What Does The Shocking French Open Announcement Mean? Could Rome Fill In The Gap? - UBITENNIS
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What Does The Shocking French Open Announcement Mean? Could Rome Fill In The Gap?

The postponement of the French Open is a provocation (or even a war declaration) to start a discussion on the current season calendar.

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Everyone was caught off guard (ATP, WTA, and all the players included) when the French Federation shockingly announced, at 3:48 pm, that the French Open would be postponed from May to the fortnight between September 20 and October 4 – everyone except perhaps the ITF, whose VP, Bernard Giudicelli, is also the president of the FFT (Fédération Française de Tennis). We’ll see whether this announcement is a war declaration on the ATP and the WTA, and not just an unsolicited act of defiance to instigate a re-thinking of the season’s schedule, whose main objectives are a) to prevent Indian Wells and Miami from snapping up the same dates, as it seemed it might happen; and b) to reserve one more week for the Davis Cup (also organised by the ITF) to the detriment of Roger Federer’s brainchild, the Laver Cup, which would have allowed many top players to cash in huge participation bonuses between September 25-27 in Boston.  

 

Can the FFT wage war against every single player while counting exclusively on the support of the ITF and on its prestige as a Slam? The ATP became so strong as a union, in 1973, due to a much less high-handed power move, namely the decision of about 80 of the best 100 players to boycott Wimbledon as a protest against the Yugoslav Federation, which had banned on of their own, Nikki Pilic, for refusing to play in the Davis Cup (which he played for free) in favour of his own tournament scheduling.

This shocking announcement also means that the Internazionali d’Italia in Rome are all but certain to be cancelled. After every Italian commentator and politician has chastised the recklessness of their French and British counterparts in underestimating Covid-19, it would take some nerve, and some craziness too, to host the event as usual.

Sure, last year the Italian Federation notably tried every trick in the book in order not to refund Wednesday’s ticket holders after the rain cancellation occurred, but at the same time it will likely be the government that will make the same call as the French one, since the Internazionali should have begun on May 10, a fortnight before the French Open – and this doesn’t include the qualifying matches, which should have taken place during the previous week.

Unless there’s a major twist: what if the Internazionali d’Italia swoop in and take the place of Paris? They could start two weeks later than usual, hoping that the effects of the Coronavirus will have subsided by then. It would be a desperate move, but why not try? The ATP would definitely not dislike it, and Binaghi (president of the Italian Federation) could go for it to salvage as much as he can.

Giudicelli’s announcement has surprised us all, even though some warning signs had been flashed after the governmental decree of French president Emmanuel Macron (and of Home Secretary Cristophe Castaner), which stopped all ongoing construction works, leading to belief that the French Open would have been canned as well. The new retractable roof built on the Philippe Chatrier Stadium should have been inaugurated on May 23 in grand style, a gargantuan structure made by 16 wings weighing hundreds of tonnes each – that’s very much off the table now. The construction embargo is supposed to last at least 15 days for all “non-essential matters,” but the decree is also subjected to an extension, emphasising the importance of smart working.

As a matter of fact, the Roland Garros’s gates stayed shut on Tuesday morning, cranes were left in the middle of the footpaths, and the 600 workers usually engaged in the construction’s finishing touches were all but gone. The measures adopted by the French government led the FFT’s brass to declare that “it is impossible for us to remain within our deadlines.” Their statement also added that “the whole planet is experiencing the Covid-19 health crisis. In order to ensure the health and safety of everyone who is involved in the planning of the event, the FFT has decided that the 2020 edition of the French Open will take place from September 20 to October 4.”

September 20 means exactly a week after the conclusion of the US Open, marking a harsh, unprecedented switch from Flushing Meadows’ hardcourts to the red clay of Paris – what will be Rafa Nadal’s priority in that case? He defends 4,000 ATP points between the two events! At the same time, only two weeks separated the French Open and Wimbledon for years, and the transition between surfaces was a lot trickier…

What is really news is how the tournament is stepping on the Laver Cup’s Bostonian toes, something that has never happened in the history of the game. The only comparable revolution in terms of scheduling happened between 1977 and 1985, when the Australian moved from January to December, along with some minor tinkering – some will remember that for many years Rome took place after the French Open, for instance.

