With fewer fans in stands, will pressure lift off French players?

Could the absence of huge crowds end up helping the home stars at Roland-Garros? We ask a few of them to weigh in

Caroline Garcia, Roland Garros 2020, first round© Corinne Dubreuil/FFT
 - Simon Cambers

When Yannick Noah stormed his way to the Roland-Garros title in 1983, French fans must have thought it would herald the start of a golden era.

But almost four decades on, Noah remains the last Frenchman to win Roland-Garros – or any slam for that matter – while Mary Pierce (2000) is the only Frenchwoman to win her home title since the Open era began in 1968.

Amelie Mauresmo won two slams and was the world No.1 but only made the quarter-finals twice at Roland-Garros, the pressure of performing in front of her home crowd almost crippling. Henri Leconte made the final at Roland-Garros in 1988 and others have gone close only to find the expectations too great.

But in this 2020 Roland-Garros, perhaps the French players may just be feeling less pressure, due to the fact that only 1,000 fans are allowed in each day.

“I guess for sure in terms of only (the number) of people, it will be less pressure,” said Caroline Garcia, who upset 17th seed Anett Kontaveit in three sets on Sunday.

“Will it make a big difference? I don't know. I'm not sure. It's more about the fact that it's Roland-Garros maybe that puts pressure on us.”

Garcia made the quarter-finals in 2017 but readily admits that performing on home soil is not as easy as it might seem. But she also feels that this year, with the roof over Court Philippe-Chatrier, might be different.

“For sure, like when I walk in the first time, four days ago, I walk in and I was discovering a brand new court,” she said. “So maybe the past memories that I had (that) was not always great memory, didn't come back as they came back normally. So I think that was point positive number one.

“Definitely to have of course maybe (fewer) people put less pressure, but there is always a bad side, I will say…it feels empty. Feels like you're more by yourself than ever.

“But I think we have to take the positive, and we are playing Roland-Garros. At least we have 1,000 people on-site and probably plenty of spectators in front of the TV. So let's play and let's enjoy it.”

Alize Cornet, who has been part of many matches where the crowd has been a major factor, said there are two ways to look at it.

“It’s a good question and it’s a tricky answer, because it really depends,” Cornet said, after her 6-3, 6-2 win over Chloe Paquet on Monday.

"It’s happened to me where the crowd has been going crazy for me and helping me and lifting me up during the match. And some other times when I felt so much pressure and I was actually drowning in this pressure.

“I think overall it’s mostly positive for French players but the French crowd is very tough to conquer, if you don’t play your best or have your best attitude on court, they can be really tough with you.

“It’s a new experience and I enjoyed it tonight, it was much more quiet of course. We kind of got used to it at the US Open so it doesn’t bother me anymore.”

Benjamin Bonzi, a 24-year-old Frenchman who came through qualifying and won his opening-round match on Sunday, said having fewer fans has some advantages.

“I think it's easier because there is not too much sound around,” he said. “This is kind of calm and, yes, of course there is less pressure with no crowd. You only have to think about your game and, yeah, I think it's easier.

“Of course I prefer to get the big crowd, but this is (a) very strange (time). There is still not too many people, but I have got my coach next to the court and when you get on to the court you only have to focus on the game. There is (almost) no fans here this year and you have to deal with that, but just think about the game.”

Garcia certainly seemed to play freely on Sunday, coming from a break down in the third set to beat Kontaveit.

“It gives me a lot of satisfaction,” she said. “It's these kind of matches against these kind of players (where) she's not going to give it to me, but I have to go for it. And sometimes I go for myself for too much, but I have to realise that players are not always playing amazing and sometimes I don't need to go for too much. I arrived to find the good balance at the end.”