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Why Roland Garros scheduling deserves total condemnation

Matt Zemek

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Jayne Kamin-Oncea, USA TODAY Sports

First things first: Roland Garros scheduling in the second week of a major tournament is not worse than the Australian Open, so it is not the worst of the four majors in that regard. Also: The biggest problem at Roland Garros relative to second-week scheduling is that the French Open — like the Australian and U.S. Opens — does not use Wimbledon’s scheduling framework, in which all the women and all the men get relatively equal amounts of rest between their matches, especially between quarterfinals and semifinals. The balance involved in a Wimbledon schedule is something the other three majors don’t yet emulate, but I have argued that they should for several years.

If Roland Garros (and the Australian Open, AND the U.S. Open) scheduled the second week the way Wimbledon does, we would’t have a lot of these problems.

That is the first and biggest item to note on the matter of second-week scheduling at majors.

Now that we have taken care of that point, though, let’s dive into this specific story from Monday: Roland Garros put a men’s quarterfinal on Tuesday ahead of a women’s quarterfinal. More precisely, it put that men’s quarterfinal — Stan Wawrinka versus Roger Federer — on court first even though one of the two players (Wawrinka) has had to play on three straight days, due to Roland Garros’s inability to start the Wawrinka-Dimitrov match early enough on Friday to get it completed in one day. The resumption on Saturday created a three-day run of play for Stan.

Now he has to take the court FIRST instead of the normal second.

This was the response I received from a French sportswriter after I vigorously ripped Roland Garros for putting Stan on court first:

Point-blank: Wawrinka’s result will not primarily be the product of starting 90 minutes earlier. Players don’t win or lose because they start a match at 4 p.m. instead of 2:30. No one would debate this.

The point is not any attempt to bean-count minutes or hours. The point is the principle of the thing.

You know: principle.

Integrity. Ethics. Basic notions of fairness and decency. People ought to be treated a certain way, and here, Roland Garros flipped the bird to Stan Wawrinka, saying, “TRUCK YOU!”

Most people understand this. It’s not a crime if you don’t understand it, but let me explain it now, so that we don’t have to revisit this topic ever again:

Let’s say Bill Gates was walking down the street. He is the man shown in the cover photo for this article.

A $20 bill falls out of Gates’s pants pocket. You pick up the money and keep it.

Bill Gates doesn’t NEED 20 dollars. It doesn’t matter in any larger sense whether he has 20 extra dollars on top of his billions. The point is that you saw and therefore KNEW it was Bill Gates’s money, but you took it anyway. That is stealing. So what if the amount of harm done is essentially nil? You didn’t treat another human being fairly or properly.

This is what we mean when we talk about the PRINCIPLE of a situation. The severity of harm done can be considerable, or might not be considerable at all. What counts is the ethical and moral attitude to another person or set of circumstances. Do we follow and observe the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do unto you? — or do you treat people poorly because you can get away with it or have power over a situation which affects other people?

This isn’t complicated: The women generally play before the men at every major tournament, since the women’s final is held before the men’s final at all four majors. There is an inherent need for the women to play their matches first, so that they get adequate rest, while the men play later, since their tournament ends later.

Putting a men’s quarterfinal on first therefore represents an act of going OUT OF ONE’S WAY to reduce the amount of recovery time Stan Wawrinka has after his 5-hour, 9-minute win over Stefanos Tsitsipas. It is not a normal act; it is a pointed gesture. It is unnecessary. It is unusual. It is meant to have Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play at different times to maximize TV ratings.

Two added notes here: 1) The French Open could start one court (Lenglen or Chatrier, likely Lenglen) 60 to 90 minutes earlier than the other, so that players are playing at different times. Starting Lenglen at 1 p.m. but putting the women first would mean that Stan would probably start at a time not too different from 2 p.m., so again, this is NOT a discussion over whether the 90 minutes matter for Stan and his outcome against Federer.

The principle is the point. The totally unnecessary act of putting Stan first tells him he doesn’t matter in the larger workings of this situation. This is like waving a red flag in front of a bull. It is a controversial act which never had to be made. The normal act was to put the women first. Deviating from that is provocative and, one could argue, rude.

2) Do we also realize what this move says about women’s tennis? Roland Garros is basically setting up a situation in which most people around the world who can watch the two men’s AND women’s quarterfinals on Tuesday will choose the Federer and Nadal matches, not the women. Roland Garros is basically saying, “Only the men count.” It’s an awful look for what is supposed to be a dual-gender tournament.

All because of greed in the service of TV ratings.

Roland Garros could have done the normal thing. It could have noticed that the $20 bill which fell from Bill Gates’s pocket belonged to Bill Gates, and therefore needed to be returned, as an act of basic integrity.

It instead chose to keep the $20 bill.

The effect or its severity isn’t the point. The principle is… like a lot of things in life.

Maybe we can all understand this point, once and for all.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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