PARIS — Perhaps 10 years in the past, over a late dinner at la Porte d’Auteuil after a lengthy day of protecting matches at Roland Garros, I keep in mind agreeing with Philippe Bouin, the good French tennis author for L’Équipe, that if the French Open ever selected to affix different Grand Slam tournaments and stage evening classes, it could be the correct time to maneuver on to different pursuits as a substitute of submitting tales lengthy after midnight and lacking any probability at a last-call bistro meal.
There are actually larger points in tennis, however Bouin kind of stored his phrase, retiring lengthy earlier than the French Open adopted its “sessions de nuit” in 2021. But I’ve stored coming, and there I used to be bundled up in a almost full stadium as Tuesday was Wednesday and May into June as Rafael Nadal completed off Novak Djokovic of their stirring quarterfinal at 1:15 a.m.
There I used to be, too, strolling out of Roland Garros a couple of hours later and — with no public transport out there — observing a few French followers nonetheless attempting in useless to hail a taxi or guide a experience.
Night classes have their upside in tennis, little question: electrical ambiance, prime-time protection (relying on one’s time zone) and a probability for followers who work through the day to attend in particular person.
But the brand new evening classes at Roland Garros, created above all to extend income for an occasion that trails the opposite the Grand Slam occasions in home tv income, even have had loads of downsides. That is essentially as a result of the French determined to do them their very own method by scheduling only one match in that slot as a substitute of two, the same old providing at different Grand Slam occasions.
Guy Forget, the previous French Open event director who was a part of that call, stated it was made “so matches would not end at 3 a.m.”
Wimbledon stays a holdout on evening classes (grass will get much more slippery after sundown). But the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, which have had evening classes for many years, normally schedule a males’s singles match and a ladies’s singles match, and there have been a few all-nighters alongside the way in which, together with a Lleyton Hewitt victory over Marcos Baghdatis at the 2008 Australian Open that ended at 4:34 a.m. (It was fairly a dawn on the way in which again to the lodge.)
That has been problematic by way of worth for cash — is one blowout within the chill, like Marin Cilic’s rout of Daniil Medvedev — price nicely over 100 euros a ticket?
It additionally has been problematic for gender equality. The 10 Roland Garros evening classes this 12 months featured only one ladies’s match: the Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet’s victory over Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia. It was the identical ratio final 12 months, when the event debuted the evening classes, with no followers on 9 of 10 nights due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The disparity has continued although Amélie Mauresmo, a former WTA No. 1 from France, is the brand new French Open event director. Pressed on the problem on Wednesday, the morning after the Nadal-Djokovic duel, Mauresmo displayed clumsy footwork, saying that, as a girl and a “former women’s player,” she did “not feel bad or unfair saying that right now” the boys’s sport was typically extra engaging and interesting than the ladies’s sport.
Mauresmo stated her purpose after the draw got here out was to attempt to discover ladies’s matches that she may put in that showcase nighttime slot. But she stated she struggled to seek out the marquee matchups and star energy she was in search of. Women’s matches are additionally sometimes shorter with a best-of-three-sets format, in contrast with finest of 5 for the boys.
“I admit it was tough,” she stated. “It was tough for more than one night to find, as you say, the match of the day,” she stated, sounding considerably apologetic.
Iga Swiatek, the 21-year-old Polish star, didn’t get a nighttime task regardless of being the brand new No. 1 and a former French Open champion.
“It is a little bit disappointing and surprising,” Swiatek stated of Mauresmo’s feedback after operating her successful streak to 33 singles matches on Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Jessica Pegula, an American. She added that it was extra handy for many gamers to compete through the day, “but for sure I want to entertain, and I also want to show my best tennis in every match.”
In a textual content message, Steve Simon, the WTA chief, expressed disapproval with the nighttime scheduling and with the truth that ladies’s matches had been normally picked to be the opening match on the 2 essential present courts through the day classes: a time slot wherein crowds and viewership are sometimes smaller.
“The generation and depth of talent we are currently witnessing in the sport is incredible,” he stated. “Our fans want to see the excitement and thrill of women’s tennis on the biggest stages and in the premium time slots. There is certainly room for improvement, and if we want to build the value of our combined product, then a balanced match schedule is critical in providing that pathway.”
The WTA was quick on celebrity energy at Roland Garros with the shock retirement of top-ranked Ashleigh Barty in March, the first-round defeats of Naomi Osaka and the defending French Open champion, Barbora Krejcikova, and the continued absence of Serena and Venus Williams, who’ve but to compete this 12 months.
But the one-match nighttime format additionally made it tough to showcase Swiatek, who’s successful most of her matches in a hurry at this stage. “The amount of playing time is certainly a factor,” Mauresmo stated in a textual content message.
Why not merely schedule two matches, or two ladies’s matches, at evening to ensure sufficient leisure? Because, in response to Mauresmo, the night-session broadcast contracts from 2021 by 2023 stipulate that there be only one match.
“Impossible to change that,” Mauresmo stated. “But we still will talk with our partners to think of other possibilities that could satisfy ticket holders.”
That feels like a advantageous concept, as does beginning sooner than 8:45 p.m., even with a single match, if the concept is to spare gamers too many late nights and keep away from irking the neighbors within the leafy and peaceable suburb of Boulogne, which was one more reason for the one-match idea.
The larger challenge in France is accessibility. Amazon Prime Video, the web broadcaster that bought the night-session rights right here, has a small footprint in contrast with the standard public broadcaster. And but it’s imagined to get the marquee match even when the contract, in response to L’Équipe, permits the French Open organizers the ultimate say.
But there was little question concerning the marquee match on Tuesday, and although Amazon Prime agreed exceptionally to permit free entry to its service to viewers in France, the choice to schedule Nadal and Djokovic’s quarterfinal at evening sparked debate and anger.
“The French Tennis Federation’s decisions shocks me profoundly,” Delphine Ernotte, president of France Televisions, informed Le Figaro. “It’s a low blow to our partnership after we have broadcast and popularized the event for years.”
To have the matchup of the event finish at 1:15 a.m. on a weeknight certainly was not nice for viewership in France, both. And although the ambiance was nonetheless transcendent inside the principle stadium after midnight, there was a value to pay on the street house.
French Open organizers have but to succeed in an settlement with the Parisian authorities to maintain public transport working after very late finishes.
The Métro was closed, and so — as Bouin and I feared way back — had been the bistros.