Security tightened in Paris as Roland Garros gets ready for French Open
The tournament begins Sunday with No. 1 Novak Djokovic aiming to win the only Grand Slam singles title he lacks and Serena Williams trying to tie Steffi Graf for the Open era record by winning her 22nd major singles title.tennis Updated: May 21, 2016 18:38 IST
The new level of scrutiny at the Roland Garros tennis complex is both evident and understandable as France, still in a state of emergency, prepares for a grand two months of sport that also present a major security headache.
The European football championship, from June 10 to July 10, will be the much bigger challenge, with its full stadiums and fan zones nationwide. But the French Open — nestled among the foliage and red clay on the fringes of the city’s 16th Arrondissement — could also be a target.
The tournament begins Sunday with No. 1 Novak Djokovic aiming to win the only Grand Slam singles title he lacks and Serena Williams trying to tie Steffi Graf for the Open era record by winning her 22nd major singles title. There are new checkpoints and policies and a more visible police presence.
“I think you have to have confidence in the professionals,” said Guy Forget, the former French player who is the new tournament director. “For security questions, we are required to count on the professionals: the prefecture of police, the special forces. And we say: ‘What should we do? Give us the means. We want there to be as close to zero risk as possible.’ And we follow what they tell us to do to the letter.”
Security inside the stadium has too frequently been a concern in recent years with demonstrations and court intrusions disrupting some players’ concentration and sense of well-being.
Last year, on opening day, a fan blithely stepped over a barrier and onto the main Philippe Chatrier Court to ask Roger Federer to pose for a photograph with him. Security was slow to respond, and Federer, whose injuries are forcing him to miss this tournament for the first time since 1999, was not amused.
The timing of this year’s event has only increased the urgency about security. The French Open, which lasts 15 days and attracts crowds of more than 30,000 daily during the first week, will be the most significant and extended sporting event in Paris since the terrorist attacks in November that left 137 dead.
“I mean, that’s something I think a lot of the players wanted, as well, is a little bit more security,” Williams said Friday. “We’ll see. You know, we just want to be here. We want to do what we do. We just want to play tennis.”
Williams, still ranked No. 1 at age 34, has an apartment in Paris, and many other players also have a deep connection with the city and its inhabitants.
“They have gone through a lot,” said Bethanie Mattek-Sands, the reigning French Open women’s doubles champion with Lucie Safarova. “When we first heard about those attacks, it was one of those moments where you remember where you were, and you stop for a moment and think about it because it’s not somewhere in a land faraway. It’s the place where you go every year.
“Coming back, it’s something that is in the back in your mind,” she said, adding that, “I hope that the French Open, like with the Olympics and other sports, brings people together. I’m still going to explore and love Paris as I have in years past.”
The back story is not all that has changed at Roland Garros this year. The backdrop is changing, too. The long-contentious extension project into the neighboring botanical gardens is still contentious, and construction of the new “greenhouse” court is blocked for now.
But work inside the existing site has continued apace, and where Court 7 once stood, there is now a large construction pit, hidden for now by temporary pavilions and concession stands.
The iconic Place des Mousquetaires is also lacking musketeers, with the statues of the four great French players of the 1920s and 1930s no longer in place — at least for the moment — to improve pedestrian circulation with the work in the stadium.
Roland Garros, overcrowded during the first week in the best of circumstances, could become even more of a scrum in 2016. But that would only be an annoyance. What matters most, of course, is that everyone emerges safe and sound from 15 days of watching forehands, backhands and long, sweeping slides in the terre battue.