PARIS: After years of legal battles and threats to quit its historic home, Roland Garros will show off its new look next week, with a nod to the Eiffel Tower and a Second World War resistance fighter while boasting enough plants and greenery to make even the most demanding environmentalist drool.
Ninety years after it was built, the French Open’s showpiece Court Philippe Chatrier was demolished soon after the 2018 event finished.
Fast forward 12 months and it has been almost completely rebuilt to accommodate the necessary strengthening required to support the retractable roof which will be in place for the 2020 edition of the sport’s only clay court Grand Slam.
The metal superstructure weighs half that of the Eiffel Tower, around 3,700 tonnes, said the French Tennis Federation’s director-general Jean-François Vilotte.
The roof will eventually allow for night sessions to be played even if Roland Garros still lags behind similar developments at the other three Slams.
The Australian Open has three covered courts already while Wimbledon and the US Open boast two retractable roofs apiece.
The 15,000-capacity Chatrier has expanded its shape and size, adding wooden seats to replace its ageing green plastic.
Only the famous red clay of the court itself — where the likes of Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer, Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Simona Halep will star from this weekend — has remained unchanged.
“We protected it, we put a concrete slab on it all the winter during the work,” said Gilles Jourdan, the head of the modernisation project which is believed to cost an overall 350 million euros.
“But the sweat of Mr Lacoste is still there,” he added in reference to one of France’s greatest tennis icons, a three-time winner in Paris during the 1920s.
This year’s tournament will also see the debut of Court Simonne-Mathieu, a 5,000-seat arena named in honour of a WWII resistance hero and a former Roland Garros champion.
The semi-sunken arena was a controversial development inside the nearby Jardin des Serres d’Auteuil, one of the capital’s most beloved green spaces.
It was only last May that the French federation emerged successful after five bruising years of bitter legal battles with environmentalists and well-connected local residents worried over the impact such construction would have over the gardens’ 19th century greenhouses.
At one stage, exasperated Roland Garros chiefs toyed with the idea of upping sticks out of Paris to start afresh in the suburbs.
But the court has been built, enclosed by four greenhouses housing “the only plant ecosystem of its kind”, say organisers of hosting collections from South America, Africa, South-East Asia and Australia.
The 10,000-seater Court Suzanne Lenglen remains although Roland Garros’ Court One ‘bullring’ is earmarked for demolition once the 2019 tournament ends.
In other changes this year, the west of Suzanne Lenglen has also undergone a radical transformation with six new courts built to supplement Court 14 which was a fresh addition in 2018.