Paris Olympic bid leader: Roof at Roland Garros not crucial

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PARIS (AP) While essential for the French Open, a roof over center court at Roland Garros is “not crucial” for Paris’ bid to host the 2024 Olympics, the city’s bid leader said Monday as heavy rain washed out play at the clay-court Grand Slam for the first time in 16 years.

The French Open is the only major tennis tournament without a structure allowing play to go on during rainy days.

After years of delays, the French tennis federation is planning to have one over center court by 2020, but extension works are currently put on hold by legal action from local residents and environmental activists.

Speaking to reporters at Roland Garros, bid co-chairman Bernard Lapasset said “Roland Garros is already a fantastic venue for the Olympics. We can do more, but it’s not crucial.”

Poor weather has been playing havoc with the schedule at the French Open this year but showers are not so frequent in the summer months.

Last week, French Open director Guy Forget said delays in the construction and refurbishment work at Roland Garros could harm Paris’ bid to host the 2024 Olympics.

Environmental groups opposing the extension claim that the construction of a new 5,000-seat court at the Serres d’Auteuil botanical garden will harm the vegetation. The botanical garden’s 19th century greenhouses, a few hundred meters from Court Philippe Chatrier, host a large variety of tropical and local flowers. France’s council of state – the country’s highest administrative authority – is expected to issue a ruling in September.

“It might be easier to do the roof,” Lapasset said. “It’s more complicated for the new court, which won’t be inside (the current facilities of) Roland Garros. 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.”

Bid officials are planning to use the venue both for the Olympics and Paralympics, with tennis competitions, wheelchair events in tennis, basketball and rugby as well as five-a-side soccer matches being hosted in the western Paris venue if the city wins the hosting rights.

Paris is competing against Budapest, Rome and Los Angeles for the games. The International Olympic Committee will choose the host city in September 2017. Paris last hosted the Olympics in 1924.

A new media center will also be constructed as part of revamping of the site, the smallest of the four Grand Slam venues. Roland Garros has been hosting the French Open since 1928, welcoming about 400,000 spectators every year at the congested 21-acre (8 1/2-hectare) site.

“Guy Forget is a very good man, in terms of the values he promotes here,” Lapasset said. “But we all need to be pushing in the same direction. The zone is protected and that’s central in the discussions we are having. If we can do something, why not? But it’s complicated if you don’t have the agreement of the people (living) around.”

2-time Wimbledon champ Kvitova wins return from knife attack

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PARIS — Sweat-soaked and still wearing her match outfit, Petra Kvitova was looking for someone to hug as she wandered into the players’ lounge in the French Open’s main stadium shortly after leaving the court Sunday.

She found her father, Jiri, and her brother, also Jiri, who greeted her with warm embraces and joyous kisses on the cheek. Kvitova’s family members rarely attend her tournaments, but this was different – “special” was the word she, and others, kept using.

Less than six months after a knife attack at her home, two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova was back competing, winning the first match of her comeback 6-3, 6-2 at Roland Garros against 86th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” Kvitova said, “but I mean, it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Indeed, just being there under a cloud-filled sky at Court Philippe Chatrier was a triumph of sorts for Kvitova, who needed surgery on her left hand – the one she uses to hold her racket – after being stabbed by an intruder in the Czech Republic in late December. She was undecided until late last week whether to even try to play in the French Open.

“For us, it’s amazing. It’s miracle. Not even me or Petra thought she could be ready to come back so soon,” said her coach, Jiri Novak. “The prognosis was, let’s just say, not optimistic.”

During her on-court interview, Kvitova addressed Novak, her family and others in her guest box, saying: “Thank you for everything you helped me through (in) this difficult time.”

Several members of her entourage wore black T-shirts with white capital letters on the front that read, “Courage. Belief. Pojd.” That last word, which is the Czech equivalent of “Come on!” and was spelled with a red heart instead of the “O,” is often yelled by Kvitova to celebrate particularly good shots.

“The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said afterward. “So that’s … what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

There were plenty of opportunities for her to clench a fist and scream “Pojd!” on Sunday against Boserup, who was making her debut in the French Open’s main draw and facing a lefty for the first time.

“She’s one of the nicest girls, and we are all really happy to see her back. After what she went through, it’s incredible,” Boserup said. “So it’s a victory for her to be back on court. It was really special.”

Kvitova began things with a quick forehand winner on the opening point.

“Amazing,” she said. “I surprised myself.”

Kvitova wound up compiling the match’s first 10 winners and finished with a 31-9 edge in that category. She took 15 of the first 20 points en route to a 3-0 lead and never really faced a whole lot of resistance, other than when she saved three break points – the only ones she had to deal with in the match – while ahead 3-1.

When it was over, Kvitova dropped her racket near the baseline and removed her blue headband. As she walked to the net for a handshake, her eyes welled with tears.

“We are happy that she is healthy. The hand is good – and also the head,” her brother Jiri said. “Mentally, she is back.”

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

More AP tennis coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis

Venus Williams eases into French Open’s second round after beating Qiang Wang

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In a record 20th appearance at the French Open, Venus Williams eased into the second round with a straight sets victory over Qiang Wang of China.

Williams, who is seeded 10th, saved two set points to win 6-4, 7-6 (3).

The 36-year-old American will play Kurumi Nara of Japan in the next round.