So, is this an incredibly brave or an incredibly reckless move? We’ll see. What’s certain is that the FFT, judging from the first reactions of the players, hadn’t let anyone know about their plan, not even board members like the Canadian Vasek Pospisil (one of the most rebellious against the status quo), who commented: “This is madness! No communication with the players nor the ATP. We have ZERO say in this game. It’s time.”

The last sentence obviously means, “it’s time for the players to take action.” How will they react, especially considering that they’ve been complaining for years about the small share of profit that in their opinion they’ve been making off the Slams, whose revenues are constantly off the charts? A subterranean war has been going on for years between the various governing bodies of the game. Now it’s in the open, and we’re going to witness some fireworks.

The FFT’s statement continued with these words: “It’s impossible to know what the situation will be like on May 18 [when the qualifying matches were supposed to start],” alluding again to how the containment strategy devised by Macron makes it impossible to make it on time with the various preparations. 

“The FFT has made the only choice it could in order to salvage the 2020 edition of the tournament while acting responsibly and protecting its own employees. This is a momentous time in the history of the tournament, since the modernisation of the main stadium had made it clear that the event was sustainable in the long run, and the FFT was happy to keep going in that direction. Thus the French Open will take place between September 20 and October 3. The decision was made in the interest of the players’ community [we’ll see whether the players themselves will interpreti t the same way, and we’ll also see what the directors of tournament taking place in that period will have to say], whose scheduling has already being disrupted, and in the interest of the many fans of tennis, and of the French Open.”

“We made this hard and brave decision in the midst of this unprecedented situation, which has taken a very serious turn over the last weekend. We are acting responsibly, and we need to work together to ensure the health and safety of all,” Giudicelli said. “We have promptly announced that all tickets will be refunded or swapped with others reflecting the scheduling change. We will later release information on the matter.”

It’s clear that there are incredible sums at stake, sums that the FFT doesn’t want to lose after investing so much in the modernising of the tournament’s premises. If I’m not mistaken, every edition of the French Open grosses a shade under 100 million Euros – hardly a trivial matter, and hardly something that can be easily given up. And also, given up in favour of whom? Of the Asian swing events? Actually, the FFT is also going against one of its own events, the ATP 250 tournament in Metz, in addition to the St. Petersburg tournament, three other 250 events, a WTA Premier 5 in Wuhan, and a Premier Mandatory in Beijing.

But perhaps every cloud has a silver lining, as it’s happened with many semi-desperate situations before. Maybe the absurd current calendar will be reformed in a way that John McEnroe said would have happened only if tennis had a commissioner like those in American sports leagues. To this day, ATP, WTA, and ITF have never allowed for a sensible scheduling of the season – it suffices to remind ourselves of what happened with the new Davis Cup by Piqué/Rakuten and the ATP Cup, a divide in which the Australian Federation has basically triple-crossed everybody, being a member of the ITF but also the ATP Cup’s host and the co-organiser of the Laver Cup! That’s some balancing trick they pulled off, and also a sheer example of opportunism. Covid-19 is clearly the priority, but as usual money talks as well, even when everybody hides behind ideological façades.

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It’s Unfair, Rafa Is Too Good In Roland Garros Final

James Beck reflects on Nadal’s latest triumph at Roland Garros.

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Rafael Nadal - Roland Garros 2022 (foto Roberto Dell'Olivo)

This one was almost unfair.

 

It was like Rafa Nadal giving lessons to one of his former students at the Nadal academy back home in Mallorca.

When this French Open men’s singles final was over in less than two hours and a half, Rafa celebrated, of course. But he didn’t even execute his usual championship ritual on Court Philippe Chatrier of falling on his back on the red clay all sprawled out.

This one was that easy for the 36-year-old Spanish left-hander. He yielded only six games.

 It certainly didn’t have the characteristics of his many battles at Roland Garros with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

It must have been a bit shocking to the packed house of mostly Rafa fans.

RAFA DIDN’T MISS ‘HIS SHOT’ OFTEN

Nadal didn’t miss many of his patented shots such as his famed reverse cross-court forehand. He was awesome at times. Young 23-year-old Casper Ruud must have realized that by the middle of the second set when Rafa started on his amazing 11-game winning streak to finish off a 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 victory.

