Contact Us

Use the form on the right to contact us.

You can edit the text in this area, and change where the contact form on the right submits to, by entering edit mode using the modes on the bottom right. 

San Francisco

Tennis Blog Page

French Open Struggles

Elina Frumerman

By Susan Mullane, US Presswire

By Susan Mullane, US Presswire

Tennis on the crushed red brick of Roland Garros has never been better.

The movement is acrobatic. The defense is indefatigable. The extended rallies, brutal athleticism and mind-bending stamina have pushed the game to new levels.

And that's the problem.

Even when the weather cooperates, as it has for the first nine days here, organizers can't make the schedule fit.

"Every year it's the same," groused Stanislas Wawrinka, who came out on the losing end against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga on Monday in a match suspended the day before because of darkness — one of two held over. "They don't finish all the matches."

On the main show courts Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen, a number of the four scheduled matches have been suspended because of dimming light, and others have been shuffled off to lesser courts.

For instance, the contest between American teenager Sloane Stephens and No. 6 seed Sam Stosur of Australia, slated for fourth on Chatrier on Sunday, finished only because it was moved to mostly empty Court 1 at 7 p.m.

Incomplete matches are nothing new. Every major deals with them. They can throw schedules out of whack, though weather is the usual culprit.

Rain wreaked havoc at the 2011 U.S. Open, which unlike Melbourne and London, has no enclosed stadium. The last four men's finals in New York were contested a day late due to inclement weather.

The first week here, however, has highlighted a growing problem at Roland Garros.

With no lights or roofed stadium, lengthy matches and 11th-hour rescheduling, the needs of fans, organizers and players are increasingly colliding.

"We are never satisfied when we don't finish," said the French Open's head referee, Stefan Fransson.

Clay, a slower surface than the U.S. Open's cement or Wimbledon's grass that tends to extend rallies, is part of the problem. But so is how the sport has evolved.

Players seldom come to the net to finish points quickly. Steady power from the baseline, augmented by spin-friendly strings, means more grinding from the backcourt. Defense is better than ever, and marathon-fit players can slog for hours.

"It's long rallies," said No. 8 Janko Tipsarevic of Serbia after bowing out Monday to 12th-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain. "The ball is not going anywhere."

It doesn't help that modern players regularly flout the 20-second time rule between points at majors with their busy routines — and umpires rarely enforce it, if at all.

It's no surprise, either, that the longest Grand Slam final in history — a nearly 6-hour slugfest between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal that left both players leaning on the net for support during the trophy ceremony — occurred earlier this year at the Australian Open. And that was on hardcourts.

Such trends have not slowed in Paris.

The average length of matches on Chatrier through Monday was roughly 2:50, or 30 minutes longer than the 2:20 average of the previous six years, according to the French Tennis Federation.

Fransson agreed that unfinished matches had become a more pressing issue.

"I'm sure there will be a lot of discussions after this event to see what way we will go," he said in an interview Monday. "There are options, of course."

Frustrated players offered some themselves the last few days.

Veteran Tommy Haas of Germany suggested playing a fifth-set tiebreaker like the U.S. Open, the only major to use a sudden-death system, or spreading the matches out over a greater number of courts.

Tipsarevic and Tomas Berdych favor artificial light on show courts.

Following his loss in a suspended match Monday to Juan Martin del Potro, the seventh-seeded Berdych detailed how his fourth-round match on Lenglen was preceded by two women's matches won in straight sets and a four-set men's match —Roger Federer's defeat of entertaining newcomer David Goffin of Belgium.

"It was (a) very quick four sets," he said of the third-ranked Swiss, who plays with one of the quickest tempos in the game.

Still, he and del Potro were forced to pull the plug at three sets, which del Potro led 2-1 when play was called Sunday.

"We don't to have play like a night session, but at least to have decent lights that you can finish the match," Berdych complained.

Another, but unpopular alternative, would be to start earlier than the customary 11 a.m. Several players were not keen on that idea.

There is a darker side to incomplete matches, too.

When held over, they can create competitive imbalances by allowing some opponents extra rest.

Justin Gimelstob, a commentator for Tennis Channel and a member of the ATP Tourboard, said players usually get short shrift when it comes to balancing the commercial with competitive needs.

"TV and selling tickets has most leverage with scheduling," he said. "Players are third on the hit list."

Illumination will eventually come to Roland Garros, but not till 2017. That's when the French Open's bold expansion plans are slated for completion. They include a retractable roof above Chatrier with lights — plus night sessions.

In the short term, no solution is evident.

Fransson doesn't believe that spreading top matches to more of the facility's 19 courts is necessarily the solution, and starting earlier would be a disservice to fans and players. He accepts that holdovers will happen.

"No matter how you schedule you cannot make sure you will avoid it," he said of suspensions. "When you get a five-set men's match, especially when you don't play a tiebreak, that's going to disrupt the court."

Asked what to do with matches going longer and longer, Fransson said: "Who knows?"

Lucky then that John Isner's 6-7 (2-7), 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 18-16 loss to Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu last week started in the sunshine at 3:27 p.m.

At 5 hours, 41 minutes, it was the second-longest in French Open history in time elapsed. It ended at 9:08, just before darkness fell. If it had started later, they might still be playing now.