Roland Garros and COVID: historic French game in Open Era

The French Open is finally underway in Paris.  Despite considerable restrictions due to COVID, some excellent tennis is on display at Roland Garros this year.

Preparations for a very special 2020 French Open Tennis Tournament were already in the works when plans unexpectedly changed.  Sorely in need of updating, the Roland Garros Stadium in Paris was the only venue of the Big Four that still suffered rain delays during its most important matches.

An ongoing massive renovation, to include a retractable roof over main court, Phillipe Chartrier. The new roof and more spacious stadium seating would restore Paris’ standing as the premier Grand Slam venue – the only tournament played on the famed ‘terre battue’.  

Then the unthinkable happened.  Construction was abruptly halted due to COVID.

Roland Garros and COVID in 2020

Roland Garros and COVID: historic French game in Open Era

How COVID changed the Roland Garros Tournament this year.

  • The tournament was rescheduled from May to September 2020.
  • Only 1000 spectators are allowed each day
  • Tournament personnel have been restricted
  • Players are confined to a designated hotel
  • Some important competitors have opted out for safety reasons

Each of these restrictions has posed hardships for the players and for the tournament. 

Roland Garros and COVID: historic French game in Open Era

September brings colder weather in Paris, meaning heavier, slower balls with less bounce – tough conditions for a clay court player.  The sharp reduction in the number of spectators has meant corresponding losses in revenue.  Line calls, often decisive in a contentious match, have been compromised.

Adding insult to injury, maybe the most offensive restriction:

Players with Paris apartments are not allowed to stay in them (quelle horreur!)

French Tennis: the Open Era

Tennis as we know it today did not gain widespread popularity as a spectator sport until the Open Era in 1968.  It was the French Championships, that became the first Grand Slam tournament to go open, allowing both amateurs and professionals to compete.

Prior to that time, tennis was dominated by four Frenchmen, known as Les Quatre Mousquetaires.

An interesting note: One of these men, RenéLacoste, designed the first (and still iconic) tennis shirt with the emblematic crocodile on the breast pocket.

Tennis actually originated in France

Most people think tennis originated in England. 
True, Wimbledon’s All England Club began the tournament tradition. 
However, tennis is a French invention. 

Let’s take a look back at the French origins of tennis.

The origins of Tennis date back to the 11th century when it was called ‘Jeu de Paume’.

Roland Garros and COVID: historic French game in Open Era

“Directly translated as “game of palm,” Jeu de Paume traces its history back to the 11th century, when French monks competed an early form of the sport, using their bare hands to volley cloth bags of hair or cork.” said Rolf Potts in his article ‘Jurassic Tennis‘.

“Later, the game was brought back to the royal courts by young Nobles educated in monasteries.  The game was overwhelmingly popular among rich and poor alike, but the wealthy played on indoor courts.”

By 1600 there were 2000 indoor courts throughout France: said Potts.

Two of these original courts are still in existence in Paris: 
– The Jeu de Paume (Contemporary Art) Museum near the Louvre and
– the Jeu de Paume Hotel on Isle Saint-Louis.

The Hotel Jeu de Paume was the last royal tennis court in the capital of Paris.  It was built by Louis XIII in 1634.  He was said to love the game, and practiced ‘enthusiastically’.  Matches continued here for more than a century.  Today, it is a French Historical Monument and a boutique hotel on Isle Saint-Louis.

The Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume was built by Napoleon III in 1861.  Famously, it was used by Hitler’s army as a storage site for looted artworks during their occupation of Paris.

Tennis — the origin of the name

In renaissance Europe, players used to call out:


before lobbing the ball over the net to their opponent. 

Jeu de Paume was outlawed in France and England from time to time.

Both France and England issued occasional edicts banning the game during the 13th and 14th centuries.  Its popularity caused priests to ignore their monastic responsibilities.  English subjects overlooked their archery practice, then an important warfare skill. 

These edicts were mostly ignored and the sport continued to flourish.

