Virus again slashes French Open crowd sizes; now only 1,000

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FILE - In this Wednesday, May 27, 2020 file photo, a general view of the Philippe-Chatrier tennis court with its new retractable roof during a media tour at Roland Garros stadium in Paris. Damir Dzumhur's coach called Roland Garros organizers "inhuman on Tuesday, Sept. 22 for excluding the Bosnian player from the tournament, because the coach failed a coronavirus test. Dzumhur, a former top-30 player now ranked 114, tested negative for the virus himself but was barred from the qualifying draw for the clay major because he and his coach, Petar Popovic, shared a room in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, file)

PARIS – With only one week separating the end of one and the start of the other, the Tour de France and the French Open were shaping up as a double bill of sports entertainment, with masked but nevertheless live crowds, that would bear out President Emmanuel Macron's arguments that the country can live with the coronavirus.

The virus, however, had different ideas.

Whereas the three-week Tour reached Paris last Sunday having pulled off the coup of getting through the country's worsening epidemic without any virus positives among its 176 riders, the French Open isn't proving so lucky with its timing.

Play is still scheduled to start Sunday, but as infections soar across France, organizers’ plans to have thousands of spectators there each day to cheer for Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and others have been drastically scaled back to allow just 1,000 daily visitors.

“Not the ideal situation. Nobody likes to play with these conditions, no?” 12-time French Open champion Nadal said Friday about having so few spectators. “Everybody wants to come back to the normal situation. But before that, we need to fix the most important thing, and that is the worldwide health that today is still under big problems.”

Last Sunday, tournament director Guy Forget had appeared in an upbeat mood on French TV with the exhausted-looking Tour director, who tested positive himself during the race and hadn't been sure it would get to Paris. Forget congratulated him for the cycling roadshow that drew smaller but still sizable and enthusiastic crowds, and looked forward to welcoming 5,000 spectators per day at Roland Garros. Although postponed from their usual slots in May, June and July, both events decided not to cancel, unlike many others as the virus spread across the globe.

“Thanks to the Tour, thanks to tennis, sports are resuming again," Forget said. "We want to experience beautiful emotions.

“If it’s 5,000 spectators, that’s better than nothing,” he added. “We see the glass half full.”