Ruud is good. The Norway native will win his share of ATP titles, but probably not many Grand Slam titles. If any, at least until Rafa goes away to a retirement, certainly on his island of Mallorca.

Rafa already has his own statue on the grounds of Roland Garros. Perhaps, Mallorca should be renamed Rafa Island.

RUUD COULDN’T HANDLE RAFA’S PRESSURE

Ruud displayed a great forehand at times to an open court. But when Rafa applied his usual pressure to the corners Ruud’s forehand often  went haywire.

Rafa’s domination started to show in the third set as Ruud stopped chasing Nadal’s wicked reverse cross-court forehands. 

Ruud simply surrendered the last three games while Nadal yielded only three points. Nadal finished it off with a sizzling backhand down the line. In the end, nice guy, good sport and former student Ruud could only congratulate Rafa.

JOHNNY MAC: RAFA ‘INSANELY GOOD’

The great John McEnroe even called Nadal’s overall perfection “insanely good.”

If Iga Swiatek’s 6-1, 6-3 win in Saturday’s women’s final over young Coco Gauff was a mismatch,  Iga’s tennis idol staged a complete domination of Ruud a day later.

It appears that the only thing that can slow Rafa down is his nearly always sore left foot, not his age. He won his first French Open final 17 years ago.

For Nadal to win a 22nd Grand Slam title to take a 22-20-20 lead over his friends and rivals Djokovic and Federer is mind-boggling, but not as virtually unbelievable as winning a 14th  French Open title.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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At The French Open Rafa and Novak Lived Up To A Battle For The Ages

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Rafael Nadal (photo @RolandGarros)

Rafa Nadal is simply amazing.

 

His herd of fans couldn’t have been more pleased with their hero on this day just hours from his 36th birthday. He was never better, his patented reverse  cross-court forehand a marvel for the ages and his serve never more accurate.

The presence of his long-time friend and rival on the Court Philippe Chatrier that he loves so much made Nadal’s victory over Novak Djokovic even more special. The 59th meeting between these two warriors was a match for the ages, marvelous play by both players. Some games seemed to go on forever, with these two legends of the game dueling for every point for nearly four hours in a match that started in May and ended in June.

NADAL HAS NEVER PLAYED BETTER

The 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory sends Nadal into his birthday on Friday to face Alexander Zverev for a spot in Sunday’s final of the French Open. Win or lose now, Rafa will remain the all-time leader in Grand Slam singles titles until at least Wimbledon due to his current 21-20-20 edge over Djokovic and Roger Federer.

Nadal played like he could go on forever playing his game, but he is quick to remind that his career could end at any time. The always painful left foot remains in his mind.

But the Spanish left-hander has never played better than when he overcame a 5-2 deficit against Djokovic in the fourth set. Nadal sparkled with energy, easily holding service, then fighting off two set points with true grit, holding easily to get back to 5-5 and then holding serve at love for 6-6.

A 6-1 TIEBREAKER DEFICIT TOO MUCH FOR EVEN NOVAK

The tiebreaker belonged to Rafa for six of the first seven points. That was too tough a task for even Novak to overcome.

Rafa’s podiatrist must have felt relieved at least for now. If Rafa was in pain, he didn’t show it for the first time in quite awhile.

If Nadal could pull off the feat of taming the big game and serving accuracy Zverev displayed while conquering potential whiz kid Carlos Alcaraz, and then taking out whoever is left in the battle between Denmark’s young Holger Rune, Croatia’s veteran Marin Cilic, Norway’s Casper Ruud and Russian Andrey Rublev, Nadal might own a nearly unbeatable lead with 22 Grand Slam titles.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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The Next Group Of Hopefuls To Replace The ‘Great Trio’ May Be Beaten Out By Youth

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Carlos Alcaraz - Roland Garros 2022 (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

What is it with this supposedly great crop of newer and younger players groomed to take the places of the “Great Trio” of  Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic at the top of the men’s game?

