The year’s final major is now less than a week away, and all eyes will be on the defending champions, Novak Djokovic and Naomi Osaka, to see if they can repeat in 2019.
“The French Open sucks compared to this place (Wimbledon). Sucks. Absolute [sic] sucks.”
Nick Kyrgios uttered these words on the eve of the 2019 French Open in an Instagram story – something many philosophers do.
Not many would associate the word ‘sagacious’ with the bad boy of tennis but he might have shown a modicum of percipience ahead of the clay slam; only if accidentally.
Kyrgios did not play at Roland Garros. Instead, he chose to practice with Sir Andy Murray at Wimbledon.
On said Instagram story, he said: “I think this (Wimbledon) is the best tournament in the world, look at this perfect green surface.
“Get rid of the clay, man. Who likes the clay it is so bad [sic]”
He added: “The French Open sucks compared to this place. Sucks. Absolute [sic] sucks.”
It is a fair comment to say that this year’s tournament was not the best in its 128-year history.
The French Open organisers, French Tennis Federation (FFT), withstood volley after volley of criticism: from claims of sexism to poor scheduling, empty seats and more.
Let’s start with the weather. When the roof on Philippe Chatrier is completed, they will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief.
Undoubtedly, the rain provided the tournament organisers with a scheduling headache, putting it lightly.
However, the organisers did not cover themselves in glory here.
On Friday, the head honchos decided to suspend play for the day in the early evening, despite there being a couple of hours of daylight left and it being dry when the decision was made. Many criticised this.
For instance, former Wimbledon champion, Pat Cash, tweeted: “Well the match would have been finished but they decided to cancel. Played lots in the rain this week and they cancel when it’s sunshine?”
Two-time slam winner Amelie Mauresmo also tweeted: “I think we have bottomed out. The good news is that we can only go downhill now.”
Former world number one, Jim Courier, said on IT4 that fans had paid ‘top dollar’ for their tickets and the decision to end play on Friday was a ‘terrible move’.
This meant Novak Djokovic and Dominic Thiem finished their semi-final less than 24 hours before the final began.
Moreover, ticket holders who watched that match on Friday were unable to see the conclusion of the clash on Saturday.
Pundit Annabelle Croft was particularly scathing on this topic, saying it left a ‘bit of a sour taste’.
Then there was the decision to schedule both women’s semi-finals on outside courts.
The optics for this were not great, especially when the men’s matches were on Philippe Chatrier.
The Johanna Konta-Marketa Vondrousova match, arguably the biggest of their careers, was on the 5,000-seater Court Simonne Mathieu.
They had earned the right of playing on a show court, but no, not to be.
Mauresmo said the decision to move the women’s matches to the outside courts was a ‘disgrace’ and WTA boss Steve Simon added that it was ‘inappropriate and unfair’.
And when it rains it pours. Much was made of the low attendances on Philippe Chatrier at the tail end of the tournament. Although tournament director, Guy Forget, saying there was a record attendance of 520,000, attendances on the show courts were just too empty too often.
Incidentally, according to a Reuters report, FFT staff were asked to fill empty corporate seats for the Thiem-Djokovic match, the start of the women’s final and Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s semi-final.
The problem was worsened because the organisers decided to sell the tickets for the men’s semi-finals as two separate sessions.
Because they had sold those tickets, the men’s matches were not going to be moved. This further complicated the scheduling.
This sends out a message. An unintended one, but a message nonetheless that the men take priority. There was no easy solution but it, once again, did not look good.
But, let us not forget that there were some special moments too.
Roger Federer marking his return to Roland Garros for the first time since 2015.
Stan Wawrinka coming through a majestic five-set thriller against Stefanos Tsitsipas.
The incredible runs of teenagers Vondrousova and Amanda Anisimova.
The moment when Nicolas Mahut’s was consoled on court by his son after his fairytale run came to an end in Round 3.
Nadal winning a 12th French Open title, but perhaps best of all, was the title-winning run of Ash Barty.
It was wonderful to see a game of spins, slices, volleys and all-court craft winning a grand slam, especially at a slam such as the French Open, where power tennis seems to win the day.
It might be a strange thing to say, but thank god she took a break from tennis, played cricket for the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League, and rose from outside the top 600 in the world to world number two in three short years. Sensational.
Oh, and her favourite surface is grass…
A roof over Philippe Chatrier will help proceedings in 2020 but they will either need many more roofs over the courts or a better team to run the tournament.
Because the French Open is fast becoming, if it is not already, the worst slam of them all.
P.S: Kyrgios just lost in the first round in Stuttgart. Ouch.