While tennis fans look forward to the French Open which kicks off tomorrow, with a schedule that features Andy Murray’s first round encounter with Stan Wawrinka, the organisers are facing a huge number of problems behind the scenes.
I really believe that the organisation needs to take a look at that for the next couple of years, for the health of the players, too, because the ball is super heavy and becomes dangerous for the elbow and for the shoulders. Rafa Nadal
The event, traditionally played out in May/June but because of the coronavirus pandemic, postponed until the 27th September, is forcing players to readjust their approach to autumnal weather conditions rather than spring like ones they are accustomed to at Roland Garros.
In addition, the FFT (French Tennis Federation) have changed the balls from the more lightweight Babolat ones, to the heavier version supplied by Wilson. That change has not gone down well with players, in particular the defending champion Rafa Nadal who claims they are dangerous.
The twelve-time champion says the Wilson ball could pose physical problems for the players.
“I think it’s not the right ball to play on a clay court,” he said.
“I really believe that the organisation needs to take a look at that for the next couple of years, for the health of the players, too, because the ball is super heavy and becomes dangerous for the elbow and for the shoulders.”
Those problems will not be eased with forecasters predicting the event will be experiencing wet and windy conditions, with temperatures at 16 degrees (60F) and accompanied by winds of up to 60 km/h, life is not going to be that easy for players from the start, especially those like Nadal, who rely on their heavy top spin which the damp conditions and a heavy atmosphere will negate.
Rain is also forecast from Thursday but at least the new retractable roof on Philippe Chatrier Court will come into its own and keep the schedule on course.
Then there is the Government’s enforcement of coronavirus rules from which has put the FFT in some financial difficulties.
They admitted on Friday that the decision to slash the number of fans to just 1,000 daily, is going to produce a huge financial deficit.
They had obviously hoped that the postponement of the event from last summer will have avoided any restrictions caused by the virus. They certainly didn’t want to cancel like Wimbledon decided.
Initially, the FFT had catered for 20,000 spectators which then became 11,500 before suffering another downsize to 5,000 and finally within the last 48 hours, to 1,000.
“We deeply regret these new restrictions,” FFT president Bernard Giudicelli said in a statement. “5,000 spectators daily in the stadium was already in our eyes a minimum”.
The financial damage this has caused is being calculated by the FFT’s marketing boss Stephane Morel.
“We are in the process of quantifying, but tens of millions of euros have gone up in smoke,” he stated.
As 250 of those ‘spectators’ will be guests of partners and ‘elected officials and personalities’ it leaves just 750 fans free to enjoy the on-court action from anywhere in the stadium, providing they stick to social distancing and other restrictions which might be required.
The problems on court also continue with the FFT having to ensure that the everyone involved in the competition remain Covid free, but even on that front they have upset some players, for instance Fernando Verdasco, the 36-year-old Spaniard ranked 58 in the world, who has been prevented form competing following a positive test.
Verdasco had been in isolation during August after an asymptomatic diagnosis and then undergone a series of negative test in Rome and Hamburg only to be tested positive on Tuesday in Paris resulting in his banishment which has left him “outraged and frustrated.”
“I explained my history to try and get another test especially seeing what had happened to other players in similar cases,” the former world number seven Verdasco said in a statement.
“Roland Garros refused to do another test even taking into account all these circumstances and that there were enough days to repeat the tests before the competition and draw ceremony.
“Still I was disqualified.”
Verdasco said on Thursday he underwent two more tests on his own account and they again came up negative.
“This could happen to any player and in my opinion we should at least be granted the chance to do new tests and avoid unfair disqualification.
“I want to communicate my total frustration and outrage with the organisation of Roland Garros for taking away my right to participate without giving me the opportunity… to confirm that the result of the first test could be an error.”
On the previous Sunday, the FFT had stood down five players who were taking part in the Qualifying competition.
Two had tested positive while three others had been in contact with a coach who had also returned a positive test.
One of the players, Bosnian Damir Dzumhur was forced to quarantine after his coach Petar Popovic tested positive.
“We’re sure it was a false positive because my trainer has anti-bodies,” Dzumhur wrote on Instagram.
“He was not allowed to take a second test. I am devastated.”
The FFT explained their position by issuing a statement: “In line with tournament health protocols, the five players will not compete in the qualifying tournament and will self isolate for a period of seven days. In total, some 900 tests have been carried out since Sept. 17,” it said.
However Dzumhur is now prepared to sue the FFT and coach Petar Popovic, speaking to French sport’s newspaper L’Equipe, feels he and Džumhur are being unfairly treated and that if this were involving a top star like Rafael Nadal, additional tests would have been given before the player was disqualified.
“I am 99.9 percent convinced that this positive is false and, above all, I am very sad for Damir, who was all prepared,” Popovic said. “He does not have the right to defend his chances. They disqualified him like that. It is a huge scandal.
“We felt so small and weak. I’m sure if it had happened to a bigger player he would have had the opportunity to prove that it’s not a fake. I think if Rafa was in our case, he would be entitled to a second or third test to verify. So we’re really disgusted with what’s happening to us.”
The other players, named by Spanish media reports, were Ernesto Escobedo of the United States, Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin, Bernabe Zapata Miralles of Spain and Serbia’s Pedja Krstin.
No doubt the FFT will be delighted once the event actually gets underway tomorrow!