 

Only Daniil Medvedev and Dominic Thiem have won Grand Slam titles, both at the U.S. Open. And that’s about it. Medvedev just fell to Marin Cilic in the French Open round of 16.

Who?

You remember the 33-year-old hard-hitting Croatian who won the 2014 U.S. Open. Cilic had hardly been heard from since the 2018 Australian Open where he was runner-up . . . until  Monday when he needed just 45 minutes to conquer Medvedev.

THIEM JUST ANOTHER PLAYER THESE DAYS

Thiem? He looked like the real deal in 2020 when he won the U.S. Open. The Austrian is now 28 years old and an injured right wrist in 2021 has pushed Thiem far down the ATP rankings.

Then, there was the next presumed superstar: Stefanos Tsitsipas. The aggressive potential superstar came up empty on Monday against a virtually unknown teenager. Holger Rune was fantastic in his four-set domination of Tsitsipas.

The just-turned 19-year-old Rune appears to have it all: speed, quickness, power and touch. A 40th ranking isn’t too bad for a teen-ager, especially when it will zoom higher as the result of his advancement to a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

ARE MEDVEDEV, THIEM AND TSITSIPAS REALLY THAT GREAT?

Maybe Medvedev, Thiem and Tsitsipas aren’t really as good as they once appeared to be. They are certainly not in the category of all-time greats. They have had their chances to become household words.

Maybe the members of this group weren’t meant to be the superstars to replace Federer, Nadal and Djokovic as fan favorites.

Maybe, it’s the next group of younger players, even teenagers. Yes, it appears that Carlos Alcaraz may outshine the likes of Thiem, Medvedev and Tsitsipas in the next few years.

MAKE WAY FOR CARLOS ALCARAZ?

It just happens the 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz may become one of the eventual replacements for Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Carlos Alcaraz is one week younger than Rune.

Alexander Zverev might have been ahead of the others if he hadn’t blown so many chances for stardom the last few years. Still, he is the Olympic champion and probably has more potential than Thiem, Medvedev or Tsitsipas.

A HERD OF PLAYERS WAITING TO MAKE THEIR MARKS

There is a herd of virtually unknown players waiting to make their mark. For instance, take Casper Ruud, 20-year-old Jannik Skinner and Matteo Berrettini. They have the potential to beat anyone.

But Alcaraz and Rune look like the best of the new young guns of tennis.

Of course, it really doesn’t matter who wins the Nadal-Djokovic quarterfinal showdown in Paris. They are two of the greatest players ever. Nothing is going to change that, not in Paris or anywhere else. Their place in history is written in stone, alongside Federer.

WOMEN’S GAME UNPREDICTABLE

The women’s game is even more unpredictable than the men’s game. One reason is because the WTA no longer has superstars the likes of Venus and Serena Williams, and Ashleigh Barty.

Top-ranked Iga Swiatek looked ready to take over the women’s game with her long string of consecutive wins. But in the last two rounds of the French Open, Swiatek has looked like just another good player at times.

That may be due to the fact that the Polish sensation is going for her second French Open title while taking a 31-match winning streak into the quarterfinals. But it happened in the third round against 95th-ranked Danka Kovinic and then again Monday in round of 16 against 74th-ranked Qinwen Zheng.

Swiatek suddenly looked very average, but then bounced back to take both matches in the cool weather once she put on a white jacket in each match. She aroused her game early enough to avoid losing a set against Kovinic, but not against Zheng.

PEGULA MAY TEST SWIATEK

Swiatek now will face newlywed Jessie Pegula in the quarterfinals. Pegula is now playing the best tennis of her career and has rocketed to No. 11 in the world. Like Swiatek, Pegula is a fighter. She won’t go down easily and may be Swiatek’s toughest test remaining in Paris.

The 28-year-old Pegula called Charleston her home while she trained for a couple of years at the then Family Circle Cup complex, which is now the home of the Credit One Charleston Open stop on the WTA Tour. Pegula was married in last October at the famed Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Pegula also is having doubles success in Paris. She teamed with Coco Gauff to reach the third round in doubles, hoping for a victory there to advance to the doubles quarterfinals as well.

James Beck was the 2003 winner of the USTA National Media Award for print media. A 1995 MBA graduate of The Citadel, he can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com. 

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