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Five French Open Talking Points

Following the completing of the 2019 tournament on Sunday, here are five topics worth further discussion.

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photo by Gianni Ciaccia

From the unexpected to the predictable, this year’s French Open had it all. Ash Barty stunned the women’s draw to win her maiden grand slam titles. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal continued his dominance of the men’s section. The past two weeks in the French capital have been full of drama.

Here are five takes from this year’s tournament.

1) Another Slam, and another event where the women receive unfavourable scheduling.

Tournament officials made some egregious scheduling decisions during this fortnight. Some conflicts were unavoidable due to rain, and thankfully a roof will resolve that issue next year (at least on one court). But there were many instances where the tournament could have done a better job in presenting the women’s matches. One example is bringing Djokovic and Thiem back on Saturday to complete their semifinal rather than try to finish it on Friday. There ended up being much more sunshine on Friday evening after the match had already been postponed. Even if the Djokovic/Thiem match had not concluded on Friday night, enough tennis could have been played where it would have avoided the delay of the women’s championship. This is now the second time in the last four Majors the WTA final was bumped for a men’s semifinal. And there were other smaller mistakes made as well, such as scheduling a blockbuster Sloane Stephens/Garbine Muguruza match at the end of the day following both Federer and Nadal on Court Philippe-Chatrier. Many fans left after the two all-time greats played, leaving an extremely muted atmosphere for a match between two Slam champions. It would be wiser to schedule a women’s match in between Federer and Nadal. While the women’s draw was lacking the star power of the men’s in the second week, tournaments too often do the women no favours in enabling star power to be created. And on seven of the first nine days of the tournament, the women were scheduled first on Chatrier at 11:00am, playing in a mostly-empty stadium as the French fans eat their lunch.

2) If the French care more about lunch than Federer versus Nadal, they don’t deserve to host a Major.

The number of empty seats for the Federer/Nadal match at 1:00pm Friday, as well as the next day for the resumption of Djokovic/Thiem as 12:00pm, was astonishing and disgraceful. This was an issue on every day of the fortnight, but was even more shocking with the sport’s greatest rivalry on the court. As Ben Rothenberg highlighted on Twitter, French officials even used ball kids to fill in the empty seats in the lower level of Chatrier on Saturday. And I’m not kidding when I suggest it might be worth considering a different city to host the sport’s fourth Grand Slam event. Indian Wells would be a strong choice to be upgraded to a Major, or starting a new Slam event in Asia would certainly be good for the sport’s growth. Short of downgrading this tournament, officials should take a page out of the USTA’s book, and move the start of play on Chatrier to later in the day. With a roof and lights on the way, play on Chatrier should not begin before 1:00pm or 2:00pm. Or at a minimum, the tournament should allow grounds pass ticket holders into the lower bowl of Chatrier until the French’s precious lunchtime is over.

3) It’s long overdue for the French Open to institute final set tiebreaks.

This is another way in which this tournament is lagging behind the other Majors. While it’s absurd how all four Slams have different rules for final sets, at least the other Majors have introduced a tiebreak at some point. Once players get to 6-6 in the final set, especially the men who have played five full sets by that stage, isn’t that enough? It’s preferable for the fans, the tournament schedule, the television schedule, and players alike to have a discernable end in sight. Players who win extended fifth sets rarely advance much further in the tournament after such an overdose of tennis.

4) Let’s end this debate now: there is nothing unfair or unsportsmanlike about underhand serving.

This has become a much talked about topic of late, due to the 30th anniversary of Michael Chang’s victory in Paris, as well as current players such as Nick Kyrgios reintroducing this tactic to the sport. But there’s really no debate here. An underhand serve is a fair and strategic tactic, no different than a drop shot. With many players standing so far back to return serve, I’m surprised this hasn’t been used more often. Anyone crying foul over this strategy being applied is just plain wrong.

5) Despite the valid criticisms of the tournament, let’s celebrate all the compelling storylines provided.

