PARIS (Reuters) – Defending champion Rafa Nadal will mark his 35th birthday on Thursday with his first night-session match at Roland Garros but the Spaniard will have to celebrate the special occasion inside an empty Court Philippe Chatrier.
Nadal’s second-round match against Frenchman Richard Gasquet is scheduled to begin after 9 p.m., when the government-enforced COVID-19 curfew forces organisers to ask fans to vacate the premises.
Third seed Nadal, who has an astonishing 101-2 record on the Parisian red dirt, has in the past described how difficult it is to maintain the same intensity without his fans spurring him on.
Amazon has the exclusive broadcasting rights in France for that ‘match of the day’ and organisers said that all top players would have to play at least one night session.
“Nadal-Gasquet is the ‘match of the day’, and we have committed to broadcasting it in prime time, especially in France,” tournament director Guy Forget said in a statement to sports daily L’Equipe on Wednesday.
“In terms of sporting fairness, we would like each of the top players to be able to play at some point in an evening session with empty stands. I have already informed some of these players.”
If Nadal’s record against Gasquet is anything to go by, the 13-time champion should not have any problems.
Nadal has beaten Gasquet every single time in 16 matches — seven times on clay which includes their last meeting in the third round of the 2018 French Open.
Eighth seed Roger Federer has a stern test in the second round when he takes on Marin Cilic, who is seven years his junior but the Croatian says his Swiss rival’s age has not slowed him down.
“You don’t feel that he is almost 40 years old the way he moves, the way he hits the ball,” Cilic said.
“The way he actually plays the game is still, I would say, one of the quickest on the Tour. No matter the age, Roger has the formula.”
Top seed Novak Djokovic plays Uruguayan veteran Pablo Cuevas, who has never moved past the third round in Paris but has notable scalps on clay which include Nadal, Alexander Zverev and Stan Wawrinka.
Women’s top seed Ash Barty plays Magda Linette, who has reached the third round at Roland Garros only once in her career, while defending champion Iga Swiatek takes on Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson.
(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Toby Davis)