French tennis chiefs on Thursday pushed back the start of the 2021 French Open by a week as part of a plan to ensure the maximum number of fans at the venue, while observing government health guidelines to stem the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
The second of the circuit’s most prestigious Grand Slam events was scheduled to start on 23 May.
But with France struggling under a third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, organisers face the prospect of the action unfolding in front of sparsely populated stands for a second consecutive year.
Instead, the qualifying rounds for the tournament will be held from 24 May at the Roland Garros stadium on the western fringes of Paris. The first round of the main draw will start on 30 May.
“It will give the health situation more time to improve and should optimise our chances of welcoming spectators at Roland-Garros,” said Gilles Moretton, president of the French Tennis Federation (FFT) which organises the clay court tournament.
Last year, the event was switched from its Maytime slot to late September as President Emmanuel Macron’s government tried to deal with the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
The change - announced with minimal consultation - provoked fury in the ITF, ATP and WTA which control the sport internationally.
Fast forward a year, and though grass court tournaments in the Netherlands, Germany and England will be affected, the FFT appears to have toned down its abrasiveness.
"Both the ATP and WTA are working in consultation with all parties impacted by the postponement to optimise the calendar for players and tournaments in the lead up to and following the French Open,” the WTA and ATP said in a joint statement.
When the French Open was eventually played last year, a maximum of 1,000 spectators were allowed in to watch the matches on the 16 courts, on the 12-hectare site.
“I am delighted that the discussions with the public authorities, the governing bodies of international tennis have made it possible for us to postpone the 2021 tournament. I thank them for this,” added Moretton.
Eighteen-year-old Iga Swiatek, became the first player from Poland to win a Grand Slam tournament when she saw off Sofia Kenin from the United States 6-4, 6-1.
Wimbledon, the third Grand Slam event of the season, is scheduled for late June and the US Open, the last of the four 'Slams', for the end of August.
“These remain extremely challenging times for communities around the world, and, while there is optimism for the future, it is clear that this pandemic is very much still with us,” said Ugo Valensi, executive director of the Grand Slam Board, the organisation that represents the world's four major tennis tournaments.
"The Grand Slams represent the most significant spotlights for our sport and so we will do everything possible to ensure they can be staged successfully," he added.