A player who walked away from the sport at the age of 18, due to the pressure and travel involved, comes back to win a Major on their least-preferred surface. A former champion struggling to regain their top form after serious knee surgery, battles through one of the sport’s most promising young fighters in a match that went over five hours, in surely the match of the tournament, if not the year. A 37-year-old Frenchman most well-known for being on the losing end of tennis’ longest match gets to share what was perhaps his two last victories at home with his young son, who joined him on court. And of course, the King of Clay wins his twelfth title at the same Grand Slam event, giving him a 24-0 record in the semifinals and finals. No other sport provides us with such a plethora of great moments throughout the entire year.

Grand Slam

French Open: WTA Made No Push To Schedule Women’s Matches In Prime Time Slot, Says Chief Mauresmo

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The fallout over the decision to schedule only men’s matches in the evening sessions at this year’s French Open has been defended by tournament director Amelie Mauresmo.

In a deal with Amazon Prime, the Grand Slam schedules one match to take place at 7pm on their premier Philippe Chatrier court every day until the quarter-finals. This year was the first time that no women’s matches were played in the slot since the deal was established in 2021. Overall, there have been 43 night sessions in the tournament’s history with 39 of them being awarded to the men’s draw.

Recently the WTA issued a statement to Reuters news agency calling for there to be more balance in the scheduling. A spokesperson said ‘fans want to see the excitement and thrill of women’s tennis on the biggest stages and in the premium time slots.’ However, it has now been claimed that the governing body was involved in the allocation of matches in the tournament. 

Mauresmo, who is a former world No.1 and previously coached Andy Murray, said there was never any ‘push’ for women’s matches to be held in this spot which some players don’t want due to its time. 

“When we do the scheduling, the WTA is in the room as well as the ATP, the Grand Slam supervisor, TV, we are all together,” Mauresmo said on Sunday.
“I did not see any push also to have the women’s match in the evening. I think it’s a very complicated decision. 
“It’s not easy having one match (at night) but again I never say it’s gonna be never (to having women’s matches).”

Elaborating further on the topic, Mauresmo argues that men’s matches usually last longer due to their best-of-five format. Making these more valuable for fans attending in terms of duration. The idea of playing two matches at night has been dismissed because it would ‘create other problems’ such as extremely late finishes. Novak Djokovic didn’t end his third round match until after 3am.

“It’s not a matter of how interesting the matches can be or could be. For us, it’s a matter of the length of the matches.”She said.
“In terms of the people that are coming to watch the match, the 15,000 people that are coming. It’s complicated for us to think that maybe it’s going to be very, very short. So we try our best, and it’s not easy.”

This year’s Olympic tennis tournament will be held at Roland Garros. That event will also have a night session but two matches will take place as they will all be best-of-three sets. 

More than 650,000 spectators came to the French Open over the past three weeks. A review of the event will start in a couple of weeks.

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Focus

Roland Garros Daily Preview: Carlos Alcaraz Plays Sascha Zverev in the Men’s Final

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Carlos Alcaraz on Friday in Paris (twitter.com/rolandgarros)

The championship matches in men’s singles and women’s doubles will be played on Sunday.

19 years ago, a young Spaniard named Rafael Nadal started a legendary relationship with Roland Garros, winning his first of a record-breaking 14 titles at this event.  Now in the same year that Nadal seemingly bid farewell to the French Open, another young Spaniard looks to begin his own Parisian legacy.  On Sunday, Carlos Alcaraz plays for his third Major title, and his first on the surface he grew up on.

Four years ago, Sascha Zverev reached his only other Major final, in an empty stadium during the 2020 US Open.  Despite holding a two-set lead, Zverev lost that championship match to Dominic Thiem in a fifth-set tiebreak, after some extremely nervous play.  On Sunday, a confident and self-described more mature version of Sascha returns to the last round of a Major, this time in a sold out stadium, and looking for a different result.

Also on Day 15, in the women’s doubles championship match at 11:30am local time, it will be Sara Errani and Jasmine Paolini (11) vs. Coco Gauff and Katerina Siniakova (5).  After losing the women’s singles final on Saturday, Paolini vies for Grand Slam glory alongside Errani, who is a five-time Major champion in women’s doubles.  Between singles and doubles, Gauff is 0-3 in Slam finals, which includes a runner-up appearance here two years ago in both disciplines.  Siniakova owns seven Major titles in women’s doubles, all of which came with Barbora Krejcikova.


