body-container-line-1

Victories for Swiatek and Alcaraz illuminate French Open as shadows persist

By Paul Myers - RFI
Tennis © Pierre René-Worms
MON, 10 JUN 2024 LISTEN
© Pierre René-Worms

Just as one French Open hegemon was offered his silky soft slippers to shuffle off into his living legend room, along comes a devotee to replace him.

Iga Swiatek, an avid Rafael Nadal fan-girl won her third French Open title on the trot – her fourth in five years – and Carlos Alcaraz claimed his first to conclude a tournament where the organisers fell into flurries over the behaviour of fans and increasingly unsustainable excuses over why women's matches fail to have equal TV prime time billing as men's ties.

Since his debut in 2005, Nadal had spent his birthday on 3 June playing or preparing to feature at the French Open.

Following an injury-hit couple of years, 2024 was different. Without the necessary preparation due to his aches and pains, he was relatively easy pickings for the fourth seed Alexander Zverev who had just won the Italian Open in Rome.

On his run to his 14th French Open title in 2022, Nadal was in serious trouble in the semi-final against the German before Zverev slipped and twisted his ankle.

Progress

Two years on from that catastrophe, Zverev's surge to his first French Open final was the redemption story par excellence. It was overshadowed though by the start of a domestic abuse court case brought against him by his former girlfriend.

The case was dropped and a settlement was reached just before he took to Court Philippe Chatrier against Casper Ruud for the semi-final.

After losing the first set, Zverev was as curt in dealing with the ailing Norwegian as he was with journalists seeking to prod him for a reaction to the legal dispute.

"That's what dropping the case is. That is innocence," he said. "They're not going to drop the case if you're guilty at the end of the day. I don't know what translations you have, but that's what it means.

"Done. We move on. I never ever want to hear another question about the subject again. That goes out to everybody."

And when someone measuring 1.98 makes such a request, sense usually dictates obedience.

Chance

Zverev - playing in his second final at a Grand Slam tournament - used his height to defuse the kick serve to the backhand that Alcaraz weaponised to such devastating effect during his four-hour five-set epic in the semi-final against the second seed Jannik Sinner.

But Zverev succumbed to Alcaraz's greater intensity over four hours and 19 minutes on Sunday afternoon into early evening.

"He played fantastic," conceded Zverev an hour after his defeat to the 21-year-old Spaniard whose victory made him the youngest man to win on the hard courts at the US Open in New York, on the grass courts at Wimbledon and on the clay in Paris.

"He played better than me the fourth and fifth set, added the 27-year--old German.

"I felt like this Grand Slam final I did everything I could. At the US Open I kind of gave it away myself. It's a bit different this time."

The women's showdown lasted 68 minutes. Jasmine Paolini was simply overwhelmed.

Playing in her first final at one of four Grand Slam tournaments in Melbourne, Paris, London and New York, the 28-year-old Italian began positively and broke Swiatek to lead 2-1 in the opening set.

Such brashness. It was upbraided: 10 consecutive games to take the set and start the preparations for the victory speech.

"She's playing unbelievably here," said Paolini, who will rise to a career high number seven in the world on Monday.

"She's taking the balls early, taking time away from you but also using lots of spin.

"She can defend really, really well. On clay, she's unbelievable. But also on hard court, come on, she's won so many tournaments this year.

"But I think to play her here at the French Open ... it's something different. She's won already four titles, and she's just 23-years-old!"

And growing in authority.
After battling through a three-hour second round match against the former world number one Naomi Osaka during which she had to save a match point, Swiatek used her on-court interview with former player Alex Corretja to appeal for better behaviour from spectators in the stands.

 "You know I love you guys and I love playing here," she said as she looked around Court Philippe Chatrier. "But please don't call out."

Choking back tears of exhaustion and anxiety over what she was saying, she added: "The players are trying to focus and perform at our best to please you. You've paid money and we're playing for money and a point here and there can make all the difference."

In less than 24 hours, organisers banned fans from drinking alcohol while watching matches and umpires were urged to calm crowds between the points.

"We're happy to see there's an atmosphere, emotions and that the spectators are there," said tournament director Amélie Mauresmo.

"However, we will be uncompromising with respect to the players and the game. If there's the slightest behaviour that oversteps the mark, it will be the exit," she added.

Equality

Mauresmo was less dogmatic about the issue of equal billing for women's matches in the 8.15pm night session. Since it was introduced in 2022, men's ties have been to the fore.

In 2024, all 11 sessions featured a game from the men's draw.

"It's not a matter of how interesting the matches can be or could be," she said. "It's a matter of the length of the matches in terms of the people that are coming to watch the match.

"If 15,000 people are coming, it's complicated for us to think that maybe it's going to be very, very short match.

Image

"So we try our best, and it's not easy, and it's not satisfying. But that was our choice this year which doesn't mean it's going to be the choice next year. And things can change also."

Which of course does not enhance the image of the tournament and forces the question how did the French tennis federation get into this situation of  a TV deal that has the potential to sideline women's tennis at such a salient showcase?

One suggestion of having two women's matches starting at 7pm has been rejected due to what is perceived as the culture of the tennis-going Parisian public and the logistics of marshalling the evening's spectators away from the daytime punters.

"When you fix one thing, there is another thing that is not going to work," lamented Mauresmo.

"And that's that's the big thing that we have to that we have to address.^"

A review will take place when the dust has settled, Mauresmo said.

"And we will do it without hiding behind anything," the former world number one added.

"It will be all the operational people and all the staff. And we will try to get things better but it's not as straightforward as it might look."

Mauresmo and the federation marketeers will have a year to iron out the plethora of creases to avoid undergoing the same inquisition in 2025. 

Players on the tour will also enjoy a similar amount of time to figure out how to prevent the same duo from brandishing the crowns anew.

Which team do you think has the higher chance of winning the 2024 elections?

Started: 02-07-2024 | Ends: 31-10-2024

body-container-line