Jon Wertheim discusses Roland Garros' signature Sunday start, Federer's return to Paris and more.
PARIS — Here are five thoughts from day one at Roland Garros* 2019…
* Note the strenuous effort to rebrand the French Open as Roland Garros.
1. For the 14th time, play here started on a Sunday. And to that, we say “oui.” You have a world-class sporting event. You want to create as much attention and buzz and traffic and draw as many eyeballs, especially on weekends. Why not wrap it around three weekends, much as the Olympics do? Today, thousands of fans in person and millions watching at home reaped the benefits. Wimbledon had agreed with the neighbors to play only one Sunday, the men’s final. The U.S. Open has considered this change and others—Arlen Kantarian, the former impresario, floated the idea of starting with a Sunday night session. With the “summer swing” in flux, Tennis Australia would do well to consider a summer start.
2. Playing his first French Open match since 2015, Roger Federer looked….like Roger Federer. The No. 3 seed and 2009 champion had little problem beating Lorenzo Sonego of Italy, 6-2, 6-4, 6-4 in 101 minutes. Compensation for playing Sunday: Federer now has off until Wednesday. “Moving well, hitting well, very pleased,” was his self-assessment for Tennis Channel. Next up, the mellifluously named Oscar Otte of Germany.
3. One day in, and we already have a big winner at the 2019 Roland Garros. The new Court Simonne Mathieu is an absolute gem. Warm, intimate, quirky, surrounded by greenhouses. Nestled in the botanical garden, this is less a tennis court than a clay-covered terrarium. Former champion Garbine Muguruza christened the court with a three-set win over American Taylor Townsend. Then 37-year-old Nicolas Mahut, benefitting from his 10th wild card, made the most of it, beating No. 16 Marco Cecchinato, a semifinalist last year. And Venus Williams rounded out the session.
4. Notice how few top contenders decide to play the week before a major. They know this: the big events are where players make their bones, and arriving at maximum health is critical. Felix Auger-Aliassime learned this the hard way. The 18-year-old Canadian sensation played last week in Lyon, reaching the finals yesterday but injuring his groin in the process. Today he withdrew from the main draw and will be replaced by lucky loser Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Some silver lining:
—He’s still closing in on the top 20 and has never won a main draw match at a major.
—His withdrawal was treated as a real disappointment, reinforcing his star power.
—The Raptors have reached the NBA Finals.
—With any luck we’ll see the kid at Wimbledon.
5. The NCAA tennis championships were held last week.This is a terrific—and terrifically underrated—sporting event. But college tennis has ben dogged lately by a “hooking “epidemic. I’ve heard from parents, players, coaches and Hall of Fame players who complain that dishonest line calls are officially out of control. Here’s a letter I got last week from a high school student that bears reading and considering.
"Good Evening/Morning Mr. Wertheim,
My name is Collin and I’m currently a high school senior from Virginia who’s in the middle of tennis playoffs. I recently turned on Tennis Channel and was delighted to see the national championships for D1 tennis was finally being covered by TC. However, after watching some of the matches, I became disgusted with what I was watching. For starters it was clear that sketchy line calls and unsportsmanlike conduct was not so much a rarity but rather a common occurrence during both the individual and team events. Some players would deliberately call a ball out even when it was clear the ball was in by at least a couple inches. And don’t get me started on players calling a let after they lost the point, claiming that a stray ball caused them to lose focus (even though that stray ball didn’t actually exist). In response, one may say that the chair umpire can resolve disputes between players, but in reality their constant overrules (because of the nonstop hooking) only causes more conflict. All-in-all, it was a truly frustrating experience. However, the poor sportsmanship, which desperately needs to be addressed by the NCAA, is not the reason I’m writing this to you at this moment. It’s actually about the format of these matches, which I feel has undermined what tennis is all about and has actually contributed to cheating in the sport. All matches at the championships have no-ad scoring and no lets on serve, which is absolutely ridiculous to me. Call me a stubborn purist, but when a player is able to win a game, set, or match because of a dead net cord serve at deuce (which actually happened twice), there’s clearly a problem. Or at 5-4 deuce in the third set where literally one point decides everything. Even in a tiebreaker a player needs to win by two?! What ever happened to the classic win-by-two system that tennis is known for? What ever happened to a player having to perform a legitimate serve to start a point? Of course the answers to these questions are fairly obvious. The NCAA wants matches to be shorter and more exciting. However I’d argue that by embracing the luck aspect of our sport we are diminishing its value. What makes tennis special is that you have to win the match. You can’t run down the clock, because there is no clock. So, by giving lucky (or unlucky) net cords more of an impact in matches, and allowing one point to decide a game, tennis loses part of its skill first luck second ideology. Plus there’s no concrete evidence I could find that suggests no-ad scoring and no-lets significantly decreases match time, and the excitement the format supposedly creates I’d argue is actually frustration of factors players can’t control taking a much bigger role in matches. Because of this, I think players are now even more encouraged to cheat, as 30-all and deciding points have so much more weight than what they do in regular matches. To conclude, I just feel that the NCAA, as well as the ATP, ITA, and WTA, need to stop trying to gain new audiences by changing the fundamental format of the sport, which is turn alienates the fans they already have. By making matches shorter and more unpredictable, they are invalidating the skill aspect of tennis. For reference, in my high school tennis playoffs we play best-of-three sets with ad scoring and lets on serve for both singles and doubles. Why are high school matches more legit than college or even some pro matches (i.e. doubles)? It just doesn’t seem to make any sense. Overall, they need to realize that tennis will never be as big as football or basketball, and that’s ok because tennis has been and always will be a niche sport followed by hardcore and casual fans alike. To clarify, I have no problem with tennis trying to innovate with the times, such as putting a tiebreaker in the final set at majors (3 out of the 4). However, when innovation is used as a cover-up for greed and fundamentally changing the sport, that’s where you lose me and many others. In the end, I just want tennis to be same respected sport that it’s been since it’s inception. I don’t want cheating at the junior and college level to dismantle the perception of tennis as a “gentlemen’s and ladies” sport. I don’t want to fundamentally change the scoring of tennis to gain more fans while upsetting the current dedicated fan base. Lastly, I don’t want to watch a sport whose D1 college players and pros play less tennis than a high school senior from Virginia for huge, career-defining titles.
• Read this piece by my colleague Stanley Kay on WTA sisterhood.