Sascha Zverev (4) vs. Carlos Alcaraz (3) – Not Before 2:30pm on Court Philippe-Chatrier

Alcaraz has only played 29 matches this year, with a record of 24-5, as he missed several big events due to a right arm injury.  That included absences at two of the ATP’s biggest European clay court events, Monte Carlo and Rome.  Yet despite the injury and lack of match play, Carlitos has advanced to his third Major final with the loss of just three sets, two of which came against Jannik Sinner in Friday’s semifinals. 

By contrast, Zverev has been the healthiest of the top seven ATP players during this clay court season.  He is 34-9 in 2024, and comes into this match on a 12-match winning streak, after taking the Masters 1000 title in Rome three weeks ago.  Sascha endured a complicated path to this championship match, which included a pair of five-setters.  And he surely values his bodily health after the awful ankle injury he suffered in the semifinals of this event two years ago.  He would love to continue creating more positive memories on Court Philippe-Chatrier.

Zverev holds a narrow 5-4 edge in their head-to-head, though on clay, Alcaraz leads 2-1.  However, Sascha’s sole victory on clay came in their only previous meeting at this event, in the 2022 quarterfinals.  And the German is 2-1 against the Spaniard at Majors.

Alcaraz has a definitive edge in speed as well as on the forehand side, while Zverev will look to use his serve to dictate play, and possesses a more formidable backhand.  But the biggest difference between these two is how they play in big matches.  Carlitos is 7-1 in finals at Majors and Masters 1000 tournaments, with his only loss coming in an epic championship match last summer in Cincinnati against Novak Djokovic.  Sascha is just 6-6 in finals at those same levels, and his record of 2-6 in Major semifinals speaks to how passively he often plays in big matches.

And if the match goes the distance, that is a distinct advantage for Alcaraz, who is 10-1 lifetime in five-setters.  While Zverev’s mark of 23-11 is actually pretty strong, many of those wins came against players ranked outside the top 100, and in matches where Sascha arguably should have won without going five.

Plus, trying to accomplish the sport’s biggest feat, winning a Major title, when you have not only never done so before, but actually choked when you were so close to doing so, is a lot to overcome.  While I don’t expect Zverev to play as nervously in his second Major final as his first, Alcaraz remains the freer swinger at crucial moments.  Carlitos should be favored to win his third Major title on Sunday in Paris.


Sunday’s full Order of Play is here.

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ATP

Tsitsipas Brothers Hit With Trio Of Fines At French Open

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Stefanos Tsitsipas and his brother Petros have been fined more than 20,000 euros for multiple violations of the coaching rules at this year’s French Open. 

The brothers received a financial penalty during three different matches that they played in. Two of those were in the second and third rounds of the men’s doubles tournament. Furthermore, Stefanos was also penalised during his singles quarter-final match against Carlos Alcaraz, which he lost in straight sets. According to French newspaper L’Equipe, all three of those fines were issued as a result of coaching rules being broken.

Ironically, coaching is allowed during matches at the French Open but certain rules must be followed. ‘Verbal’ coaching can only be issued from the coaches and their team if they are sitting in the designated player’s box. Instructions must be limited to a few words and can only be given if the player is in the same half of the court as their coach. Although non-verbal coaching is allowed regardless of what side the player is on. Finally, players can’t start a conversation with their coach unless it is during a medical break, a bathroom break or when their opponent is changing clothes.

However, the Tsitsipas brothers have been found in violation of these rules, which is likely due to their animated father in the stands who is also their coach. Apostolos Tsitsipas has been given coaching violations in the past at other events, including the 2022 Australian Open. 

The value of the fines are €4,600 and €9,200 for the Tsitsipas brothers in the doubles, as well as an additional €7,400 just for Stefanos in the singles. In total, the value of their fines is €21,200. However, the penalty is unlikely to have an impact on the duo whose combined earnings for playing in this year’s French Open amount to roughly €495,000. 

So far in the tournament, the highest single fine to be issued this year was against Terence Atmane who hit a ball out of frustration that struck a fan in the stands. Atmane, who later apologised for his actions, managed to avoid getting disqualified from the match. Instead, he was fined €23,000. 

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