The organizers of a major tennis tournament were bailed out again, this time at Roland Garros on Tuesday.
Gael Monfils and Taro Daniel were forced to start their match at the absurdly late time of 7:52 p.m. in Paris — this at a tournament which does not yet have the ability to play nighttime tennis under artificial (electric) light. The latest a Roland Garros match has ever been played (but not finished in its entirety): 9:55 p.m. Gael Monfils was part of that drama against Fabio Fognini in 2010. That match, however, was a very long one. It had lasted 3 hours and 44 minutes when it was suspended and then resumed the day after. The match started just before 6:15 p.m. in Paris.
This match on Tuesday, nine years later? Again: 7:52.
There was, realistically, time for only three sets. Maybe if the two players traded unusually short sets (bagels or breadsticks), they could have played four sets, but the likely bet was that one player had to win in straights to get the match finished.
Fortunately for Roland Garros organizers, Monfils did win in straights, using a bagel in set one and a breadstick in set three en route to a 0, 4 and 1 triumph in 102 minutes, finishing at 9:34.
It all worked out in the end… but the outcome is not the point. The point is that Monfils and Daniel were both put in jeopardy, both placed in a position where their match easily could have been suspended and carried over to Wednesday.
This was a preventable error… and it is not all that rare in tennis. It is also not exclusive to Roland Garros.
Remember this at Wimbledon last year, on the first Saturday of the tournament, with Middle Sunday looming and the possibility existing that a match might have to be resumed on Monday? Third-round matches HAVE been resumed on Monday before. This is what hurt Stan Wawrinka in 2014 at Wimbledon, and his backlogged schedule — third round on Manic Monday, fourth round on Tuesday, quarterfinals on Wednesday — caught up with his body. He lost steam late in the quarters against Roger Federer, which might not have happened had he played on Middle Sunday.
Last year, Nick Kyrgios and Kei Nishikori were put in jeopardy by Wimbledon in a manner similar to Monfils and Daniel at Roland Garros on Tuesday. Remember when Kyrgios-Nishikori started on Saturday evening last year, on No. 1 Court, without a roof?
Kyrgios-Nishikori starts at 7:28. Inexcusable.
— Matt Zemek (@mzemek) July 7, 2018
Wimbledon organizers were bailed out by Nishikori winning the first set in nearly 20 minutes and being up a set and a break in 24 minutes. Nishikori won the match in three sets, with the lightning-fast first set enabling him to finish before darkness overpowered the players.
The outcomes were fine, but the process was horrible. Fans who bought a ticket do expect to see big matches and popular players, but there are always limits in life, right?
At some point, players’ interests need to be respected. If this means tournaments have to refund fans a portion of their tickets, is that not the price to pay for running a good tournament which puts players first?
It seems like common sense to put the players — the product — first, and accommodate the fans as much as possible AFTER serving the players’ interests. The fans inside Chatrier might not have seen Monfils, but shouldn’t it matter to put Monfils on court at a reasonable hour, when one can reasonably expect he could play five sets with Daniel and finish a normally-paced match?
At the VERY least, when Alja Tomljanovic won the second set versus Simona Halep on Chatrier — in the match preceding Monfils-Daniel — that should have been the moment organizers moved the Monfils-Daniel match to another court. It would have given them roughly 45 to 50 minutes of added time, with a start of around 7 p.m.
Speaking of putting players first: The Lacoste sponsor boards in front of linespeople on Chatrier represent a danger to the players. Monfils slid into a sponsor board and could have injured himself. He personally repositioned those boards in a fit of righteous and entirely justified displeasure.
Putting players first. The concept sounds so simple, yet Roland Garros showed in multiple ways on Tuesday that it still can’t get it right. Wimbledon last year isn’t exempt from this criticism.
Once again, tennis gets in its own way at its showcase events, which is such a very “tennis” thing to do.