French Open gets off to chilly and damp start

French Open gets off to chilly and damp start

Gone are the queues of spectators and gone is the sun as the French Open kicked off in underwhelming fashion on Sunday with persistent drizzle and a chill wind sweeping the almost-empty Roland Garros grounds.

Play started at 1100 local time (0900 GMT) on court Philippe Chatrier under the new retractable roof for the first time and immediately served up a surprise as Belgian 11th seed David Goffin was crushed by Italian teenager Jannik Sinner in front of a few dozen spectators.

Matches were suspended on the other two main courts – Suzanne Lenglen and Simonne Mathieu – after 15 minutes, with former world number one Victoria Azarenka fuming about the conditions.

“It’s ridiculous, it’s too cold,” she said as her first-round match against Montenegro’s Danka Kovinic was interrupted.

Azarenka walked on court wearing a pink puffer jacket under grey skies with only a couple of dozen spectators brave enough to sit in the windswept stands.

She resumed playing after a 45-minute interruption, wearing tights and a wind jacket.

Azarenka was all smiles, however, after an emphatic 6-1 6-2 victory in which only nine spectators witnessed the final point.

“I’m happy I managed to finish early now I can watch the others play,” she said.

Around the grounds, walkways normally thronged with fans were almost deserted as small groups of ticket holders milled around aimlessly.

Some stewards wore rain boots as they waited to check credentials in front of the courts’ gates.

Most of the women players wore leggings to try to stay warm while the persistent drizzle and soggy balls had players chuntering.

“Honestly the last time I remember doing that is when I was, like, 10. I used to play, I don’t know, like little tournaments in the winter in Georgia,” said American teenager Coco Gauff.

Italian veteran Andreas Seppi was equally unimpressed.

“I think the first hour the conditions were a disaster because it was still raining, it was windy and it was really cold,” he said after bowing out to Sebastian Korda.

“I thought they should have postponed the match at least for one hour.”

The claycourt Grand Slam was moved from its usual May-June spot to Sept. 27-Oct. 11 amid the COVID-19 crisis and only 1,000 spectators are allowed on site each day after organisers had initially hoped to welcome 20,000 – about half the normal capacity.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here, it’s freezing, I’m not sure I’ll see a lot of play today apart from those on central court,” said Yannick, a 22-year-old student who was among the few people to keep his ticket following a draw after the capacity was cut from 5,000 to 1,000 this week.

Rain is forecast at Roland Garros for the next 10 days.

The tournament is being held amid a resurgence of COVID-19 cases in France.

Players and guests are submitted to a mandatory coronavirus test before being sent to two hotels, which they can only leave to play at Roland Garros or practise in the neighbouring Jean Bouin stadium.