French Open Tournament Director Guy Forget did a rain dance yesterday, attempting to settle fans’ frustrations of match cancellation and ticket reimbursement, plus stave off obvious questions about just why this slam does not have its center court — Stade Roland Garros — covered by a roof. The tournament has been discussing the possibility for some 15 years and remains the last of the four major venues without proper means to continue play when weather doesn’t cooperate.
Well today wasn’t much better; and, Forget’s words fell on damp ears, “Today is evidence. It shows us that this is absolutely necessary — we must have a roof.”
Number-one seed Novak Djokovic and Roberto Bautista Agut started their 4th-round match in chilly temps and drizzle this morning. The drizzle soon became rain and they were escorted off with the No. 14 seed Agut up a set. They returned later and plowed through another set, but never finished. They are scheduled for Wednesday, if the weather holds. The scoreline at 3-6, 6-4, 4-1, Djokovic.
Because of rain delays the top half of the men’s and women’s singles draws still have not completed fourth-round matches, although some have tried. With today’s suspension, the women who advance will be required to play four out of the next four days. The men who advance, like Djokovic, will be faced with a daunting schedule, as well, exacerbated by the fact their format is best-of-five sets.
“If players need to play two matches in two days,” Forget said, The New York Times reported, “I guess the guy who is more fit will win.”
His comment might seem provocative, like gee thanks Guy (pronounced ghee); however, it also rings true. Players at this level have run into all situations throughout their careers. Waiting out rain delays is not new. But when they are striving to do their best at a major to earn lots of ranking points and glory, then emotions can run high.
The tournament’s number-two seed Agnieszka Radwanska lost today to Tsvetana Pironkova, who is ranked one-hundred spots below the Pole at number 102. This was day two of the match and Radwanska was up a set and a break in the second upon resumption. No matter … she lost the edge and the match, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
“I’m just so surprised and angry that, you know, we have to play in the rain,” she began. “It’s a Grand Slam. How can you allow players to play in the rain? I cannot play in that condition. I mean, I don’t think they really care what we think. So, well, I’m just pissed.”
Simona Halep’s (No. 6) mood wasn’t much better. She lost to the 2010 runner-up Samantha Stosur, 7-6(0), 6-3. She’s seeded No. 21.
“No one cares about the players, in my opinion,” Halep said, The Daily Mail reported. “I don’t care that I lost the match today, but I was close to getting injured with my back, so that’s a big problem. The court was not good. The balls were wet, completely wet during the match.”
Of course Stosur’s take on the day and conditions differed from Halep’s. The Aussie raised the necessity of accepting conditions, as well.
“It’s obviously really important that you work out a way to do it,” Stosur said in her press conference. “Each time we went out on court I was ready and focused and knew exactly what I wanted to do. Thankfully it didn’t take long today.”
Rain aside, Pironkova is a surprise quarterfinalist in her own right. She, too, was upbeat in press.
“I thought about the match. It was actually a tight match,” she began, reflecting on the situation. “I need the [rain] break because my leg was hurting Sunday. I saw my physio. It was longer than expected, the break, but still I cannot complain.”
David Goffin (No. 12) was another player in a particularly cranky mood. He was down 3-0 to Ernests Gulbis before rain cancelled the match. After being called off the court, the Latvian packed his bag while Goffin ranted at the chair umpire, “Every time I can fall on the ground,” Ben Rothenberg of The New York Times wrote on Twitter. “[I bet] she’s never played tennis,” was another sour-grapes comment the Belgian aimed at Supervisor Donna Kelso of the WTA.
Although David Ferrer (No. 11) and Tomas Berdych (No. 7) got in three games today, Andy Murray (No. 2) and David Gasquet (No. 9) didn’t strike a ball. Caught by French TV, walking about the venue, he said, “It’s tough for the organizers and it sucks for the fans.”
Roland Garros is the only major that begins on a Sunday. You would think all the matches could get played over 15 days. This year more history could be made because the tournament’s considering an extension past Sunday, June 5. With rain forecasted for Wednesday, it might be necessary. The U. S. Open pushed back the women’s singles final for two consecutive years: 2014 and 2015. Not this year, though. Arthur Ashe Stadium has a roof, which will relieve some scheduling pressure.
One roof over one court in Paris will not wash away the anxiety and chaos suffered by fans, players, and tournament staff. Let’s face it dozens and dozens of matches remain queued in addition to men’s and women’s singles: men’s and women’s doubles and mixed doubles, junior singles and doubles, and wheelchair singles and doubles.
Another problem is the clay itself. Although one court could have near-perfect evenly dispersed material under a roofed setting, those courts on the periphery will suffer Mother Nature’s wrath that will, in turn, change the consistency of the clay. This inevitability will continue to bother players or challenge them depending on the perceptions. They are conditioned to slide on these courts. But rain tends to make sliding difficult because clay can clump and cause ankles to roll unexpectedly. With matches won by points, players’ minds cannot be focused if they worry about the surface. It becomes dangerous for them, in more ways than the obvious discomfort from rain, cool temperatures, and empty stands.