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French fury over Roland Garros extension plans

PARIS -- A bitter fight is underway over a project to expand Roland Garros, home to the French Open, with descendants of an emblematic Paris architect vowing to prevent a historic garden he had designed from being transformed into a new tennis arena.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) wants to use the Jardins des Serres d'Auteuil, which adjoins the Roland Garros stadium in Paris's fashionable west, to create more courts arguing that the current complex is cramped.

That has drawn the ire of fauna lovers, some local residents and notably the descendants of acclaimed architect and landscape designer Jean-Camille Formige (1845-1926) who was responsible for many city landmarks, including the Auteil botanical gardens, one of the four of its kind in the French capital.

“The destruction of this site just for big bucks has caused us enormous pain,” said Jean-Camille Formige, the 31-year-old great-great grandson of the architect.

He and others in the family have written to the culture and ecology ministers to protect the gardens, which opened in 1898, and have voiced their determination “to go to court to protect this exceptional site.”

The plan to take over the gardens, which figure on the list of national monuments, will see Roland Garros growing from 8.5 hectares (21 acres) to 13.5 hectares.

“We want to reassure the descendents of Formige that we will not denature his work,” said Gilbert Ysern, the FFT's managing director and tournament chief at Roland Garros.

Ysern is determined to carry out the extension as quickly and as peacefully as possible.

“I would like to show the whole world that there is no other tennis site like Roland Garros anywhere in the world.”

But that cuts little ice with critics.

An Internet campaign “Save the Auteil greenhouses” urges people to sign their opposition to the “scandalous extension project of Roland Garros stadium, which would amputate and destroy part of the Auteuil Botanical Garden.”

“In order to build a 4,950 seat stadium in the garden ... they would destroy greenhouses with a collection of 10,000 tropical and subtropical plants of great value,” it said, adding that the stadium “would be used only two weeks a year.”

The Roland Garros stadium, constructed in 1928 and named after a famous French aviator, is sandwiched between the Bois de Boulogne and residential property on the western outskirts of Paris.

This year's French Open gets underway on Sunday.

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