PARIS (Reuters) - French Open organisers sought on Friday to defuse a simmering row over their scheduling of the women’s semi-finals, stating they had chosen to hold the two matches at the same time away from centre court “to respect sporting fairness”.
Former world number one Amelie Mauresmo had called the decision “a disgrace”, beaten semi-finalist Jo Konta said it had diminished the occasion, while the WTA boss Steve Simon called it unfair and inappropriate.
After a Wednesday washout, organisers scheduled both semi-finals, originally slated for Thursday, for Friday, with British number one Konta’s contest against Czech Marketa Vondrousova moved to Court Simonne Mathieu, the newly-built third show court.
Australia’s Ashleigh Barty and American Amanda Anisimova contested their semi-final on the second-ranked Court Suzanne Lenglen.
The men’s semi-finals, which pit Rafael Nadal against Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic with Dominic Thiem, both remain on Court Philippe Chatrier, the centre court, as planned.
Mauresmo had blasted the decision, saying on Twitter: “Everyone agrees that the match of the day is Federer/Nadal! But what kind of message do we send when taking the decision to put the women’s semis at 11am on the 2nd and 3rd courts of the tournament? Not even one of them on the centre court!”
Mauresmo said one solution would have been to play on Lenglen and Chatrier, and “refund those who don’t want their tickets any more”.
Simon, CEO of the WTA, organisers of the women’s tennis tour, said in a statement he understood the scheduling issues at Roland Garros, but added: “We are, however, extremely disappointed by the scheduling of both women’s semi-finals on outside courts.
“This decision is unfair and inappropriate. The four women who have played so well and made it this far have earned the right to play on the biggest stage.
“We believe other solutions were possible which would have been to the benefit of fans as well as all players.”
When asked if her match had felt like a grand slam semi-final, Konta, beaten 7-5 7-6(2) in the drizzle, said: “In terms of the surrounding and the occasion, probably not.
“What is tiring and what is really unfortunate in this more than anything is that ... 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.
“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 for tickets every opportunity to enjoy their French Open experience.
“And if the organisers do not feel that that is something that can be promoted and celebrated, then I think it’s the organisers you need to have a conversation with, not me, because I did my job and I did my job well.”
Tournament organisers said the decision had been a logical one. The first men’s semi-final had been scheduled on Chatrier from 12:50 local time.
“By scheduling a women’s semi-final on Court Philippe Chatrier, there would have been high probability that the first men’s semi-final will start late, with the risk that the second semi-final can not be completed and that this goes against sport equity.
“This decision allows a maximum of spectators to attend these two prestigious matches on courts Suzanne Lenglen and Simonne Mathieu, for only 20 euros, or 10 euros for under 20s.
“Moreover, the weather factor encouraged us to take no risk.”
Men contest best-of-five sets at Grand Slams rather than the best-of-three women play, and their matches tend to last much longer.
The women’s final is scheduled for Saturday, and the men’s for Sunday. With no rest day possible for the women, the decision to schedule both semi-finals for the same time on different courts means neither finalist should have any significant benefit of a much longer rest.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne and Ossian Shine in Paris, editing by Pritha Sarkar