PARIS (AP) — Roger Federer was among those puzzled by the decisions to relegate the French Open women’s semifinals to lesser courts and a morning start Friday, moves the WTA head called “unfair and inappropriate.”
The conversation about gender inequality was supposed to be taking place across the street from Roland Garros — at nearby Parc des Princes stadium, where soccer’s Women’s World Cup was beginning Friday night.
But the issue also arose at the Grand Slam tennis tournament, where Ash Barty and Marketa Vondrousova won semifinals that started at 11 a.m. in front of hundreds of empty seats in secondary arenas and before the men’s matches — including Federer’s loss to Rafael Nadal — were held in the afternoon in the main stadium.
“You make it all the way to the semis, and you get put on the third-biggest court at 11. It’s a tough one,” Federer said. “When I saw the schedule, also, I was a little bit, like, surprised.”
Normally, all French Open singles semifinals are held in Court Philippe Chatrier, the biggest stadium with nearly 15,000 seats, with the women on Thursday and men on Friday. But after a full day of play was washed out by rain Wednesday, tournament officials were forced to shuffle the schedule.
With quarterfinal play moved to Thursday, the women’s semifinals were shifted to Friday, sharing the day with the men’s semis.
With more rain forecast for Friday, the decision was made to put the two women’s semifinals on simultaneously at the outer stadiums.
“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,” British player Johanna Konta said after losing to Vondrousova inside the newly constructed Court Simonne Mathieu on the far edge of the grounds.
The Mathieu stadium, which has a capacity of more than 5,000, was mostly empty.
“The way it looks probably speaks for itself more than anything,” Konta said.
WTA CEO Steve Simon said the women’s the tour was “extremely disappointed” by the scheduling.
Amelie Mauresmo, the retired French player turned coach, went one step further and labeled it a “disgrace.”
Problems of this sort could be avoided next year when a retractable roof is scheduled to be functioning over Chatrier.
In the meantime, the 19-year-old Vondrousova will be playing on Chatrier for the first time in Saturday’s final. In fact, she’s been inside the stadium only once — to watch fellow Czech player Lucie Safarova play the 2015 final — when Vondrousova was in attendance as a junior player.
“I don’t mind,” she said. “But I don’t think it should be like that.”
Added Barty: “I will play no matter what court it is. … It’s an opportunity to be in a Grand Slam semifinal. I won’t complain at all.”