On the French Open, it looks as if a standard life is beginning once more.

PARIS – On the third day of this year’s French Open, Gael Monfils stood with arms raised, soaking up the applause of the crowd on the Suzanne Lenglen Court.

Eight months after Roland Garros took place on site with just 1,000 fans a day, here was one of France’s favorite sons, enjoying the admiration of a larger crowd on a warm, sunny day.

If it wasn’t quite like the old days, it was close.

“It was amazing, amazing,” said Monfils. “Though it wasn’t like a full crowd, it was enough to make a decent mind, you know.

“I could feel their energy. It definitely made me so happy. I can’t be happier. I missed the crowd.”

Although Roland Garros is still well below capacity in 2021 – a total of 5,388 fans were let into the gates each day, spread across six sectors of the website – the tournament feels rather normal. And with an emerging increase in capacity, things are looking up.

Fans and the media are still required to wear masks and there are strict protocols for players staying in designated hotels. But the newly built Roland Garros store, a huge underground space near the famous old # 1 courtyard, simmers while the amenities around the site are open.

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Guy Forget, the tournament director, attributes the return to the traditional season after last year’s changeover to October due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think it’s because it’s spring in Paris and people are a little fed up with all of the pandemic restrictions and curfews and everything that’s closed,” Forget told ESPN.

“And even though we only have a very limited number of people in the stadium, you can see the smiles on their faces when people walk in and through the gates. They are just so happy to be there. You’re wearing a mask, but at the same time you feel such a relief, it seems like a normal life is starting all over again. “

Rafael Nadal pays tribute to the crowd after his fourth round win. TPN / Getty Images

The surge in fans seems to have made a huge difference among players.

“It was really fun to play against Philippe Chatrier again,” said Ash Barty, who was eliminated in her second round match due to injury.

“I think with the fans, even if it was just a splash at times, it was still very nice to share that with them and to be able to somehow enjoy being back in this beautiful place.”

Although players were largely limited to moving between their hotels and the grounds or practice facilities, they were also allowed to spend an hour a day outside to exercise and relax.

Paula Badosa, the Spaniard who reached her first Grand Slam quarter-finals before falling, said it was an added advantage.

“I think that helps because in a Grand Slam [especially], You have a lot of pressure and are super focused when you are on site. I think that having this hour to switch off is pretty good and I think the players need it, “she said.” It helps you relax a little and no longer think about tennis 24 hours a day.

Iga Swiatek, the women’s defending champion, agreed.

“It’s different this year,” she says. “We kind of got used to the COVID restrictions. So right now, you know, we feel more free, because right now that’s the reality. “

Paris also imposed a 9 p.m. curfew for the first 11 days of the tournament, which meant the first nine official night sessions – new for 2021 – were held behind closed doors.

The games on the outside courts were also interrupted, and the strange sight of fans being led out of the arenas before the curfew allowed players, including Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, to continue playing in front of empty stands.

“That was awful,” said Forget. “And it’s terrible, not just for the tournament [and the players], it’s awful for the fans. Because they boo and in a way fight against the law and the government, you can feel it, it’s real anger. You still do, but there is so much frustration. You are probably thinking how long will it be?

“In some cases the players had to sit down for five or ten minutes before everyone was gone. When you are in a game and you have that momentum, you really focus on your game and your sensation and have to sit in a chair for 10 minutes, you get a little bit nervous. It’s really hard, I think, for everyone. “

On Wednesday, government rules will be relaxed and the maximum number of fans allowed on site increased to 13,146. Only people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, who have had a PCR or antigen test in the last 48 hours, or who had COVID-19 more than two weeks but less than six months ago will be admitted.

While only 5,388 fans have been admitted to the French Open every day, 13,146 fans will be admitted as of Wednesday. AP Photo / Thibault Camus

The Paris curfew has also been postponed to 11 p.m., with up to 5,000 fans admitted to the Philippe Chatrier main course for the final official night session between Novak Djokovic and Matteo Berrettini.

Forget said he hopes Roland Garros will fully return to normal in 2022.

“When we had the tournament in October I never thought it would be a problem again,” he said. “I thought we’d be at full capacity for the next edition, people everywhere. We’re going to have a night session, it’s going to be wonderful, and here we are.

“It’s very difficult to predict. I would like to be optimistic. And I think we should because I believe it is vaccination and hygiene.” [measures] and everything that has been set up … the numbers are going down a lot in France and I think across Europe.

“Hopefully next year, 12 months later, we should be in a better place. We keep our fingers crossed.”

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