As this time like none other rolled on, it was increasingly hard to believe that the 2020 edition of Roland Garros would happen as scheduled. So it was that the tournament has announced it will now be played September 20 to October 4—triggering uncertainty and a slew of questions.
The implications of this new date—well, potential date—are tremendous and downright jarring. First, the US Open is scheduled to end on September 13, leaving just one week before the start of Roland Garros. As recently as the ‘70s, there were years when there was only one week between the French Open and Wimbledon. For a long time, there was a two-week gap before the current three-week break. But Paris to London, clay to soft grass, was merely a roughly 200-mile hop across the English Channel.
Now, the idea of players and the tennis world trekking across the Atlantic from New York to Paris, pounding hard courts to grinding clay, is rather staggering. Perhaps those who lose early in New York—assuming that tournament runs as scheduled—will be the ones most fit to fare well on clay.
Wertheim's quick take
For that matter, is there any kind of clay-court season? No tournament demands more preparation than Roland Garros. Might other smaller tournaments or even informal exhibitions be scheduled in Europe throughout August and September? Do some players, including 12-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal, opt to skip the US Open and instead focus strictly on clay? And how does all this affect rankings?
Meanwhile, there is the matter of the remaining calendar to address. The ATP schedule during those two weeks lists five tournaments in such places as Metz, France; St. Petersburg, Russia; Chengdu, China; Sofia, Bulgaria; and Zhuhai, China. There’s also the Laver Cup, set to start in Boston on September 25. Do these events continue, in parallel, for players with lower rankings, or are they expected to step aside?
The WTA has four events from September 20 to October 4, all in Asia: Seoul, Korea, Guangzhou and Wuhan in China, Tokyo in Japan. And then, starting the week of October 5, there’s a dual-gender event in Beijing, as well as an ATP stop in Tokyo. The 2020 status of these events has likely already been impacted. So now, how does the re-timing of Roland Garros further affect them?
Daylight and weather also become factors here. Sunset in Paris in early June happens close to 10:00 p.m., days getting longer as summer nears. By September 25, though, sunset takes place prior to 8:00 p.m., daylight growing shorter during autumn. Does less daylight compel the tournament to have men’s matches reduce to best of three, at least in the early rounds? Though there were plans to have night tennis at Roland Garros in 2021, might they now happen sooner? On the weather front, the good news is that temperatures in Paris this time of year remain in the 60s and 70s.
Thinking a little more locally, how does the French Open capture the attention of Americans at this new time of year? While year-round sunshine permits California residents like myself to play tennis year-round, for millions in other regions, the tennis season is largely a spring and summer occasion, commencing in May with Roland Garros and finishing with the US Open in September. It will be fascinating, as baseball nears the playoffs and football commences, how much bandwidth the American sports fan will have for Roland Garros.
Finally, without getting too far ahead ourselves, let’s look more closely at the upcoming tennis calendar now that Roland Garros has been rescheduled. Will Wimbledon proceed as planned? If not, will it seek to be played later in July or August, very near the US Open? If so, what happens to the Olympics and the August US hard court swing? Do those events cancel themselves, or do they also occur in conjunction with a rescheduled Wimbledon, their draws now open to lower-ranked players?
Wrestling with all this is tricky. On the one hand, these are just sports events, far less mission-critical to the world than healthcare workers and many others who are currently keeping the planet safe and functioning. But then, in tennis, there are a great many people who work at these various events and indeed count on the sport for their livelihood. Again, so many, many questions.