Shock French Open Date Change Triggers Player Backlash - UBITENNIS
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Shock French Open Date Change Triggers Player Backlash

The change to the grand slam calendar hasn’t gone down too well.

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The French Tennis Federation (FFT) has come under fire for a lack of communication after making an unexpected announcement regarding the next grand slam tournament.

 

On Tuesday a statement was released confirming that the French Open has been delayed due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Which has brought the entire tennis season to a halt. Astonishingly they now intend to hold the tournament between September 20 – October 4, which is just seven days after the conclusion of the US Open. The announcement has caught many off guard with neither the ATP, WTA or ITF yet to publish an official response.

“In order to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved in organising the tournament, the French Tennis Federation has made the decision to hold the 2020 edition of Roland-Garros from 20th September to 4th October 2020.” The FFT said in a statement.
“Though nobody is able to predict what the situation will be on 18th May, the current confinement measures have made it impossible for us to continue with our preparations and, as a result, we are unable to hold the tournament on the dates originally planned.”

Whilst it was always highly likely that the date for Roland Garros would be changed due to the ongoing crisis, the way in how it was done has once again highlighted serious communication issues in the sports. Many players have taken to social media to express their frustration that they were not consulted about the decision until it was made public.

“Strong Move by French Open/FFT to move to end of Sept. I thought the powers that be in tennis were supposed to be all about working together these days?” Former world No.1 doubles player Jamie Murray wrote on Twitter.

Jonny O’Mara, who is a top 60 doubles player, also took a swipe at the situation on social media by saying ‘Glad I’m on twitter to see tournament schedules and updates. Been searching my junk mail for days.’ Diego Schwartzman wrote ‘once again we found out on Twitter.’

One of the strongest critics is Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, who is a member of the ATP Player Council. In a post that has since been deleted, Pospisil described the move as ‘madness’ before seemingly calling for a union to be formed. A highly debated topic in recent time among players and those governing them.

“This is madness. Major announcement by Roland Garros changing the dates to one week after the US Open. No communication with the players or the ATP.. we have ZERO say in this sport. It’s time. #UniteThePlayers.” He wrote.

In another tweet, the 29-year-old stressed that his criticism only related to the communication provided by the FFT and there was no other motive.

On the women’s tour, there has also been a reaction from top players. Although instead of words, they have chosen to communicate their opinions via memes.

It is understood that at least one player had been contacted about the announcement before it was made official. Journalist Eric Salliot has reported that French Open tournament director Guy Forget spoke with Rafael Nadal. Nadal, who is the reigning US and French Open champion, is yet to comment in public.

It is understood that the ATP and WTA will likely release a statement tomorrow. Meanwhile, on the same day The All England Tennis Club has confirmed that they are hoping to hold Wimbledon on the set dates (29th June-12th July). Meaning there will possibly be three grand slams on three different surfaces within three months. A situation that may trigger a revolt from players in the coming weeks.

Grand Slam

Wimbledon Announces Cancellation As Coronavirus Continues To Affect Tennis Calendar

For the first time since World War Two, Wimbledon has been cancelled.

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(@BleacherReport - Twitter)

Wimbledon has announced it has cancelled this year’s tournament due to health fears over the coronavirus. 

 

This is the first time since world war two that the famous grass-court tournament at SW19 has been cancelled as the coronavirus continues to impact the tennis calendar.

In a statement, Wimbledon confirmed that the next edition of the tournament will occur in 2021, “It is with great regret that the Main Board of the All England Club (AELTC) and the Committee of Management of The Championships have today decided that The Championships 2020 will be cancelled due to public health concerns linked to the coronavirus epidemic,” they said on their website.

“The 134th Championships will instead be staged from 28 June to 11 July 2021. Uppermost in our mind has been the health and safety of all of those who come together to make Wimbledon happen – the public in the UK and visitors from around the world, our players, guests, members, staff, volunteers, partners, contractors, and local residents – as well as our broader responsibility to society’s efforts to tackle this global challenge to our way of life.

