'Embarrassing position': French Open facing shock player boycott

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

French Open organisers are facing player backlash and even the prospect of an ‘embarrassing’ boycott over the decision to postpone the claycourt event until September.

French Open officials threw the international tennis calendar into further chaos on Tuesday with a controversial decision to shift the start of the event from May to September, just a week after the US Open finals.

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The decision - believed to have been made after little consultation with the men's and women's governing bodies - has drawn widespread criticism and left the French Open on a collision course with the Laver Cup.

Tournament director Guy Forget reportedly called 12-times champion Rafael Nadal before the announcement, but it was not immediately known if Australia's women's titleholder and world No.1 Ashleigh Barty was notified.

Ashleigh Barty won the 2019 French Open. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

“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 said.

The French Open was to have been held from May 24-June 7 but had been in major doubt after the men's ATP Tour last week announced a six-week suspension due to the pandemic while the WTA, which runs women's tennis, postponed all events until May 2.

Tennis Australia, which created the Laver Cup with Roger Federer's management group, was understood to have been blindsided by the French Open move to a September 20 start date - five days before the scheduled opening to the 2020 Laver Cup in Boston.

Federer, a French Open semi-finalist last year in his only appearance in Paris since 2015, and Australian ace Nick Kyrgios, an unabashed supporter of the Laver Cup, are among the sport's big guns likely to be weighing up their options.

Players could spark ‘embarrassing’ boycott

According to veteran tennis writer Kevin Mitchell, some superstars of the game could actually be forced to boycott the French Open.

“Federer, the world No 4, who is recuperating from minor knee surgery and not due to resume playing until Wimbledon in July, has moved away from clay in recent years and would in any case be reluctant to sacrifice his involvement in the Laver Cup,” Mitchell wrote in The Guardian on Tuesday.

“The clash places Nadal, the French Open’s reigning and perennial master, in a more obviously embarrassing position.

“He too is a key figure in the Laver Cup’s Team Europe, along with Alexander Zverev – a client of Federer’s promotional company who chose to miss the ATP Cup in January to play exhibitions with the Swiss – Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas.

“But it is the Spaniard who is the king of Roland Garros. Without Nadal, the French Open is seriously diminished.”

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at the 2019 French Open. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Players in shock over French Open call

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.

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 he deleted the tweet.

“This is such a difficult time. Everyone is being impacted by this catastrophe,” he wrote in a further tweet.

“Enhancing communication & working together to find solutions should be the priority. Not going Rogue & making selfish/arrogant decisions to further impact the tour in a negative way.”

Wimbledon confident of staging event as normal

Wimbledon officials remain hopeful of starting the The Championships on June 29, but are closely monitoring the coronavirus pandemic.

The All England Club said it would close the museum in its grounds, which is open all year, and other facilities following the British government's recommendation to avoid unnecessary gatherings.

"While we continue to plan for The Championships at this time, it remains a continuously evolving situation and we will act responsibly, in the best interests of wider society," All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis said in a statement.

with AAP