Tension mounts ahead of Roland Garros verdict

AFP, Thursday 10 Feb 2011

The contentious fate of Roland Garros as the historic home of the French Open from 2016 onwards is due to be announced on Sunday by the French Tennis Federation (FFT)

Roland Garros
Stade de Roland Garros

The FFT is considering four options: renovate the existing site, or move the famous Grand Slam first won by the legendary Rene Lacoste in 1925 to a new venue in either Versailles, Marne-la-Vallee or Gonesse.

A flurry of last-minute lobbying in the corridors of power in French tennis has accompanied the countdown to Sunday's eagerly anticipated verdict.

"Up to now, things have gone more or less okay but over the past few days, it's been war," one interested party, who preferred to remain anonymous, commented on Thursday.

One FFT voter, Alain Moreau, added: "Like all the other delegates, my phone hasn't stopped ringing in the last couple of days."

Not all the bidders are playing by the rules to secure the right to host the French Open, however.

Versailles mayor Francois de Mazieres was moved to contact French newspaper Le Figaro this week after an incendiary note surfaced criticising his town's proposal.

"On the eve of the decisive match what's happened is that our rivals are concentrating their attacks on the team carrying the best hopes," he wrote, adding to AFP that the statement in question contained "false" information.

The problem facing the French tennis authorities is one of space -- at 8.5 hectares, Roland Garros is less than half the size of Wimbledon, which boasts 18.5 hectares of prime south-west London grass.

"It would be heart-breaking, but we have to consider it," declared Gilbert Ysern, FFT director general, in March on a possible move away from the existing venue in the chic 16th arrondisement of Paris.

The plan to renovate the existing premises received a boost in November after a special commission made up of elected officials, architects and historians gave it the thumbs-up by 13 votes to eight, with two absentions.

The project proposed jointly by the FFT and Mayor of Paris would involve expanding Roland Garros to create a new 5,000-seater court.

Anne Hidalgo, assistant to Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, spoke of "the enthusiastic support from the Paris Mayor's office for this major project for Paris".

Those against the idea have expressed disquiet at the loss of precious conservation areas surrounding the venue.

The FFT will start to deliberate on the contentious issue on Friday, with a decision due on Sunday.

If no one contender emerges with a majority from the FFT's 194-strong electorate then the vote will go down to a tie-break between the two finalists that could last for several months.

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