D-day for Roland Garros

2011-02-12 06:55

Paris - French tennis confronts an historic moment on Sunday when a decision is taken on whether or not to abandon Roland Garros, the historic home of the French Open.

Roland Garros, built in 1928, is bursting at the seams and three alternative sites have been proposed so that the country's claycourt Grand Slam tournament can grow and expand.

Those sites are at Versailles, at Gonesse, to the north of Paris, and at Marne-la-Vallee, a stone's throw from Disneyland.

In total, 195 people will vote on the plans, with a straw-poll by AFP indicating that a redevelopment of the current site in the city's plush 16th arrondissement would be the preferred option.

"This will be the most important decision in the history of French tennis," one voter told AFP.

"But no doubt it will be some years before we know if it was the right decision."

The problem facing the French tennis authorities is one of space - at 8.5 hectares, Roland Garros is less than half the size of Wimbledon, which boasts 18.5 hectares of prime south-west London grass.

But the plan to renovate the existing premises received a boost in November after a special commission made up of elected officials, architects and historians gave it the thumbs-up.

The project proposed jointly by the French tennis federation (FFT) and the Mayor of Paris would involve expanding Roland Garros to create a new 5 000-seater court.

Anne Hidalgo, assistant to Paris mayor Bertrand Delanoe, spoke of "the enthusiastic support from the Paris Mayor's office for this major project for Paris".

Those against the idea have expressed disquiet at the loss of precious conservation areas surrounding the venue.

If no one contender emerges with a majority on Sunday, then the vote will go down to a tie-break between the two finalists that could last for several months.

According to a count by AFP, 30 of 43 voters said they would back the plans to redevelop the current site, with six each preferring Versailles and Marne-la-Vallee with just one leaning towards Gonesse.