The clock is out of order. Each year, the sound of yellow balls returns like the ticking of a clock when the days get longer and the sweetness sets in, just after the Cannes Film Festival. Usually, the fortnight of Roland-Garros, traditional mark of our end of spring, begins in May and ends in June. Except… everything changed with this heck of a virus. This year, the tournament, which began this Sunday, September 27, announces the start of fall. And it is the rain which should settle in during this fortnight and make tap dancing on the new retractable roof of the court Philippe-Chatrier.
Rafael Nadal’s doubts
In the deserted alleys of the Porte d’Auteuil stadium, no one knows who or what to count on. Not even Rafael Nadal! In Paris, the Spaniard is nevertheless on conquered ground: twelve trophies gleaned since his first crown, in 2005. Suffice to say that the champion is comfortable in the costume of favorite.
This time, the champion arrives without certainty. While he usually accumulates games won on clay before arriving in Paris, Rafael Nadal has only three small matches of adjustment in his racket. It was in Rome, where he was returning to competition after skipping the repeat tournaments in the United States. And the case ended in the quarter-finals, on September 20, with a final defeat against Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman (6-2, 7-5).
Can he doubt, Rafael Nadal? “The playing conditions are the most complicated I have ever known here”, he judged at a press conference. True, the frost of the dawning autumn hardly suits the hitter, more at ease when the heat of June dries the earth and accelerates the speed of the balls.
Bullets, it is also question this year, with an additional change against which plague the champion: the organization inaugurates a new partnership with the equipment manufacturer Wilson who succeeds Babolat. Judged “Super heavy” by the Spaniard, these balls will be more difficult to control for his game while lifting. The detail can be decisive. The Spaniard, in any case, puts the pressure on himself: “I am about to start the most important event of my tennis career. “
A leap into the unknown
Are his opponents more serene? Novak Djokovic affirms it, ensuring not to think about his disqualification after a change of mood at the US Open. With his coronation in Rome, he has 31 wins out of 32 games played this year, and sees himself repeating the 2016 coup, his only success in Paris. But he too will have to deal with upset conditions: humidity; the day which falls much earlier, at 7 p.m., but which artificial lighting (which concerns 12 out of 14 courts) can now relay; the absence of the public, which will weigh more than expected with a tonnage reduced to 1,000 spectators; and the threat of the virus that plagues the spirits with repeated lottery-like tests (read below).
→ READ. Roland-Garros: only 1,000 spectators will be able to attend the tournament
Almost all the racquet aces jump into the unknown and without much preparation. New to the circuit with his victory at the US Open, Austrian Dominic Thiem stayed in the United States for a long time and can only claim a handful of training sessions on clay. “I also need to see how I’m going to mentally manage this title won in New York”, he just explained.
Especially since the 27-year-old Austrian did not shine as an absolute boss on the American fortnight. Its success is, in fact, no guarantee of the ability of the new generation to walk on the beds of thirties Nadal and Djokovic. With its unprecedented character, this edition of Roland-Garros can present itself as the perfect occasion for a great hierarchical scramble. But no one really dares to bet on this hypothesis.
The trend is also to expectation in the women’s tournament. The quest for a 24e A record Grand Slam victory for a Serena Williams still brimming with energy can liven up the debates. The absence of world number one and defending champion Ashleigh Barty because of the coronavirus and of Japanese Naomi Osaka, crowned at the US Open and injured in the thigh, seem to open a boulevard to Simona Halep, world number two . But the women’s tournaments apply to reserve surprises. All the more reason this year. Before opening the debates, Simona Halep summarized: “Playing Roland-Garros at the end of September is a bit weird. “ At least.
The stress of testing
The test protocol adopted by the organizers of Roland-Garros has been subject to numerous criticisms for ten days. A handful of players have been excluded from qualifying because of positive results, even though tested by other means, they claim contrary results. This is the case of the Bosnian Damir Dzumhur, excluded from the qualifications, who posted on social networks a negative result obtained the next day.
At Roland Garros, the tests are so sensitive that they are supposed to detect twice as many positives as those set up in New York for the US Open. The possibility of “false positives” hovers, especially among players who have already contracted the virus. Normally, all players have been tested twice before their first match, and will then be required to take a test every five days.