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French Open to allow fans despite growing COVID-19 cases

The crowd watches Dominic Thiem serving to Rafael

The crowd watches Dominic Thiem serving to Rafael Nadal during the French Open men's final at Roland Garros in Paris on June 10, 2018. Credit: AP/Christophe Ena

PARIS — Spectators will be allowed at the French Open this month despite the growing number of coronavirus cases in the country, organizers said on Monday.

Organizers unveiled the health protocols for the clay-court grand slam, which will take place at Roland Garros in western Paris from Sept. 27 after being postponed from its May start due to the pandemic.

“Since the international circuit restarted, Roland Garros will be the first tournament with the privilege of hosting an audience,“ French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said.

But Greek tennis player Maria Sakkari, asked about the move after her U.S. Open loss to Serena Williams on Monday, said she was shocked by the federation decision.

“It doesn’t make sense, to be honest,“ Sakkari said. “To have fans and have us in a bubble? For me, it doesn’t really make sense. For me, it was a shocking announcement to have fans.”

In accordance with the latest government guidelines capping attendance to 5,000 people in regions such as Paris, the federation has scaled down its plans.The federation wanted to welcome 50-60% of capacity, the equivalent of about 20,000 fans per day. Instead, Roland Garros will be divided into three zones based on the three main courts, with 5,000 people each for the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts. The zone surrounding the third biggest court will host a maximum of 1,500 spectators a day.

Wearing a mask on site will be mandatory, while all accredited people at the tournament will have to pass virus tests to be admitted in the Roland Garros bubble.

Tournament director Guy Forget said all players will be tested upon their arrival in the French capital city. They will be authorized to play if they return a negative test and will undergo a second test 72 hours later. Players will then be tested every five days as long as they remain in the draw, and will have to stay in the two hotels booked by organizers.

Organizers also decided to give more money to the early losers, in a gesture of solidarity toward the players who have been the hardest hit financially by the crisis.

“The prize money for first-round losers will thus increase by 30% compared to last year, to 60,000 euros ($71,000)," they said in a statement. “A major effort has also been made on the qualifications, with an allocation up 27% compared to 2019. The first-round losers in qualifications will receive a 10,000 euros ($11,800) check."

French officials have confirmed more than 30,000 deaths from COVID-19 while the number of new daily cases surpassed 8,000 last Friday.

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