Time up for Roland Garros?


PARIS, March 23 – The French Open tennis tournament could be soon wrenched from its historic home at Roland Garros in the chic 16th arrondissement of Paris and relocated to the capital's outer suburbs.The controversial plan is one option under consideration by organisers tackling the problem of the clay court Grand Slam’s cramped venue.

Possible new homes being looked at in the Parisian ‘banlieues’ are Versailles, Marne-la-Vallee, Evry and Gonesse.

"It would be heart-breaking, but we have to consider it," declared Gilbert Ysern, director general of the French Tennis Federation (FFT), on Monday.

The problem facing the FFT comes down to space – Roland Garros at 8.5 heactares is less than half the size of Wimbledon, which boasts 18.5 hectares of prime south-west London grass.

Organisers are investigating two solutions – a major renovation of the existing site built in the 1920s or move to a new home.

"We either move the walls or relocate," Ysern stated.

The French Open, whivh was won by the legendary Rene Lacoste the first time it was held in 1925, is also in need of a covered centre court like at Wimbledon and at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

"The other Grand Slams have progressed more than ours. There is a risk that the tournament will lose some of its allure. Roland Garros cannot stay like it is today," stressed Ysern.

If the French Open were to remain at its present site then either the Philippe-Chatrier centre court would have to be covered or the Suzanne Lenglen number two court would have to be torn down and rebuilt with a retractable roof.

A third option, the construction of a brand new centre court at the Georges-Hebert stadium only a decent lob from the existing one, has been rejected.

But the one drawback of remaining at Roland Garros is that a major facelift will still not tackle the problem of space – or lack of it – with the site surrounded by conservation areas like the Bois de Boulogne.

The radical idea of upping sticks to the suburbs is not without precedent as the US Open moved homes in the 1970s and the Australian Open followed suit a decade later.

The new sites being looked at are:

– Marne-la-Vallee to the east of Paris near Disneyland

– Versailles, near the grounds of the chateau, to the west

– Evry-Bondoufle, in the south, on a disused racecourse

– Gonesse, in the north.

While discussions are at an early stage one of these locations appears to be a front runner, with Ysern revealing that "Versailles would be favoured in terms of the continuity of (the tournament’s) image."

The one disadvantage apart from upsetting traditionalists to moving venues is cost, estimated by the FFT at 600 million euros – three times the price of renovating Roland Garros.

Renovating Roland Garros will take two years while the construction of a brand new suburban home will take up to five years.

A decision on the French Open’s future must be made at the latest by February, 2011.

This year’s tournament starts on May 23 with world No.1 Roger Federer defending the men’s title and Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia the women’s.