Coordinated Or Bold, French Open Move Criticized

WASHINGTON, March 18, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

When the French Open, one of the four Grand Slam tournaments, was postponed Tuesday, it became the latest worldwide sporting event to fall victim of the coronavirus pandemic. At first glance, the move by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) seemed pragmatic and came as a result of a countrywide lockdown in France designed to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The premier clay-court event in the world was scheduled to take place at Roland Garros from May 24 to June 7. However, French Open organizers moved the dates out to September 20 to October 4, meaning it would start just a week after the conclusion of the US Open in New York and pose a conflict with the Laver Cup, which takes place the weekend of September 25-27 in Boston.

Complicating matters, because of the coronavirus restrictions in Paris and throughout France, construction work at Roland Garros recently was halted and might have made the site not ready for play in May.

“This decision was made in the interest of both the community of professional tennis players, whose 2020 season has already been compromised, and of the many fans of tennis and Roland Garros,” Bernard Giudicelli, president of the FFT, said in a statement. We are acting responsibly and must work together in the fight to ensure everybody’s health and safety.”

“Excusez moi???” two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka of Japan wrote on Twitter, reflecting criticism of the decision to move the French Open to become a fall event. Ben Rothenberg, a tennis correspondent for The New York Times, labeled the French Open move on Twitter as “Roland Garros’ brazen calendar grab gambit.” Another critic of the move, Blair Henley, a WTA host and tennis writer, tweeted: “Bold move to go rogue. Every tournament for itself at this point.”

The French Open move directly affects at least 11 different ATP and WTA events, in Europe and Asia: St. Petersburg, Metz, the Laver Cup, Chengdu, Zhuhai, Sofia, Guangzhou, Seoul, Tokyo, Wuhan and Tashkent.

In a telephone interview with Christopher Clarey of The New York Times, Canada’s Vasek Pospisil, a member of the ATP Player Council, said the decision to move the French Open had “come literally out of the blue,” for the ATP.

“We have discussions and negotiations between the Grand Slams and the ATP,” Pospisil said. “We’re always trying to make it work for everybody, and they just haven’t consulted the ATP, the players or other tournaments. Just a very selfish move. They’re basically doing a power play right now, and it’s quite arrogant.”

During a news conference in Paris Tuesday, Giudicelli said “What was important for us was that the tournament continue. We would not have accepted that clay-court tennis be swept off the international schedule.”

Raul Zurutuza, tournament director for the recently completed Abierto Mexicano TELCEL ATP and WTA events in Acapulco, slammed the FFT’s decision to move the French Open’s dates. He wrote on Twitter (translated from Spanish to English): ”The decision of @rolandgarros moving the tournament to September is, from my point of view, treacherous and selfish and only shows the disdain they have towards the other tournaments on the Tour and apparently also the players, because they did not consult them.”

Tuesday evening, the USTA, which governs the US Open, issued a measured statement that reflected its feelings:

“The USTA is continuing to plan for the 2020 US Open and is not at this time implementing any changes to the schedule.

“These are unprecedented times, though, and we are assessing all of our options, including the possibility of moving the tournament to a later date.

“At a time when the world is coming together, we recognize that such a decision should not be made unilaterally, and therefore the USTA would only do so in full consultation with the other Grand Slam tournaments, the WTA and ATP, the ITF and our partners, including the Laver Cup.”

In response to the the USTA statement, Darren Cahill, who coaches Simona Halep and is also an ESPN tennis analyst, wrote on Twitter: “This is a proper statement and position relating to a future tournament, unlike our friends at Roland Garros. Let’s take a breath, take our time, of course try and protect the four majors as a priority, but come together to work together as a whole, ATP, WTA, ITF and majors be all in.”