No Roof, No Problem: Why Rain Delays Shouldn't Lead to Change at the French Open

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistMay 31, 2016

An official ball from the 2016 French Open bounces on one of the tournament's rain-soaked courts.
An official ball from the 2016 French Open bounces on one of the tournament's rain-soaked courts.MARTIN BUREAU/Getty Images

As rain drowned out another day at the 2016 French Open, tournament officials received more criticism about Roland Garros' roofless venue.

"Build a roof," critics cried.

Ignore the critics, Roland Garros. Don't change. Instead, please remain your charming, roofless, no-Hawkeye using, lights-out go-home self. Because in this "Twitterfic, Instagraphic, selfie-snapping, snap-chatting" world, holding to tradition seems rather revolutionary.

On Monday, heavy rain washed out an entire day of competition for the first time in 16 years. Tournament officials had to cancel more matches on Tuesday.

Players complained. Fans groaned.

Exasperated by the non-stop rain, French Open tournament director Guy Forget told Agence France-Presse (AFP), via Dave James of Yahoo Sports:

It is very frustrating but it is proof that the roof is a necessity and that we have to do it. We cannot be like this for many more years. We hope to have the roof by 2020. People have to realize that nobody can stop the process. The world is moving fast -- we were talking about the roof 15 years ago.

Yes, they've been talking about this roof for some time now. However, the French Open has been around for 125 years. It's the smallest of all the Slams and has survived without a roof, Hawkeye and lights. In fact, the absence of those things is what makes the French Open the cozy, quirky and quaint Grand Slam.

Why must every sporting event be turned into a gladiator-style spectacle? Who needs nosebleed seats at a tennis match? Whatever Roland Garros gains with a roof, it will lose in charm.

The grounds crew at Roland Garros works to sweep rain off the tarp covering a court at the 2016 French Open.
The grounds crew at Roland Garros works to sweep rain off the tarp covering a court at the 2016 French Open.Aurelien Meunier/Getty Images
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This fall, the U.S. Open is set to unveil its newly installed retractable roof over Arthur Ashe stadium. Wimbledon and the Australian Open already have retractable roofs.

The French are the last holdouts, and many are unhappy about that.

In 2012, the men's final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic experienced several rain delays.

This prompted the Guardian's Kevin Mitchell to write a scathing piece on the French Open and that it lagged behind other tournaments. "It took the drenched 2001 final between Pat Rafter and Goran Ivanisevic to convince Wimbledon they needed a roof. Melbourne also has a roof. Paris, as ever, remains aloof, roofless — and a laughing stock."

Paris is hardly a laughing stock. Rejecting what some consider modernization is merely historical preservation. Remember 20 years ago, when many French opposed plans to build Euro Disney, now Disneyland Paris?

Once deemed the "cultural Chernobyl," Disneyland Paris continues to irk many Parisians. During the height of the controversy, one journalist for French newspaper Le Figaro encouraged "rebels to set fire" to the theme park, according to The Motley Fool.

The opposition to modernizing Roland Garros isn't nearly as fierce. Government and tournaments officials agree on the need to add additional seating and other upgrades. However, many local residents oppose expanding the venue's footprint or disrupting the natural habitats nearby.

Plans to renovate Roland Garros hit a snag when local residents and environmental groups took legal action to halt proposed changes. At issue are botanical gardens and 19th-century greenhouses located near Philippe-Chatrier, the French Open's center court.

The locals like it the way it is.

Perhaps they should have more say about what happens to Roland Garros than journalists and tourists who descend on the place for two weeks then disperse.

Meanwhile, the French are hoping to host the Olympics in 2024. Bernard Lapasset, co-chair of France's Olympic bid committee, insists that Roland Garros is a suitable venue without a roof. Lapasset told the Associated Press (via USA Today), "It's important for us that we can propose to IOC members a bid faithful to our environmental values. The zone is protected, and it's complicated to do something without the agreement of the people (living) around."

One of the greenhouses in the Les Serres d'Auteuil, gardens in Roland Garros.
One of the greenhouses in the Les Serres d'Auteuil, gardens in Roland Garros.JACQUES DEMARTHON/Getty Images

Last week, Forget told reporters that the earliest Roland Garros could get a roof installed would be 2020.

In the meantime, the tournament will continue as it has for more than a hundred years, without a roof. During these roofless decades, Roland Garros has been called one of the most beautiful sporting venues in the world.

The Telegraph's sports journalist Charlie Eccleshare ranked Roland Garros No. 4 among the 10 best tennis venues in the world. "Dodgy weather over the last few years has made the roof a necessity, but when the sun is out in Paris, Roland Garros is a glorious place to watch tennis..." When asked to explain what she loved about Roland Garros, tennis journalist Kate Battersby wrote:

History is a living entity at Roland-Garros. I love that this showpiece of French tennis does so much to honour Les Quatres Mousquetaires, who commanded the Davis Cup almost a century ago and whose success prompted the very existence of Roland-Garros... For Roland-Garros is drenched in both culture and history, nowhere more so than the one-time gardener's cottage which now provides entry to the brilliant "Musee du Tennis", the extraordinarily airy subterranean museum of French tennis culture...If sport means anything to you, get to Roland-Garros just as soon as you can. Breathe in the grace, the passion and nobility of the place.

The 2016 French Open will be remembered for the torrential rains as much as the absence of Roger Federer and Nadal. Hey, weather happens. Historic downpours are considered thus because they don't happen often.

No need to panic and become carbon copies of Flushing Meadows and Melbourne Park. Let the U.S. Open and the Australian Open have their wee hours of the morning finishes. If those tournaments can count forcing players to compete at 1 a.m. as thrilling, why can't the French claim quaint their roofless existence?

Why must we waterproof every event? Especially when complaining about the weather is one of man's oldest traditions.

Besides, retractable roofs still require a stoppage in play. Of course play can resume sooner; however, it would only resume on courts with a roof. Other matches would be suspended and schedules rearranged. Unless the desire is to turn all Grand Slams into indoor tournaments, weather will remain a factor.

So keep firm Roland Garros. Ignore the naysayers who laugh at umpires hoping down from chairs to observe ball marks in the clay. Close your ears to the night owls who find more respectability in matches played hours after dark than retreating for a fabulous late-night French dinner.

Stay strong Roland Garros, you've resisted the roof this long.