COVID-19 seems to have stayed in the past at the French Open with a full load

PARIS – They sipped glasses of champagne or pink, sitting on the sand pillows of wicker couches on the “terrace” overlooking the small courts of Roland Garros. They crowded the tracks and stood in dozens of lines for Nutella-painted waffles or baguettes covered in ham, cheese and butter – and sometimes gave up waiting, which could take 15 minutes or more.

In the stands they wore white hats and shouted “Alez!” and punctuation marks with rhythmic claps. During the game, they walked through the aisles of the stadium, which violates etiquette. Most of all, and most importantly, they were there.

The crowd at the French Open on Sunday returned to their level without masks, distances and distances with full load before the pandemic at the beginning of this year’s edition, the same piece of event fabric as the red clay that defines the Grand Slam tournament.

“It’s a really festive atmosphere,” said Alice Dufour, a 21-year-old girl who took part in a group trip from her Miramont tennis club near Bordeaux. “It’s a huge party.”

Due to the restrictions of COVID-19 in a country that has experienced three serious blockades, attendance at the French Open in 2020 was limited to 1,000 spectators per day, resulting in a total of 15,000 spectators in two weeks, not more than 470 000 that passed through turnstiles in 2019. A year ago the high was 5,388 for every first 10 days before being somewhat relaxed to allow 8,500 when the men’s final was held.

32,453 people visited on Sunday.

Obviously, they are thrilled to watch tennis and participate in the sport of see-and-be-see, a piece with a public sense of joy and relief at the thought that some resemblance of normalcy may have returned – even if the coronavirus is still responsible for disease and death worldwide as options spread.

Players are no doubt also excited to see so many faces around again.

“I’ve always appreciated fans, but this time they became part of it even more. … I realized that since everything has returned to normal, it’s just: “Wow, it makes a big difference,” said Grigor Dimitrov, a three-time Bulgarian Grand Slam semifinalist in 18th place in Paris. “Partly that’s why we enjoy sports. Without fans, we will definitely not be the same. “

As his 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over American Marcos Chiron took place on the 1351-seat № 7 court, there was only room for rest – and there were many more people in the queues at the entrances. for people hoping to infiltrate during the third set, no matter how one-sided it may be.

One Dimitrov fan hung a white-green-red Bulgarian flag on a glass railing along the balcony of the nearest main stadium, Court Philip Shatrie, looking from there.

Shouts rose from a nearby arena where a pair of unsown players met. Later, in the Tent, when the Frenchwoman won the game in a match in which she lost to Greek rivals, locals were delighted with the developments, repeatedly chanting the name of his player.

“It’s amazing when the fans came back, the people came back,” said Ekaterina Sinyakova, a Czech player who won the women’s doubles title last year and won the first-round singles match on Sunday.

John Isner, the 23rd seeded American, recalled his third-round defeat by second-placed Stefanos Tsitsipas at the Tent in 2021, when the curfew due to COVID-19 meant the stands had to be cleared around midnight.

“It was surreal, playing on the central court at night, and literally no one was watching except him and my team. It smelled bad, ”Isner said after his victory on Sunday.

“Happy to bring back the fans. I think they did very well today – I mean, not just on my court. I heard a roar spreading through the territory, ”he said. “The fans here are very passionate and the players appreciate it.”

One fan who definitely appreciated the opportunity to attend Sunday was Ryan Cardiff, a 24-year-old American who said he had to take a holiday in France in May 2020 to celebrate his graduation from the University of California at Berkeley, where he played in tennis.

This holiday trip had to wait until now. But in the end it happened, and Cardiff was in line on Sunday to enter court № 8 with his mother Cheryl Klein.

“It’s super cool. A lot of energy, ”Cardiff said. “Fans are really excited about this.”

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