The French Open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments that define success in tennis, will be postponed until September because of the coronavirus.
French Open organizers announced the decision on Tuesday in the midst of a wide lockdown in France aimed at limiting the spread of the virus.
The tournament, the premier clay-court event in the world, was scheduled to be played from May 24 to June 7. Tournament organizers said they shifted those dates to September 20 to Oct. 4.
“The current confinement measures have made it impossible for us to continue with the dates as originally planned,” tournament officials said in a statement.
The change puts the French Open after the United States Open, which had been the last Grand Slam tournament scheduled for 2020.
“We have made a difficult yet brave decision in this unprecedented situation, which has evolved greatly since last weekend,” Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the French Tennis Federation, said in a statement. “We are acting responsibly and must work together in the fight to ensure everybody’s health and safety.”
But the decision immediately drew criticism within tennis for being made without consulting others in the game. The date change will create conflicts with other events, including the Laver Cup men’s team event that is scheduled for Sept 25-27 in Boston, and a women’s tournament in Wuhan, China, the city at the center of the global epidemic.
“Excusez moi???,” said Naomi Osaka, the Japanese star and two-time Grand Slam singles champion, on Twitter.
Steve Simon, the chief executive of the women’s tour, said the WTA had been caught by surprise by the French Open’s move. Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP player council who has been pushing for more player solidarity and influence, said the decision had “come literally out of the blue” for the ATP.
“That’s insane,” Pospisil said in a telephone interview. “These are really rough times, unprecedented times, and this just goes against the whole idea of the tour working together. We have a calendar. We have discussions and negotiations between the Grand Slams and the ATP. We are always trying to make it work for everybody, and they just haven’t consulted the ATP, the players or the other tournaments. It’s just a very selfish move. They are basically doing a power play right now, and it’s quite arrogant.”
French Open organizers could not immediately be reached for a response to Pospisil’s comments. But the tournament organizers were clearly intent on preserving this year’s edition of their tournament after investing heavily in expansion and renovation in the last several years. This is to be the first year of use for the new retractable roof over the main court, the Philippe Chatrier Court, which will allow for night sessions and for play during rain.
Initially, there was discussion about the possibility of shifting the French Open to late July or early August if the Tokyo Olympics were postponed. Then on Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee reiterated its support for staging the Games as scheduled, from July 24 to August 9.
That left the French Open with few options for rescheduling.
“The French Tennis Federation was keen to maintain the 2020 tournament,” organizers said in a statement.
Concerns about the coronavirus continue to shut down major sporting events and have halted the professional tennis circuit. The men’s tour canceled all its events until the end of April. The women’s tour canceled all events until the beginning of May, and the French Open’s decision casts doubt on whether any clay-court events will be able to be held in May or June.
Though it’s unclear when any major sporting events will be able to return, Wimbledon is the next Grand Slam tournament, scheduled from June 29 to July 12. It is followed by the U.S. Open from Aug. 24 to Sept. 13 with the prestigious Olympic tennis tournament sandwiched between the two majors.
If things stay as currently scheduled, the French Open would begin just six days after the U.S. Open men’s final: a historically quick turnaround between major tournaments and a particularly challenging one because of the change in surfaces.
The U.S. Open is played on hardcourts while the French Open is contested on red clay, which requires different footwork and tactics. Players generally make a more gradual transition to each surface.
The French Open announced that any tickets already purchased would be refunded or be permitted to be exchanged, though it did not offer specifics on how that would take place.