PARIS (Reuters) - The end of the road is near for the French Open's iconic Court One, with its pending demolition meaning some of the grand slam's spirit will be lost with it, the man who designed it told Reuters on Wednesday.
The court, known as The Bullring, was built in 1980 and is loved by players and fans alike for its unique design and the way it brings the audience into the game - with fans ducking and fending off serves that have shot into the crowd.
But it is due to fall victim to a Roland Garros renovation project, with its replacement expected to be completed by 2020, according to Paris city officials. An exact demolition date has not yet been set.
"Jim Courier was practicing once on this court and I could hear him hitting the balls from a long distance away and the sound was travelling outside the stadium," architect Jean Lovera told Reuters in an interview.
Courier, twice French Open champion in the early 1990s, has called it his all-time favourite tennis stadium.
"I will personally miss Court One and the memories I keep from those high and low moments spent in that small stadium," he has said. "I never lifted a trophy on that court, but it will remain my favourite tennis court in the world long after it is gone."
It is that atmosphere that will be lost when Court One is torn down and replaced with the "Court des Serres" (Greenhouse Court), flanked with tropical vegetation - and 5,000 seats instead of the current 3,600.
"This is not an ego thing," said Lovera. "This court is something strong for the identity of Roland Garros. It is unique. Players liked it. It is too bad because it is part of the Roland Garros spirit."
Lovera said his love for Roman architecture and arenas inspired him in the design which he says works perfectly for the spectators. Anything bigger in a circle and the fans would be too far away from the action.
"It is the scale of a village with the 3,600 spectators. You know every face there. Also the shape of it amplifies the sound."
Roland Garros lags behind the other three grand slam venues as it has no covered courts, which in turn affects broadcast rights revenues since with a court roof play is guaranteed.
The expanded Roland Garros will be delivered in 2019 with a roof over Centre Court available by 2020.
"The (designs for the) new court look elegant. It fits the place and the gardens. But we lose the proximity and with 5,000 the capacity is not that much bigger. We will lose something."
"It is the Roland Garros feeling. Beautiful battles, a bullring, two bullfighters, gladiators, the warm colour of the sunset and all the faces looking towards the net," Lovera said. "It is a feeling, a sensation of Roland Garros that will be lost."
Reporting by Karolos Grohmann; Editing by Hugh Lawson