“Members of the public who paid for tickets in the Wimbledon Public Ballot for this year’s Championships will have their tickets refunded and will be offered the chance to purchase tickets for the same day and court for The Championships 2021. We will be communicating directly with all ticket-holders.”

Speaking on the decision, All-England Club chairman Ian Hewitt admitted that health and public safety was more important than tennis right now, “This is a decision that we have not taken lightly, and we have done so with the highest regard for public health and the wellbeing of all those who come together to make Wimbledon happen.”

“It has weighed heavily on our minds that the staging of The Championships has only been interrupted previously by World Wars but, following thorough and extensive consideration of all scenarios, we believe that it is a measure of this global crisis that it is ultimately the right decision to cancel this year’s Championships, and instead concentrate on how we can use the breadth of Wimbledon’s resources to help those in our local communities and beyond.”

As a result of today’s announcement, all grass-court tournaments in England and abroad have been cancelled as there will be no tennis until the 13th of July at the earliest.

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Grand Slam

Wimbledon Cancelled And Roland Garros Punished For Its Decision

German Tennis Federation vice-president Dirk Hordoff confirms Wimbledon will not take place in 2020. The decision by the FFT to postpone Paris will not stand: the other organizations are committed to fight. FFT’s president Giudicelli may have overplayed his hand

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A bombshell interview by French sports newspaper l’Equipe to the Vice-President of the German Tennis Federation Dirk Hordoff has released some new details about the discussions taking place behind the scenes among top tennis executive to try and sort out the chaos created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

According to Hordoff, the grass-court season will be a write-off in 2020, with all tournaments waiting for Wimbledon to announce the cancelation of the tournament next Wednesday to make their decision official. “It’s the only decision that makes sense,” said the German executive “it is possible to play on clay later in the year, but it is not possible to have tournaments on grass in October, you can’t play on grass when it is moist”.

But the juiciest bits of the interview described with an abundance of details the reactions to the French Federation’s decision to unilaterally postpone the Roland Garros to late September (20 September – 4 October) without waiting to reach a consensus among the ATP, the WTA and the other Grand Slam tournament. “This is not the French way of doing things, it’s Bernard Giudicelli’s way of doing things”, said Hordoff. The FFT President Giudicelli reportedly forced the decision upon the other tournaments, uploading the press release to announce the decision while he was on a conference call with other tennis executives. “I believe he panicked because of the elections coming up [in February 2021] and wanted to score some points on his opponent” reported Hordoff. His decision to also cancel the qualifying tournament was intended to be a “biscuit” for the ITF President David Haggerty, since it would make the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid in November even more financially attractive to all the players who did not have the opportunity to earn money with the Roland Garros qualifying tournament. “He hoped to have the ITF on his side, but now he is alone against the rest of the world,” said Hordoff, adding that the ATP is threatening to remove the ranking points assigned to Roland Garros for both 2020 and 2021.

One manager at the FFT allegedly told Hordoff: “This decision will be his Waterloo”, alluding to Giudicelli’s birth region of Corsica, the island in the Mediterranean that also was Napoleon’s birthplace.

The idea for the remainder of the season would be to have Roland Garros some time between September and October, depending on when it is possible to start playing again and have a short clay-court season before then. The situation in New York is quite dire at the moment, so the US Open is still a question mark for the time being, explained Hordoff. “But the most important thing right now is people’s health. I believe that until we have a vaccine or a cure it will be difficult to start again. Can you imagine all the people travelling from tournament to tournament, all the players, the fans, the coaches, the physios, the referees? There are more important things than tennis to think about”.

“Financially tennis will be all right – concluded Hordoff – I don’t see any of the Top 100 having problems to survive even without tennis. Of course, there may be some sponsors that will pull back their support to some tournaments, but tennis will survive. It will be different, but it will survive”.

Correction: In previous versions of the article, Dirk Hordoff was being identified as the President of the German Tennis Federation. His position has now been corrected.

