With the coronavirus pandemic eliminating any possibility of major sporting events being played this spring, the first major shift for the tennis calendar occurred Tuesday when the French Open announced it is abandoning its traditional start in late May.
Now, it is scheduled Sept. 20 through Oct. 4.
The move sets up a highly intriguing and unusual scenario in which the French Open would begin exactly one week after the U.S. Open final — assuming the United States Tennis Association stuck to its current dates. There is no word yet on whether Wimbledon, which is scheduled to begin June 29, plans to shift to different dates.
The decision to change the schedule caused immediate controversy with players, who would have to play grueling Grand Slam events on different surfaces (hardcourt to clay) with no break in between. ATP players’ council member Vasek Pospisil tweeted that Roland Garros made the decision without communicating at all with the players or the ATP Tour and called it “madness.”
Tennis, as much as any sport, has been vulnerable to the coronavirus concerns due to the worldwide nature of the tours and players coming from all areas of the globe for big tournaments.
The French Open moving to the fall gives at least some forward-focused clarity to the calendar, which has been suspended for at least six weeks by the ATP Tour and until May 2 for the WTA. The traditional spring lead-up to the French Open includes big clay court tournaments in places like Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Rome and Madrid, which are in or close to areas currently dealing with significant COVID-19 outbreaks.
With a new date set for the French Open, it’s possible the professional tennis tours don’t get fully cracked up again until the grass court season in June.
But playing Roland-Garros in September, and particularly right after the U.S. Open, will cause a significant reordering of the calendar in the fall with one of the biggest events impacted being the Laver Cup, a Europe vs. World team event put on by Roger Federer’s management company that has grown in popularity the last three years. The Laver Cup was scheduled to be played in Boston the weekend of Sept. 25.
Another intriguing aspect to the U.S. Open and French Open going almost back-to-back is that Rafael Nadal is the defending champion of both tournaments. He was going to be the massive favorite this year to win his 13th title at Roland-Garros, which would tie him with Federer for the all-time lead with 20 Grand Slams.
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