Roland-Garros ne s’est pas fait en un jour! The French Open has its roof.

The original plan was to have ‘commissioned’ the roof of the Philippe Chatrier centre court tomorrow, Saturday, May 23, the day before the start of the 2020 edition of the French Open. But none of that is possible now, thanks to the coronavirus, and the French Open has been rescheduled to September 20 to October 4.

So earlier this week the French Tennis Federation took the media around Roland-Garros to show that they would have met that deadline. And Roland-Garros’ roof is complete and fully functioning, as the daily sports newspaper L’Equipe was happy to confirm.

‘L'édition 2020 de Roland-Garros sera marquée, si elle a lieu, par la mise en service du toit du court Philippe-Chatrier. L'ouvrage restera l'héritage de cette année hors du commun.’

‘The 2020 edition of Roland-Garros will be marked, if it takes place, by the commissioning of the roof of the Philippe Chatrier court. It will remain the legacy of this extraordinary year.’

Philippe Chatrier court at Roland Garros with a new roof
Since 2016, the FTF has worked to transform Roland-Garros, thanks to government funding of €380 million. Roland-Garros is the last of the four Grand Slams to build a roof, a project that cost €50m.

According to L’Equipe, the FTF’s original unveiling plans were ‘big and festive’: an expensive ceremony with tennis stars, international DJs and an evening show.

It’s hard to imagine such a complex piece of engineering having to be assembled in more challenging times. There were hundreds of workers involved in the project but this had to be scaled back to only ‘a few dozen’ at the height of ‘le confinement’ lockdown. But work never stopped, even if the engineers - from the Italian company, Cimolai, which manufactured the roof – were required to self-quarantine at one stage in a nearby hotel.

On this link you'll find a  video presentation from the FTF showing the assembly of the roof in progress in February this year but well before ‘le confinement’

According to L’Equipe, the eleven wings which make up the roof structure were eased into place in February. In some ways, that was the easy part. Then began the process of integrating all of the top-side elements with the two sets of railways powered by four engines that open and close the 4,000-tonne structure. The roof travels over a hundred meters but to avoid any misalignments, which mean leaks, corrosion and even worse, the meeting up of the leading edges of the structure has only a four-centimetre margin of error. L’Equipe said such engineering precision was, ‘a goldsmith's work’.

The roof passed its first test with the torrential storms in the second week of May. ‘With the amount of rain that fell, we are certain that it works,’ Jean-Rémy Maillard, deputy director in charge of works at the FFT, was quoted by L’Equipe. Proof of that was the ultra-dry clay which the media tour was shown, that proves the surface has not seen the water for a long time.

Well-known commentator Craig Gabriel vents his frustration from inside his TV booth at yet more rain deals in the opening week of the 2013 French Open. The 2012 men’s final had to be completed on the Monday because of rain with the match a critical stage: When play was suspended Novak Djokovic had the momentum, having won eight consecutive games, the third set and a break in the fourth. However Nadal returned from the overnight break to win the match 6-4, 6-3, 2-6, 7-5.

Because of the total ‘newness’ of the project there are some aspects of how the roof will change the atmosphere at Roland-Garros that can only be guessed at until there is a real Live Event: what exactly will be the acoustics once the structure is closed, the stadium is full and the roof is being hammered by rain?

In everything that they have said, the FFT have been at pains to stress deploying the roof is a worst-case scenario. Unlike the Grand Slams in Melbourne and New York, the Philippe Chatrier roof is only needed in the event of rain whereas the Australian and US Opens also use theirs to ‘air condition’ the players if required.

To celebrate their sponsorship of the 2017 French Open, Perrier created a giant zipline that ran from 115m up the Eiffel Tower to their Champs de Mars sponsor village, allowing thrill seekers to travel at upto 90 kmh, the speed a tennis ball travels when smashed. Apparently.

With the roof now in place, Roland-Garros will continue to reinvent itself. The court No. 1 [not to be confused with Court Suzanne Lenglen, the second show court], is ‘a jumble of rubble and barriers’ according to L’Equipe, taken down to create new facilities for the media and official VIP Hospitality clients.

Jean-François Vilotte, the FFT’s director-general told L’Equipe he and his colleagues are hopeful about the rescheduled September – October staging of the French Open: ‘We're looking at all the scenarios. We're looking at the tournament as optimistically as possible and we're not ruling out an almost normal option - one that includes the public, therefore.’

But whatever happens, to be entitled to its (real) opening party, the Philippe Chatrier roof will have to wait until 2021.

If you think finishing the men’s final on a Monday was unusual, in this black and white footage with no sound we can see what Roland-Garros looked like in 1973 as the great Romanian Ilie Nastase beat Yugoslav Nikki Pilic … played on a Tuesday because of rain on the Sunday and Monday.

The details of the 2020 French Open official VIP Hospitality programme are still subject to confirmation because of the Live Event lockdown. But if you would like to discuss this event or official VIP Hospitality options to any other tennis event please contact our colleague Tobias Grenacher on mob +4179 4381816 or email

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Charlie Charters is a former rugby union official and sports marketing executive turned thriller writer whose debut book Bolt Action was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2010.
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