Paris: As a player, Guy Forget never made it past the fourth round of the French Open but as the recently-appointed tournament director at Roland Garros, the 51-year-old believes he has the talent to make it “the most beautiful in the world”.
However, there are challenges both on and off the court at the famed venue, nestled in the wealthy, leafy western suburbs of Paris.
“It’s necessary that the experience be positive and enriching and the tournament becomes the most beautiful in the world, one that will make the players dream,” Forget told AFP.
Forget, a former world number four, a two-time Davis Cup winner as a player and coach of the national team from 1999 to 2012, only replaced Gilbert Ysern as French Open chief in February.
The tournament, which starts on Sunday, boasts improved prize money for 2016 with 32 million euros representing a 14% increase on 2015.
That ranks third of the four Grand Slams, behind the US Open (37.3 million euros and Wimbledon (33.6 million euros) but ahead of the Australian Open (28.4 million euros).
“It would be lacking in pragmatism to believe that we are the biggest, the finest, the strongest and that as indomitable French we are the best. The Roland Garros tournament has to move with the times,” added Forget.
“We must be ambitious. When I was competing, it was to win, I hated losing. I want to make this tournament the most prestigious of the Grand Slams.”
Forget’s grand ambition is to see the historic site of Roland Garros expand as planned but there have been hiccups on the way.
At the moment, Roland Garros is squeezed into 8.6 hectares; the All England Club which hosts Wimbledon boasts a roomy 17.7 hectares.
Expansion will see the complex in Paris grow to 12.8 hectares.
But at the moment work is suspended after environmentalists and local residents groups successfully pushed for a halt to construction in the neighbouring Serres d’Auteuil botanical gardens.
“The work has stopped for the moment, we are waiting for a decision by the Council of State,” added Forget.
“If we resume work, in 2018 there will be an alley to a semi-submerged court which will ease enormously the pressure on the grounds.”
He added: “The space (at the moment) is too small. When it rains in the first week, there is congestion and it’s hard to move in the passageways.”
“We sell 450,000 tickets for the fortnight. If we had a bigger stadium with more capacity we could sell 600,000, 700,000 tickets.”
This year’s French Open, which starts on Sunday, will be played under tight security, the predictable aftermath of last November’s terror attacks in Paris which also targeted another sports venue — the Stade de France.
“Security is at the heart of our priorities and it will be reinforced,” said Forget.
“There will be a double security perimeter around Roland Garros with only three entry points.”
Metal detectors and sniffer dogs will patrol the gates.