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DON’T GET THROWN OFF THE SCENT AT ROLAND GARROS

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

You’re not a bad person if you get thrown off the scent. It is human nature to be attracted to shiny objects or tasty desserts in the room instead of staying on the path we need to follow, in one way or another. We live in a world of distractions. So many messages and topics bombard our brains — which are being (and have been) rewired by Google and hand-held devices — that it is hard to remember which news stories matter, and which are relatively fluff or window dressing.

This piece will not be long, but it needs to receive your full and conscious attention. The thesis is very simple: Now and in the near future, you might get upset by court assignments at Roland Garros. In many of those cases — perhaps even ALL OF THEM — you might have a legitimate beef. Court assignments do confer levels of respect and stature toward players. That is not a meaningless, irrelevant consideration in the larger architecture of tennis scheduling at tournaments. If other competing tensions do not exist, by all means raise your voices and your ire about court assignments.

However, when there ARE competing tensions, you need to weigh court assignments against them. In most cases, court assignments will not become (or remain) the biggest scandal on the scene. Chances are the other parts of tennis scheduling will be more urgent and more worthy of your outrage.

Don’t get thrown off the scent.

The immediate example of this dynamic came from Tuesday at Roland Garros, where the flow of events — combined with the release of the Wednesday schedule — created competing tensions.

One problem was — and is — much worse than the other.

The release of the Wednesday order of play put the showcase match between Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas on Court 18, not one of the three main show courts at Stade Roland Garros. Grigor Dimitrov also received a Court 18 assignment. Those assignments are worthy of ridicule when viewed in a narrow framework or context. Featured matches with top-eight seeds, especially when they have made the Roland Garros semifinals in recent years (Thiem) or are top-four seeds who have made other major semifinals (Dimitrov), belong on show courts partly because fans deserve to see top players in bigger stadiums (where tickets are more plentiful), but mostly because the highly-seeded players have earned the right to play in front of more fans. This “right of the players” is more important than ticket selling precisely because it is so easy to do what the French Open organizers do: Put French players on the show courts to sell tickets.

Jeremy Chardy, who is undeniably a mediocre professional and not a title threat or even a significant quarterfinal threat, received a Philippe Chatrier court assignment on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Alize Cornet — very similar in stature and potency compared to Chardy — will play Pauline Parmentier on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the No. 2 show court at Roland Garros. That these players get show-court assignments wouldn’t be a problem if highly-seeded players were taken care of and the French players got the leftovers in an order of play which lacked star power. Of course, this early in the tournament, that is not the case. The field is loaded with high seeds; only a small number of top-10 seeds have been knocked out.

Yes, the court assignments in favor of French players represent a problem… but they represent a problem not primarily because Thiem-Tsitsipas is being relegated to Court 18. The fact that Thiem-Tisitipas is being relegated is not irrelevant or meaningless; it merely takes a back seat to a larger (competing) problem: An inability to create scheduling parity.

If you have read my work before — either here or at Patreon — you have very possibly read about this notion of “parity.” Another word which can be used: balance. This concept means that if the tournament is at risk of forcing some players to play postponed matches a day later than their competitors in the same section/quarter/half of the draw, the tournament’s FIRST responsibility is to avoid that problem. Parity — keeping players on the same footing in terms of rest and recovery time from match to match — is at the top of the list for tennis tournament schedulers. Parity must be a top priority.

It wasn’t on Tuesday.

Yes, the court assignment problem is worth getting angry about, but it’s not worth as much anger as the greater failure on the part of Roland Garros organizers to treat Simona Halep fairly.

This is the No. 1 seed for the women’s French Open. If any player deserves to be accommodated, a No. 1 player has as strong a claim as anyone — maybe not STRONGER, but certainly just as strong. Yet, on a Tuesday when French Open organizers had to finish a number of suspended matches from Monday’s late-evening rain and therefore KNEW that backlogs on courts were likely, Halep was scheduled last on the order of play. Instructively, she received a show court, but since the show court assignment came at the expense of not playing on Tuesday, Halep was denied parity relative to the other players in her section.

The French Open plays its first round over three days. The U.S. Open had done the same thing before truncating its schedule a few years ago to accommodate U.S. television interests, leaving the French as the only major with a planned three-day first round. A No. 1 seed not being accommodated over THREE scheduled days of play rates as an entirely preventable error. First, Halep should have simply been scheduled earlier in the day. Second, Chardy could have been moved from Chatrier. Third, if tournament organizers felt they had to keep Chardy in his slot, the Halep match could have been moved to a smaller court. It would have been the worst of the three possible solutions, yes, but it still would have been better than forcing Halep to start her tournament on Wednesday and fall behind schedule relative to her competitors.

Sure, the show-court assignment issue merits criticism, but that is often the shiny object in the room. Don’t focus too much on the glitter and sparkles. Halep being scheduled last on Tuesday — which led to the predictable postponement to Wednesday — represents the far bigger scheduling failure.

Don’t get thrown off the scent — not today, not in the next week and a half, not at Wimbledon, and not in any instance when parity is ignored by tennis tournament organizers.

Image source – Jimmie 48

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