The French Open will continue to be played at Roland Garros in Paris after the country’s tennis federation opted to upgrade the existing site rather than move the tournament outside the city.
Three other projects had been bidding to host the event from 2016. Paris took 70 percent of the votes over Marne-la-Vallee in the final round after Gonesse and Versailles were eliminated, the French Tennis Federation said yesterday. The upgrade will cost 273 million euros ($370 million), half of what would have been required to move the clay-court Grand Slam.
By backing Paris City Council’s proposal “to enlarge, modernize and completely rethink the historic site of Roland Garros at Porte d’Auteuil, the FFT has chosen a magnificent and unique project, which will continue to distinguish us from other major tournaments,” Jean Gachassin, the federation’s president, said in a statement on the organization’s website.
The French Open has been played on the red clay courts of Roland Garros, located on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement of the French capital, since 1928.
Originally covering eight acres of land with five courts, Roland Garros now has 20 outside courts spread over 21 acres. Still, it remains the smallest of the four tennis majors, and players, press and spectators frequently complain about its lack of space. During multiple rain delays at the 2010 French Open, thousands of tennis fans found themselves stranded outside, unable to find cover.
Wimbledon and Melbourne Park, where the Australian Open is played, each cover close to 50 acres, while the U.S. Open has 34.5 acres of land at Flushing Meadows.
The upgraded Roland Garros will cover almost 35 acres and include 35 outside courts, a new 5,000-seat stadium and a new press center, the federation said. The main Philippe Chatrier court will be redesigned and feature a retractable roof.
“We are short of space,” French Open tournament director Gilbert Ysern said in an interview in June. “We strongly believe that if we do not expand our facilities, we could endanger the tournament.”
Organizers had been considering alternative venues after plans announced in the spring of 2009 to build a new 120 million-euro stadium near Roland Garros stalled because of a lack of consensus among local politicians.
Among the options were: moving the tournament close to the Palace of Versailles; to a location in Marne-la-Vallee, where Disneyland Paris is based; or to Gonesse, close to Charles de Gaulle airport.
The federation backed a fourth project which was a variation on the 2009 plan. Under the joint proposal by the FFT and the mayor of Paris, the existing grounds will be renovated and a small stadium court built in the neighboring municipal greenhouses at the Jardin des Serres.
The changes to the plan were approved in November by a special commission made up of historians, elected officials and architects. The City of Paris owns the Roland Garros site.
Over the years, the FFT has invested 200 million euros in the complex. A move away from the current site by 2016 -- when an agreement with Paris expires -- would have cost about 600 million euros, Ysern said in June. The French Open generates about 250 million euros annually for the country’s economy, Ysern said.
Players including top-ranked Rafael Nadal of Spain had said they didn’t want the tournament to move.
“Roland Garros should remain here, because here we can breathe the history of tennis within these walls,” Nadal, a five-time French Open champion, said during last year’s tournament. “It’s very important, whereas if we move elsewhere, maybe the site is going to be bigger, we’re going to lose part of our soul.”