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Will the ATP and WTA Retaliate Against The French Open?

The French Federation is at fault, but not too much. Was Rafa Nadal selfish? What about Roger Federer? This isn’t the first civil war in tennis history.

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Roger Federer (@usopen - Twitter)

The French Open’s surprise move was bound to instigate a long streak of reactions, after postponing the tournament to September while stomping on over ten ATP and WTA events plus the Laver Cup. The president of the FFT, Giudicelli (who’s from Corsica like Napoleon), must have foreseen this backlash, and the same goes for tournament director Guy Forget. They decided to reserve the first available dates at all costs, and therefore went straight to their goal, thinking that the many powers-that-be in tennis wouldn’t like it, but that many players perhaps would, because those who aren’t invited to Boston’s Laver Cup would hardly give up a Slam’s prize money – the Slams are the only Slams that guarantee at least £35,000 to first-round losers.

 

THE USUAL SCHEDULING ISSUES

As I wrote a few minutes after learning about this shocking piece of news, this was a selfish decision, announced in a very arrogant and typically French way. I also agreed with Vasek Pospisil’s wording for it, although he was wrong in saying that nobody had been notified beforehand. It was also a sort of war declaration on the tennis establishment, or – at the very least – a clear provocation meant to cause a re-structuring of the season’s schedule. Such re-structuring has been invoked for years by those same governing bodies that rule the game, ma each of them would like to give it a shape that suits exclusively their own interests – of course, an accord was never reached.

POSSIBLE PLAYER RETALIATION

Maybe the challenge that the FFT has posed to the ATP, the WTA, Tennis Australia, and the USTA – not so much to Wimbledon, which always maintains some kind of detachment, embodying the French phrase “noblesse oblige” – will backfire, coming back to bite them like a boomerang, a weapon that the Aussies know very well. There are various forms of retaliation that the players could put into practice (either ATP or WTA members).

Number one: a full French Open boycott come September. Number two (which would materialise after they realise that unanimity cannot be reached in the union like it happened at the 1973 Championships, since many players would be bent on playing after so many cancellations, as Andrey Rublev clearly said: “It’s better to play in a Slam than not. We have no wages – if you don’t play, you don’t make a living”): let the tournament be played with no ATP points at stake. Number three: threaten to take away these points from the 2021 edition as well (the other Slams would probably enjoy that). Number four: cancel the Paris Masters, which also belongs to the FFT and gives another marquee event to the Ville Lumière.

PARIS’S ALLIES

On the other hand, the FFT could receive some unexpected aid from those clay events that were cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak, events that could experience a resurgence should the Olympic Games and the whole North American summer swing be postponed – who knows what shape the Big Apple will be in come late August? This would be the ultimate embodiment of the Latin phrase-turned-zero-sum-game, mors tua vita mea. And that would mean that Rome – if yet out of the lockdown – and the other clay capitals could get back in play, more than happy to function as a prologue for the autumnal French Open, even after having thought the worst things about Forget and Giudicelli’s move.

On a side note for Italy, it looks a lot less likely that Turin or Milan could take the place of Bercy in November, cancelling the ATP Next Gen Finals in concert with the ATP… Today the Italian Federation is having a conference call, and I would bet on a neutral stance on the matter. I don’t expect any condemnation for the behaviour of the French, due to the fact that if the Italian management will see an opening for later play (may it be August, September, or October), before or after the Paris Slam, they will certainly not throw it away by souring the relationship with the FFT.

NADAL’S SILENT ASSENT

Rafael Nadal (@atptour – Twitter)

Going back to the French revolutionary move – after all, who has more rights than the French to spark a revolution? – there’s no doubt that it appeared as a unilateral move at a time when this pandemic should suggest more solidarity. They obviously got the assent of their king, Rafa Nadal, that’s almost a due act. If Rafa had said no from the get-go, their stance would have looked a whole lot weaker. Forget and Giudicelli told the world that Nadal said yes, and his silence is looking like a confirmation. Can we therefore criticise Rafa’s selfishness (for instance, he supports the Davis Cup, organised by the ITF and Gerard Piqué, only as long as it takes place in Madrid)? Of course we can, but on the other hand what should we say about Federer and of his brainchild, the Laver Cup, which from nowhere has snatched up a week of the ATP season (a week that would have been useful to the Davis Cup, which was so crammed that if forced crazy finishing time throughout the whole week last year)?

