Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
The French Open is in desperate need of a makeover. There are so many problems I don’t know where to start. Yes, they had the good fortune to have witnessed history-changing moments on the final three days of their event. Sharapova winning a career Grand Slam in dominating fashion and Nadal capturing his all-time best 7th championship will be chronicled until the end of time. But that doesn’t change the fact that this tournament is stuck in the past.
The biggest and most pressing issue is their scheduling decisions in the second week of the tournament. How can Roger Federer playing against Juan Martin Del Potro and Joe Wilfred Tsonga against Novak Djokovic be scheduled to play at the same time? Sometimes, tournament organizers run into weather-related problems and are forced to put two marquee matches like this on simultaneously. This year, the weather was acceptable until the final weekend. And there should have been no excuse to segregate these matches and deprive the fans by forcing them to choose between one or the other of these two great match-ups. Whoever is behind this ridiculous decision needs to be fired! These two matches were the highlight of the tournament, and nobody saw every point of these instant classics. And what a shame that is! The Men’s quarterfinals have to be played on a followed-by basis, no question about it, unless there are unforeseen circumstances that derail these plans. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that a controversial decision like this hasn’t received more ridicule. Of the four Grand Slams, the folks in Paris are the only leaders to employ such a strategy – and for this I reprehend them. In this day and age, every match from the round of 16 and onward should get the royal treatment – this means centre court and isolation. Broadcasters, television audiences, fans, players, tournament organizers, media members and coaches should have the ability to see every point from these second-week matches. How can players and coaches alike scout the opposition when the matches are played side-by-side? This is something that simply can’t continue.
And what about the Hawkeye review system? Why are the French so stubborn on this issue? This player challenge scheme is the best invention in the history of the game, yet for some unknown reason, the suits in charge of the tournament refuse to adopt this innovative system that has revitalized the game. Can anyone convince me that an umpire running up and down from his/her chair is a better system? In some matches, the umpire is going up and down more than a toilet seat in a busy restaurant! It’s archaic, old-school, and it needs to stop. Umpires checking marks is slow, tedious and very inefficient. Half the time, I wonder if they even have the correct mark. Television viewers are fortunate enough to see the Hawkeye system in action – and for what it’s worth – after seeing the ball marks up close on television – we now know the Hawkeye system is 100 percent accurate. Why can’t the fans in the stadium enjoy the same luxury? Hearing the crowd roar with anticipation, as the ball is traveling through the air with a curved trajectory, adds to the drama like no other sport – is it in or is it out? What could be better than the five seconds of anticipation from a full house in Stade Roland Garros? Sometimes these decisions prove to be the turning point in 5-set marathon matches. However, the tradition-laden French refuse to buy into today’s technology, and as a result, their tournament is the worst of the four majors!
And what about the lights or lack thereof? Where is the retractable roof? It certainly can’t be a financial issue! This tournament is pumping in money in record numbers year after year. Is it any surprise that the French Open is the only major event without the ability to play night matches? Another clear cut reason why the French think we are still in the eighties. Prime time matches are necessary in today’s game. Men’s tennis has never been better; showcasing these hall-of-fame players at high noon is detestable. The Parisians deserve better – the rest of Europe deserves better. Nine pm starts are not possible on the red clay courts at Roland Garros, and this is a crime. Imagine the US Open without the lights? This event is known for their epic matches during the night-time hours. For some reason, the drama is heightened under the lights – players perform better, when the crowd is juiced.
The Australian Open was recognized as the weakest of the four majors for many, many years. But this is no longer the case. The Aussies in Melbourne have stepped up to the plate and delivered a home run. They have far surpassed the French in all areas of concern. I have been to all four majors, and for me it’s not even close, the French with their ornery attitude will continue to lag behind if they don’t make significant changes in the next 12 to 24 months. They have a great field, a unique surface, passionate fans and a great date on the calendar – now it’s time to look in the mirror and get with modern technology. Tennis equipment, tennis players, TV coverage and tennis tournaments are ever evolving, all we need now is for the French organizers to see the possibilities are endless if they just open up their minds and forget some of the useless traditions that are a thing of the past.
A smaller point, but one that illustrates the French’s single mindedness, is the way the ball kids are forced to get the ball from one end of the court to the other. Currently, they are told they must roll the ball instead of the quicker more efficient throw. This is the epitome of silliness. On day 13 there was a significant rain fall, and the red clay courts were wetter than usual. Consequently, the balls were getting heavier and heavier due to the fact that they were absorbing so much water after being rolled for close to 100 feet. The television commentators said the balls were 50 percent heavier because of the ridiculous way the balls were being sent back and forth to the players. And this affected the play between two of the best players – strategy had to be sacrificed because of the extra weight on the ball. But it’s tradition to roll the balls. and it must be that way no matter how much damage it’s doing to the yellow balls. If this doesn’t point out the absurdity of the French customs, I don’t know what will.
And in Monday’s final (day 16 of the event) due to the Sunday rain, the Stadium was a third empty, the concession stands were closed and the place looked like a ghost town. It had the look of an outside court for a junior final. Not the most important match in Grand Slam history! This is inexcusable for arguably the biggest tennis match ever played. So much on the line for two of the greatest players of all time, and an atmosphere that was run-of-the-mill and humdrum. Truly an embarrassment for such a spectacle!
They are behind the times, and it is undermining their event. Many countries would love to take their status as the 4th Grand Slam. We are not near that landmark decision yet – but if the French don’t update their game shortly, that buzz will start to materialize, and once it gets going, it will be difficult to cease. Taking Grand Slam status away is unlikely, but nevertheless possible. It happened to the Canadian Open in Women’s golf.
And you thought the blue courts in Madrid were an issue!
Nothing that compares to the incompetent organizers in Paris!