More fans and sunny skies as French Open makes rapid return

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French Open
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By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Seven months after the last French Open ended the tournament is back, boosted by the prospect of more spectators despite ongoing COVID-19 restrictions and forecasts of good weather.

After a chilly 2020 tournament that was postponed to September-October because of the coronavirus pandemic and held with a maximum 1,000 fans a day, this year's claycourt Grand Slam will welcome more spectators.

Up to 1,000 will be admitted into each of the three main Roland Garros showcourts while the smaller venues will be able to fill 35% of their capacity during the first 10 days.

The limit will be raised to 65% but capped at 5,000 for matches on 15,000-capacity Philippe Chatrier and 10,000-seater Suzanne Lenglen courts from June 9 when the quarter-finals get underway, with spectators allowed to attend the last of 10 night sessions.

For the first time, the "match of the day" will be scheduled at 2100 local time (1900GMT) but the 9pm curfew in France will only be pushed back to 11pm on June 9.

Spectators will need to show a pass with either a negative COVID-19 test result or a vaccination certificate.

The tournament was initially scheduled for May 23-June 6 but was postponed by a week to allow more spectators to attend.

"With these new dates, we want to make Roland-Garros 2021 the symbol of rebirth," French tennis federation president Gilles Moretton said.

"We hope to be the first major sporting event in France to welcome the public again, while guaranteeing the best possible health safety for everyone."

There will, however, be a comforting feel of deja vu as Roger Federer returns to Roland Garros after skipping the tournament last year, bidding to add to his record tally of 20 Grand Slam titles.

He shares the record with Spain's Rafael Nadal, the 13-times French Open champion who on Thursday was present for the unveiling of a statue in his honour next to the main Philippe Chatrier court.

Returning to the Parisian claycourts is also the mixed doubles event that was scrapped last year because of the pandemic.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Ed Osmond)

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