“You only write about tennis scheduling at the majors.”
“You only write about tennis scheduling when it affects a top player.”
“You only write about tennis scheduling when something goes wrong.”
I have received those critiques from other tweeps, some from other bloggers and commentators, over the past few years. This is why it is important to write about tennis scheduling on a consistent basis — not for kicks, but when an issue or problem arises. If it has to be done at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., it has to be done. It isn’t something which should be “saved” for the majors or other higher-profile occasions during the tennis season. If an issue is important, it merits attention when warranted, regardless of the level of prestige of the tournament. Such is the case in Washington, D.C., a city which is always immersed in politics and knows how the art of politics should be practiced.
In politics, you can’t always get what you want, but you should be able to forge compromises every now and then. Moreover, smart politicians might not make deals which concede every ounce — or form — of power, but they know how to create the appearance of being fair, if not the reality of being fair.
So far at the 2018 Citi Open, schedulers don’t seem to be trying very hard to create the mere appearance of fairness.
I can’t speak for European or other international broadcasters outside North America, but Tennis Channel has full rights to this tournament in the United States. This gives Tennis Channel the ability to show both the women and men, which TC is deprived of at other times of the year due to the WTA’s (misguided) arrangement with BeIn Sports, which reduces visibility for the WTA Tour. Tennis Channel has rights to men’s tour events on a consistent basis, but not the women. The Citi Open is therefore a prime opportunity for Tennis Channel to showcase women’s tennis alongside the men in this dual-tour event.
On Monday, the first full main-draw day for the event, a lengthy rain delay got in the way of the schedule. Organizers quite reasonably wanted to put Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka on the main stadium court for a two-match night session. The two men deserved top billing, and fans certainly wanted to see them. That’s totally acceptable and good. The placement was warranted on the schedule.
Naturally, one would then expect the top women in the tournament to receive the same treatment. Did No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki get it? Nope. She was placed on the Grandstand, and moreover, she was placed on court fifth in a series of five matches, which reduced her turnaround time for the next round and — moreover — put her most at risk of having rain delays force her to play at an absurdly late hour.
While her injury problems can be seen as legitimate regardless of other complications — and I am perfectly comfortable in doing exactly that — it nevertheless remains that Wozniacki didn’t pull out of the tournament BEFORE the Tuesday order of play was announced. Only AFTER the release did she do so. If I had to guess, I would venture to say that the order of play had SOMETHING to do with her decision — not everything, but at least something.
Beyond the Wozniacki aspect of Tuesday’s schedule, consider these next two points: First, of the nine matches on the two main show courts — five on the (No. 2) Grandstand and four on the No. 1 stadium court — SIX were ATP matches, with only three reserved for the WTA.
Second — and this is just as big a deal if not more than the previous point — the second, third and fourth matches on the top two show courts were all ATP matches. This means that from roughly 4 p.m. Eastern time in Washington through 9 p.m. Eastern — five straight hours of television viewing on Tennis Channel in the United States — viewers are seeing nothing but men’s tennis. The women played the first matches of the day at 2:30 local time on the two show courts. Then came the fifth women’s match on Grandstand which Wozniacki pulled out of, a late-night start.
Surely, if Washington schedulers were cognizant of the need to provide a balanced ticket for spectators and a balanced product for television, they would put a women’s match in the middle section of the order of play on the top two show courts. With the outer courts being less easy for television to cover, filling five straight hours with men’s tennis matches on the top two show courts puts Tennis Channel in an awkward position of covering only one half of Washington.
On Tuesday, Indian Wells champion Naomi Osaka was relegated to the Grandstand, not the No. 1 court. Also, a match between Donna Vekic and American Caroline Dolehide — which tennis junkies surely would have loved to see more of — was relegated to an outside court (other than the top two). The Citi Open Twitter account showed a photo of Vekic hitting a ball in front of a back fence which had no seats behind it.
That’s not all.
The Wednesday order of play has already been provided. Per tennis journalist Jose Morgado, there are five matches on both the main stadium court and the Grandstand. Four of the five matches are men’s matches on BOTH courts. Yes, Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori and local star Frances Tiafoe all merit stadium court placement… but that represents three matches, not four. Surely, event organizers at a dual-gender tournament could make the mixture of matches 3-2 on both courts instead of 4-1. Once again, Tennis Channel television viewers will get the distinct impression that this is a men’s event with the women being an inconvenient sideshow.
If you thought only the majors crowded out or inconvenienced women — we have seen each of the three majors do things this year to make life harder for women, relative to the men — Washington offers evidence to the contrary.
Bad politics in Washington, D.C., doesn’t just apply to Congress or the Senate or the presidency. It applies to tennis scheduling. This problem is persistent, and that’s why another column on the issue is warranted.
Hopefully, these columns won’t be necessary a few years from now, but in the present moment, tennis can’t seem to get out of its own way… which is a familiar but still sad feeling.