French Open postponed until September because of coronavirus

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A Roland Garros 2017 tennis ball is seen at the Stade Roland Garros tennis venue complex, where the French Open is held, during a visit by the the International Olympic Committee Evaluation Commission, in Paris, France, May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/Files

French Open officials announced Tuesday that the season’s second tennis Grand Slam will be postponed until September because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The rescheduled tournament is set to begin Sept. 20 and end Oct. 4.

“The current confinement measures have made it impossible for us to continue with the dates originally planned,” the French Open said in a statement.

The tournament originally was scheduled to run May 24-June 7. But on Saturday, French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe announced that all nonessential businesses must close until further notice. The ATP Tour suspended men’s tennis play for six weeks on Thursday, and on Monday the WTA followed suit for the women’s tour, suspending play through May 2.

On Friday, France’s top two soccer divisions announced that they would be suspending play indefinitely.

“We have made a difficult yet brave decision in this unprecedented situation, which has evolved greatly since last weekend,” said Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the French Tennis Federation, in a statement. “We are acting responsibly, and must work together in the fight to ensure everybody’s health and safety.”

On Monday, an All England Lawn Tennis Club spokeswoman said Wimbledon, the season’s third major tournament, was still scheduled to be played beginning in late June but also that club officials “will act responsibly, in the best interests of wider society.” Wimbledon was not played during the first and second World Wars.

The rescheduled French Open now will begin just one week after the scheduled end of the U.S. Open, the year’s final Grand Slam. On Monday, U.S. Open tournament organizers announced that “we are not implementing any changes to the 2020 U.S. Open” but acknowledged “that circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 virus are rapidly changing,”

Should both events go on as planned, a six-day turnaround between majors would be massively tricky for many players. Grand Slams are the most grueling of all tennis tournaments, as they take place over two weeks and require men to play best-of-five set matches rather than the best-of-three set matches they play during the rest of the year. The change in surfaces would also pose an unusual challenge; the U.S. Open is played on hard courts and the French on red clay, which requires entirely different footwork and strategy. Most players gradually ease from clay-court season in spring to hard-court season in late summer and fall.

Scheduling conflicts could also arise. Although Grand Slams are the most important tournaments of the season and may well take precedence no matter what a player has on the docket, many players travel to Asia from Sept. 20 to Oct. 4 for tournaments held in China, South Korea and Japan.

This year, the Laver Cup would also conflict with the French Open. The three-day men’s team event is set to begin Sept. 25 in Boston. It offers no rankings points nor prize money but it does promise hefty appearance fees and may be an attractive option for those players who don’t want to make the quick transition to clay.

The showcase could account for one major absence at the French Open: Roger Federer. The Laver Cup is the Swiss champion’s brainchild along with longtime agent Tony Godsick, and Federer has shown he’s willing to skip Roland Garros if it better suits his schedule.

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