In the next few years the French Open may be forced to leave its iconic city center location of Roland Garros, in favor of an out of town setting which would allow it to expand like its grand slam counterparts already have. But is abandoning the bright lights of Paris really a good move for the French? And how will the alternative venues measure up?
Ever since the French Open began in 1928 it has been held on the red clay courts of Roland Garros, in the city’s chic sixteenth arrondissement.
As French as Wimbledon is English, Roland Garros, which is named after a French airline pilot and World War One hero, has become synonymous with tennis. And consequently, the French are far from impressed at proposals for a move from their prestigious home to the city’s less than glamorous suburbs.
But with only a small area of land to play with, half that of Wimbledon’s South West London location, the French Open has outgrown itself, hemmed in by the vast Bois de Boulogne park on one side and avenues of expensive homes on the other.
It would certainly be a great shame to leave the history of the venue and Paris behind but organizers are under considerable pressure to do so after it was reported that reigning champion and world number one Roger Federer gave a list of his complaints about Roland Garros' facilities to tournament director Gilbert Ysern.
Federer was not advocating a move out of the city but his opinions will have further convinced those who believe it is necessary. And as hopes to improve the existing venue were stalled by protests from environmentalists and local residents, who amongst other things objected to the construction of a roof over the Phillipe Chatrier court, organizers seem to be running out of options.
Earlier in the year Ysern told the media that leaving Paris would be “heartbreaking,” but something that he knew had to be considered for the future of the tournament. And it seems that future could lie in one of four locations, all situated at least 15km outside of Paris – not quite as attractive to players or traveling fans.
To the north there is the nondescript town of Gonesse, a 16.5 km train or car journey from Paris and close to Charles de Gaulle airport, which can claim very little to its name except for being the sight of a Concorde crash in the year 2000.
Then there is the equally uninspiring 1960’s town of Evry, 25km to the south of the city and close to the other international airport in Paris, Orly.
Perhaps slightly better known is Marne-la-Vallée in the east, but this is already the home of the ever-expanding Disneyland and is still around an hour from the center of Paris.
The final contender, and certainly the preferred new location as far as Ysern is concerned, is Versailles. The former French capital is the home of the spectacular palace that was once the residence of the country’s kings and queens.
So despite still being outside the city walls, it boasts a slightly more imaginative and iconic setting than any of the other options, and if the tournament had to move Versailles is the front runner.
Nevertheless, none of the suggestions are quite as alluring as the established Roland Garros complex, just a stone's throw from the city and all the sights it has to offer.
A decision on the future of Roland Garros will be taken by the French tennis authorities at the beginning of 2011, and any move is expected to take up to five years to complete. Perhaps they are hoping this will give the tennis world time to get used to the idea.