'This is madness': Virus crisis sparks ugly French Open controversy

·5-min read

Players have been left in a state of shock after organisers announced they’d postponed the French Open until late September without any consultation with the game’s stars.

The organisers of the French Open have postponed the claycourt Grand Slam tournament until Sept 20-October 4 from its May start amid the coronavirus outbreak, with the new dates colliding with numerous events on the scheduled global calendar.

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The French Open, the first major tournament to be hit by the spread of the coronavirus, had been initially scheduled to be played from May 24-June 7 at Roland Garros, but instead will now start just a week after the final of the US Open.

“In order to guarantee the health and safety of all those involved in the preparation of the tournament, the French Tennis Federation decided to organise the 2020 edition of Roland-Garros from 20 September to 4 October 2020,” the French tennis federation (FFT) said in a statement on Tuesday.

Ashleigh Barty, pictured here after winning the French Open in 2019.
Ashleigh Barty will have to wait to defend her French Open title. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

“While no one today can predict what the health situation will be like on May 18 (when qualifications were due to start), the lockdown measures in force make it impossible to prepare for it and therefore to organise it on the dates initially planned.”

The men's ATP Tour had previously announced a six-week suspension due to the pandemic that has ground global sport to a halt while the WTA, which runs the women's tournaments, had postponed events till May 2.

The International Tennis Federation has also suspended all its events, including next month's newly-launched Fed Cup finals in Budapest.

The new French Open dates mean that action at Roland Garros will begin seven days after US Open concludes on September 13.

This will leave players contesting a claycourt major right in the middle of what is traditionally the hardcourt swing of the tennis season and with almost no opportunity to play any warm-up events on the slow surface.

Rafael Nadal, pictured here after he won yet another French Open crown in 2019.
Rafael Nadal won yet another French Open crown in 2019. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

French Open postponement stuns players

The grand slam will also clash with the previously scheduled Laver Cup, which is a team event featuring the best of Europe against a World team and has previously drawn top players such as Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Federer has already confirmed his participation for the fourth edition in Boston this year.

It will also clash with ATP tournaments in Metz, St. Petersburg, Chengdu, Sofia and Zhuhai and WTA events in Guangzhou, Seoul, Tokyo and Wuhan.

The decision of the FFT did not seem to have gone down well with the players.

"Excusez moi???," said two-time grand slam winner Naomi Osaka on Twitter.

Argentine Diego Schwartzman also vented his frustration in a Spanish tweet: "Once again, we found out on Twitter."

“This is madness. Major announcement by Roland Garros changing the dates to one week after the U.S. Open. No communication with the players or the ATP.. we have ZERO say in this sport. It's time. #UniteThePlayers,” said Vasek Pospisil, who sits on the ATP players council, before later deleting the tweet.

French Open cancellation ‘unthinkable’

French Open organisers said it's unthinkable for them to cancel the 2020 edition of the claycourt grand slam after they received a barrage of criticism.

“For us it was unthinkable (to cancel), the only thing we had in mind was the interest of the tournament and of the players,” French tennis federation president Bernard Giudicelli told reporters on Tuesday.

“We had exchanges with the ATP, the WTA, the ITF and we informed the other grand slam organisers,” said Giudicelli.

Asked what the US Open organisers' reaction was, Giudicelli said he could not tell because he did not place the call himself.

However, Giudicelli defended the FFT's choice by saying the hefty prize money would help players in need after weeks out of competitive tennis.

“I don't think it's the date that's a problem, I think the problem is the calendar,” said Giudicelli.

“Cancelling would have meant a considerable absence of revenues for the players who have already been hit by a succession of cancellations.”

The prize money for the 2019 edition of Roland Garros, which has undergone a major revamp of the grounds including the installation of a retractable roof on the main Philippe Chatrier court, was 42.66 million euros ($A78.39 million).

The FFT general director Jean-Francois Vilotte said the French Open was not a commercial entity, saying all the revenues were invested into developing the tournament and tennis in France.

With Yahoo Sports Staff

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