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Tennis-Please take your seats – French Open empty stands disappoint again

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By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) – While the French Open delivered a vintage women’s final in state-of-the-art facilities, it was the embarrassing sight of empty seats – particularly in the corporate boxes – that will linger in the mind after this year’s edition.

Tournament director Amelie Mauresmo said on Sunday that “we have beaten the record with 630,000 people in total for the visitors, compared to 613,000 last year, with greater comfort.”

Many of those “visitors”, however, failed to take their seats.

Lunch or an aperitif has always been a priority for most of the hospitality guests, and some of them left the stadium midway through the much-awaited men’s semi-final between Carlos Alcaraz and Novak Djokovic.

The corporate boxes, where seats are mostly offered by sponsors to their guests, were mostly empty for the second men’s semi-final between Casper Ruud and Alexander Zverev.

Several women’s matches were played in front of half-empty stands, making for poor footage as TV cameras hovered above the stadium.

Ons Jabeur, one of the hottest tickets in the women’s draw, played her quarter-final match in front of sparse crowds, a point the Tunisian picked up on herself.

“It was really good to see the Tunisians in the crowd because I know there were no tickets, and it was terrible to see the stadium empty because there were a lot of Tunisians who wanted to come and see me play,” she said.

At the other Grand Slam tournaments, empty seats are a rare sight.

A year before the Paris 2024 Paralympic Games, the French federation’s (FFT) stands were almost empty throughout a women’s doubles wheelchair semi-final.

Last year, an upgrade — Annexe Up — was available for FFT licence holders on tickets usually giving access only to the outside courts, meaning they could take empty seats on the main court until the initial ticket holder showed up.

That offer was not renewed this year, however, although some spectators without tickets for the main courts were occasionally allowed into the Philippe Chatrier.

“Some people like to walk around the alleys, too. And if a match is boring, and I’ve seen some and will not name and shame, you might want to go and see another match,” FFT president Gilles Moretton told reporters on Sunday.

“There is room for improvement it is true, but we also accept our differences.”

The night session, featuring one match, was brought half an hour forward to start at 8:30pm local time, helping to avoid late transportation problems.

“This really improved the situation,” said Mauresmo, although none of the 10 night sessions were women’s matches for the second year in a row, with world number Jessica Pegula saying women were “undervalued”.

“We can do better on the night matches,” Mauresmo said without elaborating.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by XXXX)

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