September 19, 2021

From cauldron to empty shell, contrast at Roland Garros, in public but under curfew

“Ouh”, “Never”, “Come and get us! “ On the court of the Auteuil greenhouses, as a tribute – all things considered – to Simonne-Mathieu, twice victorious at the French Open and engaged in the Free French Forces during the Second World War, the public is resisting. And when the loudspeakers remind, shortly after 8 p.m., that the Roland-Garros enclosure will have to be evacuated at the latest at 8:45 p.m., the 200 or so spectators firmly planted in the stands are playing bravache. “Come on Coco, before we go”, launched one of them to encourage the French Corentin Moutet against the Serbian Laslo Djere, for his first round, Sunday, May 30.

Alas, in a surreal atmosphere, in less than five minutes, the two players, incredulous, went from a flaming quasi-cauldron with flags flying in the wind to an empty shell. And it was behind closed doors that Djere rose to the second round 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 7-5), leaving his opponent, in frustration, to send his racket beyond the empty stands.

Read also Roland-Garros: Dominic Thiem out in the first round

The public returned to Porte d’Auteuil for the opening of the French Grand Slam. Until June 8, a maximum of 5,388 daily spectators can be accommodated, compared to 38,000 in normal times. Despite this reduced gauge, tennis fans do not shy away from their pleasure. “It feels good to come back to the stadium, breathes Judith, installed in the stands of Simonne-Mathieu court with her companion. It may be our only outing of the summer, because we are in a bad way to go see concerts anytime soon. “

If the confinement has ended, and the start of the tournament in the Paris tournament coincides – again – with the start of summer, it is difficult to ignore the health situation. “I received two e-mails insisting on the instructions, before coming”, underlines the Parisian spectator, mask on the nose, but laughing eyes.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also Between gauges and sanitary pass, Roland-Garros adapts to the epidemic context

As in the fall of 2020, the tournament must deal with a strict health protocol and the implementation of scalable gauges according to the stages of deconfinement. The stadium was divided into six establishments open to the public (ERP): the Philippe-Chatrier, Suzanne-Lenglen, Simonne-Mathieu courts, as well as the additional courts, divided into three zones. Spectators can move from one annex field to another, provided that the gauge does not exceed 35% of the maximum capacity of the ERP.

In practice, this opening Sunday sometimes gave rise to a merry mess to enforce the distances on the annexes – in the smaller stands. Court nº 7, which normally has a capacity of 1,351 spectators, welcomed… practically as many in the middle of the afternoon to admire the aesthetic gestures of the Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov (17e) against the American Marcos Giron (82e). Right next to it, the nº 9 court struggled to attract more than ten spectators to see the clash between the Russian Elena Vesnina and the Belarusian Olga Govortsova.

Patience rewarded

“We are supposed to have every other seat occupied, except that the spectators who were on the nº 9 [à voir Khachanov-Vesely] came back at the end of the match on the 7th to see Dimitrov, justifies the coordinator of the reception teams, who prefers to remain anonymous. We let go out, but no longer come in “, while a few hundred people wait in line outside.

Among them, Mohamed, Béchir and Jday, three friends, between 28 and 35 years old, came from Versailles. “We’ve been waiting for an hour, we want to try our luck …”, they sigh before their patience is, finally, rewarded. They will witness an incredible scenario, the Bulgarian being finally forced to retire when he was led 3-0 in the 4e set, after having had three match points at 6-2, 6-4, 5-1.

The larger the speakers, the easier it is for the organization to respect the gauge. “We don’t have to count ourselves, we explain at the entrance of Simonne-Mathieu, where the gauge allows 1000 spectators. The cameras in the stadium estimate the number of spectators and, if the gauge is reached, we are warned not to let any more people in. “

In the aisles, with seven times fewer spectators than usual, the flows are far from past traffic jams worthy of a crossover between July and Augustians. This is not to displease Enzo Jacquet, who came with his father, his grandmother and his 9-year-old little brother, who poses in front of the brand new steel sculpture three meters high in tribute to Rafael Nadal, signed by Spanish artist Jordi Diez Fernandez. ” It’s crazy ! We enjoy a lot more, we can walk around the stadium more easily, we are cool, we see the players up close… even if the atmosphere is calmer ”, gets carried away the 16-year-old teenager, licensed at the Tennis club of Neuilly and used to the place.

The family had seen all their seats canceled during the fall 2020 edition, whose gauge had been reduced at the last moment to 1,000 spectators per day. Like many other spectators they met on Sunday, they were able to benefit from priority access to the ticket office.

A little further, towards the central alley, Nelson Monfort poses in front of the large ocher wall where the hashtag #RolandGarros appears, which sees spectators in search of stories on Instagram scroll. The host of France Télévisions leaves satisfied with the pictures, before two teenagers come to ask him for a selfie. He lends itself to it with good grace, but gently lectures them: “On the other hand, you take off your masks! ” The reverse of the sanitary protocol.

Read also Roland-Garros: Dominic Thiem out in the first round