By Martyn Herman
PARIS (Reuters) - Two days of rain delays at Roland Garros have had tennis fans huddled under umbrellas musing about when the French Open, like the other three grand slams, will have a roof.
A soggy start to the tournament has highlighted the pressing need for a retractable cover over the main Philippe Chatrier Court, and tournament director Guy Forget offered some encouragement on Monday as rain bucketed down at the historic venue.
It might be a while though, with 2020 now the likely completion date for a controversial 400-million euro project that also includes the expansion of the grounds.
The redevelopment plans, dating back to 2009, have taken various forms and been subject to repeated planning delays.
At one stage a new venue was proposed, but then scrapped in favor of expansion of the existing site, hemmed in by roads, a motorway and expensive residential real estate in the west of the French capital.
"Welcome to France. You know the circumstances as well as I do. The red tape in France. It's a process," Forget told a news conference on Monday.
"We play by the rules. We asked for planning permission a long time ago. All we can do is monitor the situation and follow the due process."
The latest delays are the result of concerns about the impact on a set of 19th century greenhouses, even though they will now be incorporated into the project rather than knocked down as once planned.
The greenhouse controversy stands in the way of the construction of a new, sunken court, which needs to be built before a roof can go on Chatrier, Forget said.
"This is central Paris, and I'm sure that you too are appreciative of the unique charm of the location. We know that the players and their teams are delighted to be 10 minutes away from the Champs-Elysees or next to the Bois de Boulogne or next to nice shopping areas. There are some constraints that come with that."
Forget said the top players were all in favor of the expansion and he did not believe the delay would be detrimental to the French capital's hopes of staging the 2024 Olympics.
"It's true that it's taking a long time, but I'm confident that we're going to be moving forward, and that four years from now we will be here and we will have noted how the stadium has changed," Forget added.
(Editing by Julien Pretot)