Roland Garros plans crucial for 'slam status'
Plans to extend Roland Garros, the home of the French Open, which supporters claim are crucial for the tournament's survival, remain on track, officials said on Saturday.
Two months after a Paris administrative court condemned the proposals as illegal due to their architectural impact, French tennis chiefs insist changes are needed to prevent players deserting the increasingly cramped surroundings.
The French Tennis Federation (FFT) this week signed a 50-year deal with the city authorities to occupy the space and said that a request for a new building permit will be submitted later in the summer.
On Saturday, French Open tournament director Gilbert Ysern said that by 2017 a new court will be built in the greenhouse gardens at neighbouring Auteuil while a retractable roof on the showpiece Philippe Chatrier Court would be ready by 2018.
The French Open is currently the only one of the four Grand Slam tournaments not to have a covered court.
The Suzanne Lenglen court, the complex's second show court, will be renovated, a new 5 000-seater arena will be built as will a new training centre.
The expansion is estimated to cost around 340 million euros.
Ysern said that 320 million euros will be provided by the federation and through loans with Paris city authorities contributing 20 million.
The origial estimate had been 273 million euros.
"We are, together with the City of Paris, really convinced that our project is a good one," said Ysern.
"Of course, it's good as far as we are concerned because it serves our interest and it really addresses our concerns, and all our needs will be met with these new facilities.
"We are in a gorgeous place that is part of Paris, and it bears a lot of history. All of this is 100% respected in our project, so we don't see why and how in the end we could not be allowed to develop that."
The Roland Garros stadium, constructed in 1928 and named after a famous French aviator, is sandwiched between the Bois de Boulogne and residential property on the western outskirts of Paris.
In an interview with AFP in the run-up to the French Open, which starts on Sunday, Ysern insisted that the site needs to be extended or the event could face disastrous consequences.
"There is no alternative. Soon the players will not come because they will be better treated elsewhere. In the first week, the players are confined to the locker rooms," said Ysern in reference to Roland Garros' cramped surroundings.
"If we do not see this work through, we may not necessarily lose the title of a Grand Slam but players may not come.
"Thirty years ago, Australia was a Grand Slam but the best players did not go that far. Now, they are pampered everywhere and treated royally.
"These days if an emir offers them a fortune to play an exhibition during Roland Garros, they prefer Roland Garros. But tomorrow? There are plenty of players on the circuit who are young, from countries without much tennis tradition and the legend of Roland Garros means nothing. "