PARIS (AP) — They sipped glasses of champagne or rosé while sitting on the sandy cushions of wicker sofas on the “terrace” overlooking several small Roland Garros courts. They crowded the lanes and stood in dozens of lines for Nutella-slathered waffles or ham, cheese, and butter baguettes—and sometimes gave up waiting that could take 15 minutes or more.
In the stands they were wearing white caps, shouting “Allez!” and rhythmically clapped their hands. They made unetiquette walks through the aisles of the stadium during the game. Most importantly, and most importantly, they were there.
Crowds in French Open returned to their own without a mask, without distance, in full force, before the pandemic levels on Sunday for the start of this year’s edition, the same part of the fabric of the event as the red clay that defines grand slam tournament.
“Really festive atmosphere,” said Alice Dufour, a 21-year-old who was part of a group trip from her Miramont tennis club near Bordeaux. “It’s a huge party.”
Due to COVID-19 restrictions in a country that has gone through three hard lockdowns, attendance at the 2020 French Open was limited to 1,000 spectators per day, bringing the two-week total to 15,000 viewers instead of more than 470,000 who came through the turnstiles in 2019. A year ago, the maximum was 5,388 on each of the first 10 days, and then dropped slightly to 8,500 when the men’s final was played.
Sunday attendance was 32,453.
It is clear that they are thrilled to watch tennis and participate in the sport of seeing and being seen, part of the joy and relief of the entire society at the thought that perhaps some semblance of normality has returned – even if the coronavirus continues to cause disease and death worldwide as variants proliferate.
The players, no doubt, are also pleased to see so many faces around again.
“I have always appreciated the fans, but this time they have become a part of it even more. … I realized that since everything seems to be back to normal, just: “Wow, this makes a huge difference,” said Grigor Dimitrov, a three-time Grand Slam semi-finalist from Bulgaria, who is ranked 18th in Paris. . “This is partly why we like the sport itself. Without the fans, we will definitely not be the same.”
When his 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 victory over American Marcos Giron unfolded on the 1,351-seat No. 7 Court, there was only standing room, and there were many more standing places in the queues at the entrances. for people hoping to sneak through the third set, no matter how lopsided it may be.
One Dimitrov fan draped a white-green-red Bulgarian flag over the glass railings along the balcony of the nearby main stadium, Corte Philippe Chatrier, glancing over.
Shouts came from a nearby arena where a pair of unseeded, unknown players met. Later, in Chatrieus, when a French woman won a game that she was supposed to lose to a Greek opponent, the locals were delighted with the development of events, repeatedly repeating the name of their player.
“It’s amazing that the fans are back, the people are back,” said Katerina Sinyakova, the Czech tennis player who won the women’s doubles title last year and won the first-round singles match on Sunday.
John Isner, the 23rd American, recalled his third-round loss to runner-up Stefanos Tsitsipas in Shatria in 2021, when a COVID-19 curfew meant the stands had to be vacated around midnight.
“It was surreal to play center court at night when literally no one was watching except his team and my team. So stinky,” Isner said after his victory on Sunday.
“Glad the fans are back. I think they did really well today – I mean, not just on my court. I heard the roar going through the stadium,” he said. “The fans here are very passionate and the players appreciate that.”
One fan who certainly appreciated being able to attend on Sunday was Ryan Cardiff, a 24-year-old American who said he was due to take a holiday in France in May 2020 to mark his graduation from UC Berkeley, where he played to tennis.
This holiday trip should have been postponed until now. But it eventually happened, and Cardiff stood in line on Sunday to enter Court No. 8 with his mother Cheryl Kline.
“It’s super cool. Lots of energy,” said Cardiff. “The fans are really excited.”
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