French Open officials have come under fire once again after Carla Suarez Navarro farewelled Roland Garros in front of empty grandstands in her first match since beating cancer.
The Spaniard came agonisingly close to a dream return to competitive tennis, little more than a month since declaring she had won her battle with cancer.
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The 32-year-old was two points from victory in the second set but eventually went down 3-6 7-6 (7-4) 6-4 to American Sloane Stephens.
While tennis fans and commentators expressed their joy at seeing Suarez Navarro back on the court, many were left gobsmacked by a scheduling decision that soured her farewell to Roland Garros.
The French Open was the first step in Suarez Navarro's farewell tour before she retires, which will also take in Wimbledon, the US Open and possibly the Tokyo Olympics.
But with Suarez Navarro's clash with Stephens finishing well after the 9pm curfew in Paris, she was forced to make a sad exit from the tournament in front of an empty grandstand.
Aussie tennis great Rennae Stubbs was among the many to condemn the decision of officials to schedule Suarez Navarro in the night session, knowing full-well that fans would have to leave Roland Garros at 9pm due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“Wtf is FFT (French Tennis Dederation) thinking putting this match on last WITH NO FANS!!!” Stubbs wrote on Twitter.
“This match and Carla deserved to have people cheering this amazing story and player on! Once again no clue.”
Aussie player Ellen Perez tweeted: “How does Carla Suarez Navarro get put as a night match when there is a curfew...
“She deserves a full crowd there to give her a standing ovation. This makes me sad."
Others described the French Open's treatment of Suarez Navarro as "absurd" and "disgraceful".
There was similar anger on Monday when French star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga was scheduled in the night session for his final match on home soil.
Carla Suarez Navarro proud after incredible return
While the disappointment was etched on her face at the end, just being back on court was already a victory for Suarez Navarro.
In September 2020 she announced that she was being treated for the early stage of Hodgkin lymphoma, having initially thought she was suffering from COVID-19.
"Maybe with time, I (will) see this different, but now I'm not too happy," Suarez Navarro said.
"I was here to win that match... But I'm really proud, too, of myself and really happy to have the chance to play here one last time."
When the match ended after nearly 2 hours 30 minutes, 2017 US Open champion Stephens embraced former World No.6 Suarez Navarro at the net.
Suarez Navarro had not played professionally since February 2020, making a promise to herself that she would make it back to play at the French Open with this to be her last season on tour.
"A long time. Really tough moments. Tough months," Suarez Navarro said.
"But, well, every time, I had on my mind that I want to be here."
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