French Open to stay at Roland Garros

The French Tennis Federation voted to keep the French Open at

its traditional Roland Garros venue and renovate the existing site

by making it considerably larger, more attractive and modern,

rather than moving it elsewhere.

Three other venues were bidding to host the clay-court Grand

Slam tournament by 2016.

The proposed new sites at Versailles, close to the hugely

popular Versailles palace, and in the suburbs at Gonesse and

Marne-La-Vallee were much more expensive because they would have

required building from scratch.

The FFT said on Sunday that it had chosen the option of

renovating Roland Garros, located in western Paris for more than 80

years, by making it ”60 percent” bigger while preserving its

”unique history.”

”The Federation decided to stay on its original site at Porte

d’Auteuil,” the FFT said on Sunday. ”It chose an ambitious,

prestigious project resolutely looking to the future.”

The new-look Roland Garros will feature 35 outside courts, a new

press center and a center court with a retractable roof so that

matches could go ahead when it’s raining, and where night sessions

could be played.

”Our ambition was to offer a project with a real future and of

a very high quality,” FFT president Jean Gachassin said on Sunday.

”To improve the reception and the comfort of the players and

spectators.”

Kim Clijsters, who will become the No. 1 player in the world on

Monday, welcomed the news.

”I would have thought that it was sad to see it go away from

the place where I know (the French Open) should be … It has a lot

of great memories for me even as a junior,” Clijsters said.

But former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, now director of the Open Gaz

de France tournament, thinks it should have moved.

”I hope they (the French Federation of Tennis) won’t get in

trouble by taking this decision,” Mauresmo said. ”I don’t know if

the tennis aspect prevailed in that decision. I have some doubts. I

clearly said that I was more in favor of a development, of an

ambition, that is, to move.”

Cost issues also appear to have played a crucial part in the

decision making.

The FFT said that renovation costs at Roland Garros are expected

to be ?273 million ($370 million), compared to an estimated price

tag of between ?470 million and ?800 million for the three other

potential venues.

Gonesse was eliminated in the first round of voting and

Versailles in the second. In the final round, Roland Garros

received 70.13 percent of the votes to eliminate

Marne-La-Vallee.

”I would like to congratulate all the participants … most

particularly (Paris) mayor Bertrand Delanoe,” Gachassin said.

”(Delanoe) has done an absolutely remarkable job to present a

project in keeping with the international dimension of Roland

Garros.”

Mauresmo, who struggled to match expectations in front of her

home fans at Roland Garros, thinks ”what happened in the last few

weeks or last few days is very political” as to how the decision

was reached.

Gonesse, whose bid was led by its mayor Jean-Pierre Blazy,

received only 3.7 percent of votes in the first round.

Nevertheless, the FFT praised all the other losing bids for

offering ”the necessary guarantees for a good organization” of

the French Open.

Roland Garros is the smallest of the four Grand Slam venues that

also includes the Australian Open at Melbourne, the U.S. Open at

Flushing Meadows in New York, and London’s traditional grass-court

event at Wimbledon.

Fans and players have regularly complained about the congestion

at Roland Garros because of its narrow walkways and the stiflingly

limited size of the complex.

Plans call for an extension of the current site from 21.3 acres

(8.5 hectares) to about 33.8 acres (13.5 hectares).

Among the renovation options are a new adjacent stadium with a

capacity of 8,000, and the use of other local infrastructure, such

as the land at Stade Jean Bouin, where Stade Francais rugby club

played its home games until the stadium was knocked down two years

ago.

Local residents, wildlife enthusiasts and municipal authorities

in Paris’ leafy western hub have all previously voiced their anger

at the plans to refurbish Roland Garros.

Mauresmo has reservations that the pledge to mix modernity with

tradition can work.

”If you can keep the history of the tournament in a place that

is big enough to have the crowd happy, the players happy, night

matches perhaps, matches when it’s raining, then that’s the perfect

situation,” she said. ”If you can keep tradition in these

conditions, then it’s great. I’m not sure that’s the case with

Roland Garros.”

Associated Press writer Trung Latieule in Paris contributed to

this report.