Paris | Mauresmo apologises for unintended slur

French Open Tournament Director Amélie Mauresmo got herself into a spot of bother when she told the media that men’s matches had more prime-time appeal than women’s, which drew criticism from World No 1 Iga Swiatek, amongst many others, and prompted the Frenchwoman to back-pedal.

I feel that next year, in order to be able to be more fair to the women's player, as well as to both categories, actually, it would be good to, maybe, have the possibility to put two matches, or maybe a women's match plus a doubles match. Try to find a better solution to be fair to everyone. Amélie Mauresmo

Speaking at the traditional second-week news conference on Wednesday to recap on the clay-court Grand Slam in Paris, Mauresmo said that she had tried on a daily basis to find a women’s match that had the star power worthy of being highlighted in the separate night session that began at 8.45pm local time in Court Philippe Chatrier, and featured 9 men’s matches to just 1 women’s match.

The only women’s match that made it into the night session was France’s Alizé Cornet against former champion Jelena Ostapenko from Latvia.

“I admit it was tough,” said Mauresmo, a 42-year-old from France who first topped the WTA rankings in 2004 and returned to that spot after winning the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2006.

“In this era, that we are in right now, I don’t feel, and as a woman, former women’s player, I don’t feel bad or unfair saying that [because] right now, you have more appeal. That’s the general [reason] for the men’s matches.”

Mauresmo played her last major tournament at the US Open in 2009 before retiring from the WTA Tour and moving into coaching to work with Andy Murray, Lucas Pouille and Marion Bartoli, among others.

She served as France’s captain for Fed Cup, the team competition now called the Billie Jean King Cup, and is now overseeing Roland Garros for the first time.

Iga Swiatek was disappointed and surprised at Amélie Mauresmo's comments at Roland Garros

© Thomas Samson/AFP via Getty Images

Swiatek responded to Mauresmo’s comments at her own press conference, saying: “It is a little bit disappointing and surprising because she was also in the WTA.

“But from my point of view, for every player it’s more convenient to play at normal hour, but for sure I want to entertain, and I also want to show my best tennis in every match.

“So I think it’s kind of the personal opinion of every person if they like men’s tennis or women’s tennis more, or if they like them equally, but I think women’s tennis has a lot of advantages.

“And some may say that it’s unpredictable and girls are not consistent, but, on the other hand, it may also be something that is really appealing, and it may really attract more people.

“So it depends on the personal views of some people.”

Following the criticism, which came from many, Mauresmo was swift to issue an apology.

“First of all, the comments that I made were taken out of the wider picture, out of the context,” Mauresmo said. “And I want to say sorry to the players that really felt bad about what I said.

“Again, I think the people who know me, who’ve known me on and off the court, throughout my career, throughout everything that I’ve done, know that I’m a big fighter for equal rights and women’s tennis, women in general.

“Concerning the scheduling, specifically for the night matches, my say was that because we have one match only, the ticket holders, I feel that it’s really tougher to schedule a women’s match because we have to take into consideration the length [of the match], I feel.

“I feel it’s the fair, kind of thing, to do for the ticket holders.”

It is a fact that men’s matches at the Grand Slams are played over best-of-five-sets, and usually last longer than the women’s best-of-three-sets contests.

Rafael Nadal feels the night matches in Paris started too late and wanted to play his during the day

© Christophe Archambault/AFP via Getty Images

Mauresmo’s meeting with reporters was held on the morning after 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal’s quarter-final victory over defending champion Novak Djokovic in Tuesday’s night session, and she faced an array of questions, including about the new and problematic night sessions.

The Nadal-Djokovic match lasted 4 hours, 12 minutes and finished at 1.15am on Wednesday morning, leaving thousands of shivering fans, many of whom were huddled in blankets to keep out the biting cold with temperatures dipping below 15 degrees, unable to use public transportation to get home.

“It is too late, without a doubt,” said Nadal, whose media commitments didn’t finish until after 2am. “I understand the other part of the business, without a doubt, that television pays a lot of money, but we need to find a balance.”

Djokovic also said the night action at Roland Garros starts ‘too late’, adding: “TV decides. That’s the world we are living in. Broadcasters say it’s going to be night match, day match. They give the money. They decide.”

Mauresmo insists the Nadal-Djokovic night match had been a hit, despite the plummeting temperatures.

“When did it end, at half past one? It was full, overcrowded,” she said. “There was just a handful of people who left earlier.

“As far as I’m concerned, night sessions in the stadium are definitely appropriate, because it was always full to the brim every night.”

The lack of transportation, which shuts down in Paris at midnight, however, remains a problem.

“That’s actually a key issue that needs to be settled, and that will be one of our priorities in the future,” Mauresmo said. “We haven’t planned anything yet, but obviously we need to organise ourselves differently with the Department of Transport of Paris with bus systems, with the underground system.

“If we continue with these night sessions in this direction, people need to leave the stadium late enough, and make sure that they have a way to come back home, as they should.”

Novak Djokovic lost in the early hours of Wednesday morning when it was cold

© Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images

Nadal had made it clear through his manager, Carlos Costa, that he preferred not to play at night, because of the way the cooler temperatures affected his shots.

Asked about that, Mauresmo replied: “Rafa has shown us how big a champion he is, far and beyond all these considerations.”

Her former protégée Andy Murray has since called for gender equality in television deals for tennis matches.

“I haven’t seen exactly what’s been said, but I kind of know the gist of it,” Murray said after he progressed to the quarter-finals of the Surbiton Trophy. “The night matches are a new thing.

“I have no idea, but I’m assuming it’s worth a lot of money to the tournament. I don’t know exactly who makes the calls on which matches they put on at that time – if it’s the tournament director, if it’s the TV paying for it.

“But it seems to me you should probably have in the contract that it’s an even split between the two [men’s and women’s matches] or, if they start slightly earlier, you can probably play two women’s matches in that slot and, some of the days, play just a men’s match, to try to balance it up a little.”

According to reports, Amazon Prime Video bought exclusive rights to the night sessions at Roland-Garros in 2020, an agreement which Mauresmo inherited when she became the first woman to take on the directorship of the French Open.

“Night sessions will stay, but obviously we are going to see whether we move the starting time or not,” Mauresmo says, adding that a full tournament review will take place after this year’s French Open ends, and they might double-up on women’s matches next year.

“So I feel that next year, in order to be able to be more fair to the women’s player, as well as to both categories, actually, it would be good to, maybe, have the possibility to put two matches, or maybe a women’s match plus a doubles match,” Mauresmo said. “Try to find a better solution to be fair to everyone.

“We tried to modernise the event. We tried to move forward, and I can see that there are some adjustments to be made. That’s for sure. And we’re going to talk about it after the tournament.”

Andy Murray, playing at Surbiton, has called for gender equality in television deals for tennis matches

© Steve Bardens/Getty Images



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