THE CHOICES OF THE ATP: BRAVO TO GAUDENZI AND CALVELLI

I can only imagine how happy can be Andrea Gaudenzi and Massimo Calvelli, the new ATP top dogs, to find themselves in the midst of a melee that involves two of the three best players in the world along with every other party – we can only express our sympathy for these unlucky men. To have to deal with this virus-induced mess in your first year in charge, with the conflicting interests of the tournaments and the selfishness of everybody, wasn’t even remotely imaginable. It’s something that literally could not be wished on your worst enemy. They’ve been brave, they’ve taken well-pondered decisions, and for the time being I applaud them, for what it’s worth. Perhaps American, French, or British CEOs wouldn’t have taken such decisive action against the Coronavirus. The examples set by Trump, Macron, and Johnson – I apologise for the momentary field invasion – lead me to believe that this would have been the case. As for the Germans… well, I apologise for this too, but they sure have a much more cryptic way to release their death toll, and a much trickier one for that matter, perhaps in a cunning attempt to save their own economy.

LAVER CUP, ATP CUP, AND WIMBLEDON’S STRENGTH: MAYBE THE FRENCH OPEN IS AT FAULT, BUT NOT TOO MUCH 

Now, going back to stuff I’m definitely more knowledgeable about… if I were the FFT’s attorney – pretty tough gig these days – I would claim that the Australian Open and the US Open have always promoted their own interests above all else, more or less jointly, de facto co-opting the organising of the Laver Cup even before they were slated for play in Chicago and Boston, thus establishing an exclusive partnership with Tony Godsick and Roger Federer. Tennis Australia, moreover, has pretty much created the ATP Cup, an event that has the firepower to kill the Davis Cup forever, both in its original and in its Piqué format. So, glass houses…

Wimbledon, thanks to its prestige and tradition, has always managed to be considered the biggest Slam, despite being played on a seldom-utilised surface like grass. If the AELTC had acted like the FFT did, I think it would have drawn much less cornering criticism. As things stand, the French Open is becoming the weakest among the Slams, after many years in which the Australian Open was the smallest child at the table, and this will inexorably happen if everybody else will turn against them – the possibility that Indian Wells and Miami took over those dates was real, as they can count on the support of the US Open, of IGM, of the USTA, and of several American management companies. After Brexit, the French Open is pretty much the last European stronghold, and all European clay events rely on its prestige, which has been thinning year in and year out in favour of the hardcourt swings that Americans and Aussies love so much.

Brad Stine, who coached Jim Courier at his peak, told the New York Times: “In such a wretched year, the possibility of playing two Slams, even if just a week apart from each other, would be like a gift from the heavens!”

THE GAME’S POWER STRUGGLES

So, after our website has reported all sorts of opinions on the matter (even diverging ones within the FFT), I’d like to conclude on the same ideas as the other day. It could very well be that there’s a silver lining in every cloud. Power struggles have always happened in tennis: I remember the WCT v ATP and ITF kerfuffle in the early 70s, the one between ITF and the Team Tennis league organized by Larry King and Billie Jean King in various American cities (Jimmy Connors wasn’t allowed to play the 1974 French Open because of it, which prevented him from going for the Grand Slam), and I can even remember, further back, the conflict between Jack Kramer’s professional tour and the ITF-supported shamateurism… which prevented Ken Rosewall from playing in 44 Slams over 11 years!

If there was just one governing body, things would certainly be better off, but no one will ever want to give up even the tiniest claim to power, and this is the real problem in tennis – after that, much more heinous, of Covid-19.

 

 

 

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