COVID seems to be a thing of the past at Roland-Garros at full capacity

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PARIS — They sipped glasses of champagne or rosé while sitting on the sand-colored cushions of wicker sofas on a “terrace” overlooking smaller courts at Roland Garros. They crowded the aisles and lined up dozens deep for Nutella-painted waffles or baguettes covered in ham, cheese and butter — and, sometimes, they waived those waits that could take 15 minutes or more.

In the stands, they wore their white hats and shouted “Come on!” and dots punctuated with rhythmic applause. They took un-etiquette walks down the aisles of the stadium during the game. Above all, and above all, they were there.

Crowds at Roland Garros were back to their pre-pandemic maskless, distanceless levels at full capacity on Sunday for the start of this year’s edition, as much a part of the fabric of the event as the red clay that defines the Grand Slam tournament.

“A really festive atmosphere,” observed Alice Dufour, a 21-year-old who was part of a group trip from her Miramont tennis club near Bordeaux. “It’s a big party.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions in a country that has gone through three severe lockdowns, French Open attendance has been capped at 1,000 spectators per day in 2020, creating a two-week total of 15,000, instead of the more than 470,000 who passed through the turnstiles in 2019. A year ago the maximum was 5,388 for each of the first 10 days, before being relaxed somewhat to allow 8,500 during the men’s final.

Sunday attendance was 32,453.

Obviously they are excited to watch tennis and participate in the sport of seeing and being seen, one piece with a society-wide sense of joy and relief that a Some semblance of normality may have returned – although the coronavirus is still responsible for illness and death around the world as variants spread.

Gamers, no doubt, are also excited to see so many faces again.

“I’ve always appreciated the fans, but this time they’re even more of a part of it. … I’ve realized, since everything is back to normal, just, ‘Wow, that makes a huge difference,'” said three-time Bulgarian Grand Slam semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov, seeded 18th in Paris. “That’s part of why we enjoy the sport itself. Without the fans, we certainly wouldn’t be the same.

As his 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over American Marcos Giron took place on the 1,351-seat No. 7 court, the place was standing room only – and there was plenty no more standing room in the queues outside the entrances for people hoping to sneak in during the third set, as unbalanced as that is.

A Dimitrov fan draped a white-green-red Bulgarian flag across a glass balustrade along a balcony of the nearby main stadium, Court Philippe Chatrier, while catching sight of it from there.

Screams rose from an adjacent arena, where a pair of unranked and unannounced players met. Later, in Chatrier, when a Frenchwoman won a match in a match she would lose to a Greek opponent, the locals rejoiced at the development, chanting their player’s first name several times.

“It’s amazing to reunite with the fans, to reunite with the people,” said Katerina Siniakova, a Czech player who won the women’s doubles title last year and won a singles match in the first round on Sunday.

John Isner, the 23rd-seeded American, recalled his third-round loss to eventual runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas at Chatrier in 2021, when a COVID-19 curfew meant the stands had to be emptied around midnight.

“It was surreal out there, playing on center court at night, with literally no one watching except his team and my team. That kind of stinky,” Isner said after his win on Sunday.

“Happy to have the fans back. I think they showed up really well today – I mean, not just on my pitch. I could hear roars in the park,” he said. fans are very passionate here, and the players appreciate that.”

One fan who certainly appreciated the chance to be there on Sunday was Ryan Cardiff, a 24-year-old American who said he was supposed to take a vacation to France in May 2020 to mark his graduation from the University of California, Berkeley. , where he played tennis.

This celebratory trip had to wait until now. But eventually it happened, and Cardiff was in line on Sunday to enter Court No 8 with his mother, Sheryl Kline.

“It’s super cool. Lots of energy,” Cardiff said. “The fans are really into it.”

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