Rafael Nadal's spectacular 12th Roland Garros title, alongside Ashleigh Barty's maiden slam, closed out an incredible two weeks. The tennis was sublime, but terrible weather conditions threatened to disrupt the marquee clay court event of the year.
The beautifully maintained courts at Roland Garros offer a striking and stylish contrast to the rest of tennis season. Tradition has long set such a high standard on the Terre Batu, but in some ways, it has also impeded the grand slam from catching up with the other more technologically advanced majors.
The most glaring example of tournament mishap culminated in the mishandling of the men's and women's semifinals that left a negative pall over the last few days of the event. There's no reason one of the finalists should have had to play four days in a row, such as Dominic Thiem was forced to, including his two-day slugfest with Novak Djokovic.
After enduring 50 mph wind gusts that blew the swirling red clay around so dangerously that the players complained of no visibility. Play was cancelled for the day, and Djokovic and Thiem were forced to continue their match on the women's final day, Saturday.
Djokovic even said the conditions had been akin to playing in a hurricane. "Are there no rules about this?” the incredulous Serb asked the chair umpire. “One of the worst conditions I’ve ever been part of,” said Djokovic in his press conference afterwards.
"Obviously when you're playing in hurricane kind of conditions, it's hard to perform your best. It’s really just kind of surviving in these kind of conditions and trying to hold your serve and play one ball more in the court than your opponent.
That's what it felt like playing yesterday, to be honest." One solution is a roof, but will it really be here next year? A roof would probably mitigate such circumstances, although Roger Federer even joked that the wind was so bad that the roof may have blown off.
“I was trying to understand how did we get there and the problem is we don’t have a roof here," Federer said about the scheduling problems with the women's semis. “I just think maybe not enough rounds are being played in the first week somehow.
Maybe they need to double up in the first weekend. “First they put the roof,” Federer said to reporters, “and then the roof is going to fly away. There was so much wind, it was incredible”. Federer was joking about the roof flying away, but it only underscores the severity of conditions that the other grand slams do not have to endure.
The French Open remains the only grand slam with no roof. Why is that? For years, a roof has been promised by Roland Garros officials, but each year when the clay grand slam is upon us, the beautiful Phillipe Chartrier appears in all its original-- and roofless-- glory.
Negotiations with the union have proved difficult in the past. Additionally, the neighborhood that houses Roland Garros has fought the venue's efforts to modernize, and still continues to. And the problem may resume into next year.
To mitigate complaints, viewers kept hearing that the roof was coming in 2020 and that this would be the last year we would be dealing with this disappointment. However, rumors indicate that the roof may not be completed until 2021.
A roof for Suzanne Lenglen will not be in place until the 2024 Olympics. “There is no question that next year they will not face this type of situation because there will be a roof in play that allows them to keep playing should the weather intervene," said Tennis Channel (and ITV) correspondent Jim Courier.
Let's hope the 2021 rumors aren't true. Night play could ease up the scheduling issues The same with implementing lights on the courts so that play could continue for longer into the night, an advantage that the other slams have found helpful in ensuring that play concludes appropriately throughout the duration of the slam.
One player being forced to play over the course of four days over another who operates with proper recuperation between his matches is not fair to the sport. Providing optimum conditions for all the players will lend a positive amount of fairness that will mitigate accusations of inequity.
Would Rafa Nadal have won his 12th grand slam if both players had received the same recuperation period between matches? Most likely. The King of Clay is the best the surface has ever seen. However, fans would likely have been treated to a more tightly contested match, perhaps a five-setter, with the two best clay court players in the game.
Thiem's coach, Nicolás Massú had also asked that the match be rescheduled to Monday, to give Thiem a more equitable chance. The FO men's final has been played on a Monday before-- due to weather conditions in the past-- such as the 2012 spectacle between Nadal and Federer.
This time around, however, officials refused. A terrible situation for the women called 'disgraceful,' 'inappropriate,' and 'absured' Constructing a roof would have also avoided the situation of relegating the women's semifinal matches to side courts on Friday, a situation French player Amelie Mauresmo called "disgraceful," and others accused of sexism, with the head of the WTA Steve Simon calling it “unfair and inappropriate."
At any rate, it was a terrible situation that had the four best women's players in a grand slam not playing on Phillipe Chartrier. Even worse, that these athletes were forced to wait around inside indefinitely. “You make it all the way to the semis, and you get put on the third-biggest court at 11.
It’s a tough one,” Federer said in his press conference. "I think more than anything, what is tiring and what is really unfortunate in this more than anything is that women have to sit – you know, athletes, female athletes, have to sit in different positions and have to justify their scheduling or their involvement in an event or their salary or their opportunities," said semifinalist Johanna Konta.
"I think – I don’t want to sit here and justify where I’m scheduled. That’s not my job. My job is to come here and entertain people, and I feel I did that. And I feel I gave people who paid tickets every opportunity to enjoy their French Open experience."
Courier weighed in about the women's semifinals' scheduling controversy. “These players were in the locker room for another 25 minutes because of a perceived threat of rain. This is becoming borderline absurd”.
The arguments against adding technology for accuracy are ridiulous And don't get me started on the refusal to utilize Hawkeye by the clay tournaments (or any similar technology). Tournament officials claim that the red clay "shows the mark" every time, with the ultimate decision of the mark's indication of 'in or out' left up to the chair umpire to decide.
It's a time-honored tradition that seems to bear fruit, except when it doesn't. For example, when the chair umpire mistakes the mark entirely. This egregious example ocurred during the 2018 Rome Open match between Karolína Plíšková and Maria Sakkari, with the chair umpire pointing to the wrong mark during a crucial third set where both players sat even at 5-5 and deuce.
Plíšková clearly saw the mark, and the chair umpire conceeded that she couldn't really remember, but ruled that it was out anyway. Plíšková went on to lose the match, and was so incensed afterwards that she violently took her racquet to the chair umpire's stand, puncturing a whole in it.
Another terrible situation involved a bad call by chair umpire Cedric Mourier that went Nadal's way in a tight match with David Goffin at the 2017 Monte Carlo Masters, where Goffin had been in the lead. Again the chair umpire referred to the incorrect ball mark.
The unfair call resulted in Goffin losing his momentum and ultimately the match. But one wonders, what might have been? Hawkeye diminishes the tension between the chair umpire and the player. Sure, it has a margin of error of just 3.6 millimeters, but the point is that it identifies the exact ball played and its subsequent mark.
It takes the question of which mark was it? out of the equation. And like other tournaments, Hawkeye can still be overruled. The ultimate authority by the chair umpire would still remain. "I feel like there are way too many controversial calls; there are so many close calls from day to day from every match," said Denis Shapovalov.
"I just feel like there's got to be a better way to allow the players to kind of challenge the calls," he said. Clay season-- and the French Open-- is a stunning, captivating time during the tennis calendar year.
It's seeped in tradition that fascinates and allures the viewer. There is no other sport where players compete on different surfaces. The variety and tradition that clay provides gives the sport depth and prestige. It just needs to add a few elements that would bring it up to the fair standards the other slam events enjoy.
Wimbledon is also a very traditional venue and its weathered the technological changes just fine. Employing advances that work for the other slams would make the French Open a less frustrating experience for all, a more enjoyable pleasure for the fans, and fairer to all the players.