Two French Kings lost their lives due to the game of Jeu de Paume.  King Louis X died of pneumonia after a brisk match in June of 1316, and Charles the VIII died in 1498 while on his way to watch a match in Amboise after striking his head on a doorway beam.

Louis, Duke d’Orléons, who succeeded Charles VIII (as Louis XII ) was said to engage in a lifelong feud with his cousin Anne de Beaujeu, (subsequently regent to Charles VIII) after he asked her to adjudicate a line call. 

Having done so, Louis angrily disagreed with her. 

The evolution of tennis —Jeu de Paume

Despite the evolution of the game into Tennis, Jeu de Paume is still played

  • Jeu de Paume is called ‘real tennis’ in England, ‘court tennis’ in the United States, and ‘royal tennis’ in Australia
  • There is a Jeu de Paume Club in Paris and roughly 20 in England
  • World titles in the sport started in 1740 and continue to the present day
  • There are roughly 5000 players of the original sport, worldwide

Roland Garros and COVID

Taking the Roland Garros challenges collectively, the French Open seems different this year with COVID.

Yet, one thing hasn’t changed. The spirit of competition is truly excellent.  The players deserve credit for carrying on this French tradition of sportsmanship in a very difficult environment.  

Week one of the televised tournament ends Saturday 3 October 2020.  Despite the restrictions and inconveniences, it’s game on.

  • Will Rafa Nadal win his 13th Roland Garros title?  Or will these unusual conditions favor a different style of play?
  • On the Women’s side, Serena’s departure this week creates opportunities.  Who might emerge victorious?

French Open Trivia: test yourself

  • May 30, 2000, made history as the only day to be completely washed out since 1925.
  • Aspiring ball boys and girls must be aged between 12 and 16 and also be members of the FFT if they are to be among the lucky 200 selected for the tournament.
  • The No.1 Court, which seats 3,790 spectators, was built in 1980.
  • Chris Evert holds the record of most wins in women’s singles with 7 Roland Garros titles to her name.
  • A grand total of 390,172 spectators came through the turnstiles in 2001, a record.
  • The stadium was named after Roland Garros, a member of the Stade Français. This aviator was the first man to cross the Mediterranean in 1913.

Enter now — to WIN! Closes 11 October

Roland Garros and COVID: historic French game in Open Era

Its Roland Garros Competition time! This is your chance to WIN a Roland-Garros bundle and $1000 voucher at Lacoste, Competition promoted by

Will you be watching The French Open at Roland Garros? Share your experiences and thoughts in the comments section below.

1. Roland Garros Renovations via
2. History of Tennis via
3. Jurassic Tennis via
4. If it wasn’t for Wimbledon we might be playing tennis on an hourglass shaped court via
5. King Louis XII of France and the Game of Jeu de Paume via
6. Roland Garros: the Francophile’s guide to tennis via
7. French Tennis anyone? via
8. Open Tennis Quiz via

Image credits:
1. & 3. Roland Garros, by @ChrisGuibbaud via Instagram
2. Court Philippe-Chatrier, Roland Garros, by Christophe Guibbaud at @rolandgarros via Instagram
4. From out of the shadows, by Corinne Dubreuil at @cocodubreuilphoto via @rolandgarros on Instagram
5. Paris in Autumn by Virginia Jones at @vjphoto via Instagram
6. Jeu de Paume etching via Wikipedia
7. Galerie Nationale du ‘Jeu de Paume’ via Wikipedia
8. Hotel Jeu de Paume, Ile Saint Louis via their website.
9. The author, Annette Cripps at Roland Garros (with Rafa Nadal on the court)
10. Rafa Nadal at Roland Garros 2020, by Nicolas Gouhier via @RolandGarros on Instagram
11. Roland Garros Competition CLOSES 11 OCTOBER 2020 via

About the Contributor

Annette Cripps

I obtained my second degree (after Finance in 1980) in French/Arts and Humanities in 2017.  I love golf (sometimes), tennis (usually), my family (always) ... and France, toujours.

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