems. The only thing that we can say is thanks that we can play tennis again.”
World No. 14 Victoria Azarenka, meanwhile, questioned why any fans were being admitted.
“To be honest, I’m a little bit nervous about [the crowd], as all players are a little bit nervous, just because the health situation … obviously, having spectators and playing in front of fans is always what I would prefer to do, but having these circumstances, I’m a little bit more nervous about that,” she said. “I don’t know why we’re trying something new, obviously we already had one Grand Slam where it seemed like things worked out well, but I guess we always need to try something new for no reason. It is what it is.”
France is one of a number of European countries that initially did well to quash the novel coronavirus, but the pandemic has roared back in recent months after the country began to gradually reopen. Last week, its infection rate surpassed that of the United States, which has done a comparatively poor job of containing the epidemic, and on Thursday the country announced a record 16,096 new infections in the previous 24 hours, with hospitals becoming increasingly burdened by patients suffering from covid-19, the disease cased by the virus.
Still, French officials have been reluctant to send the country back into a strict lockdown, though this week the government did issue new restrictions on bars and restaurants and limited attendance at sporting events — including the French Open — in certain areas.