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Discontent takes root at Roland Garros

Ageing home of French tennis gets green light to branch out but the decision has angered Parisian environmentalists.

Last updated: 17 Oct 2013 19:59
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Clay for today: Roland Garros is set for a $465 million modernisation project [AFP]

"Roland Garros must change or die."
 
That was the rallying cry from the man in charge of the home of the French Open, Gilbert Ysern, before going into battle against those hoping to thwart the ageing tennis stadium's plans for expansion.
 
And it now appears that Roland Garros will indeed live on, after a legal suspension of those plans was lifted by a tribunal in Paris on Thursday.
 
Compared to the other Grand Slams – the Australian and U.S. Opens, and a revamped Wimbledon – the French Open has looked increasingly decrepit in its 85-year-old home.
 
Not much space, little comfort for spectators or players, and nothing to rival the retractable roofs of the other three (the Americans are set to get one in 2016). Those factors have made change high on the agenda for a number of years.

But Roland Garros' snug position within the avenues and boulevards of the 16th arrondissement has left very little room for manoeuvre – especially when tennis chiefs voted in 2011 not to consider uprooting the tournament to elsewhere.

On paper, that may have made little sense. Roland Garros has 86,000 square metres of space, compared to 170,000 for Wimbledon, 190,000 for the U.S. Open and 400,000 for the Australian.

Huge tradition
 
The expansion plans approved on Thursday will add just 26,000 square metres during the tournament's three weeks.

But a traditional Roland Garros may be more important than a huge Roland Garros.
 
"The greatest error would be to want to align ourselves with the others," Ysern told the L’Equipe sports newspaper.

It's like the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco – it's so unique that they would never dare to touch it. Roland is the same.

Gilbert Ysern, Roland Garros director general

"If we build an immense stadium in the suburbs tomorrow, the other (Slams) will get bigger and better the day after…the way of 'gigantism' is lost in advance.
 
"Here (at Roland Garros), we can cultivate our difference. It's like the Formula One Grand Prix of Monaco – it's so unique that they would never dare to touch it. Roland is the same."
 
The word "cultivate" may be an unfortunate choice, given the reason for opposition to the expansion.
 
Court number one – that's the round one – is set to be knocked down to allow a green space for the public to hang out in, rather like Henman Hill at Wimbledon.

That means a new court, with 5,000 seats, needs to be built nearby.
 
And the available space just happens to be a 19th century botanical garden.
 
While the historic central part of the Jardin des Serres at Auteuil will not be touched, conservationists are enraged that any part of the grounds will have to make way for the new stadium. As it is, rare species being protected in modern conservatories on the site must be moved elsewhere.
 
"The site is untouchable. It's just a question of ideology, a question of ethics," Agnès Popelin of France Natural Environment told the paper.
 
"There are principles which we do not touch."
 
Principled or not, the new Roland Garros looks set to be ready in 2018 or 2019, with the retractable roof placed on top of Court Phillipe-Chartrier being the centrepiece of a project now estimated at 340 million euros ($465 million).
 
The cost to Paris' natural heritage is yet to be reckoned.

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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