After postponing the French Open in March due to coronavirus, the red clay is ready for competitors. The Open starts on Sunday, albeit in the midst of a European second wave and without some star athletes — who have opted out of the tournament.
The Tour de France recently wrapped up its three-week race around the county and zero riders tested positive for the virus.
Can France pull off another international tournament without COVID-19 positives, and this time, with fans in the stands? Who knows anymore.
But with so much uncertainty here’s what you should know about tennis’ final major of 2020.
Fans in the stands?
In June, when France flattened the curve and controlled the spread of the virus, the French Tennis Federation (FTF) said they wanted the Open to operate at “50 to 60 percent” capacity, or around 11,500 fans. That number has since gone down. Now, FTF says they’ll allow 5,000 fans a day. The U.S. Open, the only other major to play during a pandemic, prohibited fans at Flushing.
“If they have to make the decision to shut down like it was at the U.S. Open with nobody, they will do it,” said Henri Leconte, the last Frenchman to compete for a French Open final (1988). “We’re all worried about what we can do, we have to all be concerned about the situation, about the future.”
State of the Pandemic
France’s COVID numbers are much higher than they were in March, when organizers originally postponed the tournament.
A second wave of coronavirus has arrived in Europe. France, in particular, is struggling to contain their national outbreak. The nation recorded their highest daily caseload on Tuesday with 14,306 infections. Paris, the county’s largest city and host of the French Open, is a hot spot for disease.
So far, three players and a coach have tested positive for the virus and six competitors, total, have been barred from competing due to COVID concerns. The three players who did not test positive were in close proximity to the infected coach and have withdrawn from competition.
FTF did not release the names of the infected athletes and coach. But Bosnian player, Damir Dzumhur, announced his exit from the open because his coach, Petar Popović, tested positive for the virus. Dzumhur is now planning to take legal action against the French Open because he believes Popović’s result was a false positive. The coach was denied a second test in Paris but says his private test in Serbia came back negative.
In addition to the six players out of the qualifying rounds, a number of star players will not show for the French.
World No. 1 and defending French Open champion Ash Barty said she’s opting out of the French Open due to virus concerns in France. The Australian decided against competing in the U.S. this month too, citing the pandemic.
Roger Federer said he wouldn’t play in the French back in February after undergoing knee surgery. In June, amidst the pandemic, he announced he would miss the remainder of the year.
Current U.S. Open champion Naomi Osaka has also decided to pass on the red clay. After virtually no rest from the U.S. Open, Osaka will not compete in Paris citing timing and injury.
2019 U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu wrote on social media that she will “skip the clay court swing” this year to focus on her “health and training.”
Serena Williams will get another chance to tie Margaret Court’s grand slam record in the next few weeks. And with Barty, Osaka and Andreescu out, Serena’s path to title number 24 seems clear. But Victoria Azarenka, who defeated Williams in the US Open semifinals, will compete in the tournament — so will former French Open winners, Simona Halep and Garbine Muguruza.
After skipping the U.S. Open due to COVID concerns Rafael Nadal feels perfectly comfortable competing on his favorite surface in a European second wave. I wonder why. Maybe because Nadal could tie Federer’s grand slam record if he wins this year?
Just a guess.
U.S. commentators are planning to cover the tournament from their side of the Atlantic. “I’m not that crazy going to Paris right now,’’ NBC commentator and former tennis player Mary Carillo recently told The New York Post. “Europe seems to be spiking, including there. That the French Open is allowing 5,000 fans a day is concerning. It’s not ideal. Quarantining and protocols seem a little shabby to me. It was much tighter at the U.S. Open.’’
Carillo will call matches with her play-by-play partner, Dan Hicks, from a Connecticut studio. Another commentator, and tennis legend, John McEnroe, will pontificate from his Malibu home.
It’s called a “corridor,” thank you. But, yes, players will be confined to two designated hotels for the duration of the tournament. Serena and Djokovic both stayed in their own private residences outside the U.S. Open bubble weeks ago. That won’t be allowed in Paris.