There has been a bit of kick-back over the FFT’s decision to postpone the French Open by a week to 24 May, with tournaments on the ATP and WTA calendars affected, and players critical.
For the fans, the players and the atmosphere, the presence of spectators is vital. Gilles Moretton, FFT President
Following the latest lockdown in France due to the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s clay-court Grand Slam has been delayed by a week and the main draw will now run from 30 May until 13 June 13, while qualifying will begin on 24 May, causing repercussions elsewhere,
While the bigger tournaments scheduled around Paris plan to still go ahead, smaller events are divided as to whether they should stay with their original dates or shift along with Roland Garros.
Some players, too, are unhappy about the move, with Milos Raonic saying players should not have learnt about the postponement from social media.
France’s struggles to get on top of a third COVID-19 wave prompted the decision to delay the start of the second Grand Slam of the season and while this may not sound like much, it means the grass season has been reduced to just two weeks.
Players will now be forced into new scheduling decisions to make sure they get sufficient time on the grass ahead of The Championships at Wimbledon, and Raonic is unhappy that they were the last to know.
“Crazy to learn about this from Twitter,” Raonic said. “This greatly impacts the players and we’re given no heads-up. Even some communication shortly before the rest of the world would be nice.”
On the women’s side, Alizé Cornet is furious about the postponement, venting her anger live during a recent television broadcast and saying ‘there will be consequences’.
With the first grass court matches due to take place in the opening week of June, Wimbledon, which all the players are looking forward to after last year’s cancellation, will begin just two weeks after the French Open.
Cornet, who rose to World No 11 in 2009, was critical of Roxana Maracineau, the current minister of sport of the French Republic.
Now ranked 59, Cornet is far from impressed with the the delay to ‘optimise chances to have fans’ and the way the FTF have handled the situation.
“It stays between us but our sport minister is a disaster. Sorry,” Cornet told the Tennis Channel in the USA.
“I’m sorry, I have nothing against her but she only takes bad decisions for sport like she doesn’t care. And I know it comes from the government, I’m pretty sure.
“[It] might come also from the tournament because I heard they might have more people if they postpone for one week.
“But still, I think it’s a pretty selfish decision, to be honest, because the calendar is going to suffer from this postponement.
“This is my first reaction. I realise that it is not an easy time for the tournament, but you have to think about the players, the calendar, all the tournaments that try to fit into the schedule.
“I don’t know now how things will go.”
The ATP 250 event in Stuttgart, the combined ATP and WTA 250 in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and the WTA 250 in Nottingham are all scheduled in what would have been the week following the French Open, but now find themselves set to be played during the second week of the Grand Slam event.
Stuttgart is not changing its plans.
“We will not move away from the date for Stuttgart,” said Edwin Weindorfer, the tournament director, adding that during the coming days there would be further discussions with sponsors, players and the tour.
Weindorfer is unhappy with the FFT’s announcement, surprised at the ‘single-handed decision’ imposed on the ATP Tour and said the move was ‘not ideal’.
Marcel Hunze, the tournament director of ‘s-Hertogenbosch’s ATP and WTA competitions, agrees.
”It is not ideal, but it is what it is,” he said. “We are now in consultation with the ATP and WTA to see what the possibilities are.
Hunze would like to move his event, saying: “That would be great, but all scenarios are open, so I cannot say more about it. We will probably get more clarity next week.”
The LTA, which runs Nottingham and the other British grass courts events leading up to Wimbledon, noted there would be a ‘knock-on effect’ for the season.
“We are currently looking at the implications for our events,” said a statement.
The Roland Garros shift could hurt the field at these subsequent events, prompting top players to withdraw if they go deep in Paris, or drawing participation from those who do not make it into the second week.
Local favourite Alexander Zverev is currently the top-ranked player entered in Stuttgart, but his participation will now depend on how he successful he is in Paris.
The delay is designed to provide additional time for government restrictions to be lifted in France, which began a four-week lockdown a week ago.
The FFT says the move ‘optimises our chances of welcoming spectators at Roland Garros’, although there is no indication on the number of fans allowed to attend as yet.
“For the fans, the players and the atmosphere, the presence of spectators is vital,” said Gilles Moretton, president of the FFT.
According to L’Equipe, the FFT could provide the affected tournaments with some level of compensation since most of the Federation’s €200 million in funding comes from the French Open.
The clay events that were scheduled the week before the Paris major are also unsure of their position, but appear willing to stay where they are or shift with the Grand Slam event as required.
With the week of May 23 now vacant, it could be filled either with new events or by moving back those which had been scheduled right before it.
These include the WTA 250 event in Strasbourg and ATP 250 events in Geneva and Lyon, while there are also two new WTA events scheduled for Belgrade and Cologne.
Strasbourg is apparently open to moving ‘one, three or even four weeks to improve the chances’ of having spectators, and is speaking to the WTA about possible changes.
The ATP event in Geneva prefers to stay in its current week.
“At this time, there are no plans to change the date,” organisers said, but indicated plans were flexible. “Whether you are Roland Garros or an ATP 250 in Geneva, you work for tennis, to keep everyone going.”
The tournament could potentially get a better field, attracting players who do not want to play the week before a Grand Slam.
It is the second year in a row that Roland Garros has been criticised for the sudden postponement of the tournament, although this year’s is not as severe in terms of dates.
In 2020, the other tennis governing bodies were unhappy that organisers moved unilaterally without consultation from spring into the autumn.
This year, however, the ATP, WTA, and the other three Grand Slams have all released statements saying they are in full support and confirming discussions were held before the decision was announced.