Mailbag: French Open Mired in Scheduling Woes, Crowd Noise and Empty Seats

Jon Wertheim answers your questions from Roland Garros, including what to do about night sessions extending into the morning.
Świątek addressed the crowd following her second-round win, asking fans to be mindful of their noise.
Świątek addressed the crowd following her second-round win, asking fans to be mindful of their noise. / Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

As it is decreed, Wednesday is mailbag day …

• Here is the latest issue of the Served podcast.

• Here are Sports Illustrated’s French Open Midterm Grades

• Trying to run through as many questions that will not be obsolete by the time you read this. But let’s start with themes … 


Djoker does this every time. He pretends to be injured so he can break his opponent’s momentum and you guys NEVER call him out on it. Disgusting.

@cmt2016

(Editor’s note: This question was submitted before Novak Djokovic’s withdrawal from the French Open.)

• Please stop. Fans like and dislike different players. That’s cool. That’s healthy. That’s sports. But if you’re not going to be generous, at least be reasonable. Djokovic won his third-round match at the French Open at 3:07 a.m. local time. He is 37 years old. He came out firing for his fourth-round match against Francisco Cerundolo. Djokovic played impeccably—something he had seldom done in 2024.

Why on earth would he not want to continue on and win as efficiently and quickly as possible? The idea that he was faking, milking sympathy or playing mind games is just silly, evidenced by Djokoivc’s eventual withdrawal due to a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.

Again, no one is saying you are required to like the guy. No one is saying there isn’t a history of sudden recovery. No one is saying conspiracy theories aren’t intoxicating. But how about a thimbleful of common sense here, folks? 

Djokovic withdrew from the French Open due to a torn medial meniscus in his right knee.
Djokovic withdrew from the French Open due to a torn medial meniscus in his right knee. / Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

The dysfunction in tennis is reaching new heights with tennis matches in each of the majors, other than Wimbledon—which has an 11 p.m. curfew—playing on and ending at 1, 2 and even 4 a.m. Much has been written about the abject absurdity of this, including, among other things, the detrimental health effects on the players, the volunteers and stadium personnel who must work at these hours, the disenfranchisement of fans who pay for tickets and cannot stay to view the matches and the competitive disadvantage to the player participants. A lot of kicking and screaming, but no action. Where are the Billie Jean King’s of today who have the guts to confront and change this injustice?

Fernando

• Yes, another event with a match ending at the same time those Tony Little infomercials are running. And—perhaps—another day of headlines not about tennis, but about an unserious sport that allows players to compete (and it’s less well-paid tournament workers to work) at 3:07 a.m.

Can we agree here? We’re all tired … of the scheduling talk. Of the tennis own-goals … Of losing sleep. But here are the variables:

  • Persistent rain and only two roofed courts.
  • Players (not wrongly) insist they cannot play before 11:00 a.m.
  • Men’s players (not wrongly) insist the best-of-five format is the way to go.
  • Tournaments (not wrongly) insist on a night session.
  • Everyone (not wrongly) insists on more revenue and higher prize money.
  • Tournaments (not wrongly) insist that schedules stay on track.

There is typical tennis intransigence and fragmentation at play. Something has to give here. 

Me? I would like to see no night sessions. They are awkward and an obvious cash grab. Doing away with them altogether is unrealistic, but I would like to see a ban on starting matches after, say, 8:30 p.m. But is that fair if one opponent has no day off, and the other opponent does? It’s easy to complain. And we should. Solutions are harder to come by.

As long as we are here … let us stop with the banging on about only men playing the night sessions. The top WTA players do not want to play these matches. Last year, WTA executives marched into the tournament office and expressly asked for players to remain on the day schedule. Their preferences are being heard and honored. 

There are plenty of inequities (and, for that matter, iniquities) in tennis. There are times and issues—I keep hearing about practice court assignments—when women get the short end. This is not one of them.

As journalist Reem Abuelleil put it perfectly in a post to X (formerly Twitter): “Not a single woman I have ever asked has said she wants to play the dreaded RG night session. As a feminist, I support women not having to play a time slot they abhor. There are MANY inequality issues in tennis, the RG night session is not one worth fighting for IMO.”


For all the dangers cited about AI, you’d think someone would come up with an AI-driven way to fill those empty seats for the tournaments’ and broadcasting’s sake. Okay, it’d be a lie, but ...

S. S.

• To me, this is a greater offense than scheduling. The grounds are jammed. The outer courts are full of passionate fans. Suzanne Lenglen is rocketing up the rankings, Mirra Andreeva style, among the best courts in tennis. And Philippe Chatrier, the big house—the grande maison if you will; and I hope you will—is crickets and tumbleweed because fans in the pricier seats are too busy eating canapes in the catering tent to, you know, watch actual tennis from their seats behind the baseline.

If not AI, a decent high school programmer could devise a system whereby the best seats are filled. When the aristocrats finish their goose liver and their last swig of Chateau Margaux, they have their seats back.

Sabalenka charged to a fourth-round victory at Roland Garros, with several front-row seats to the match left empty.
Sabalenka charged to a fourth-round victory at Roland Garros, with several front-row seats to the match left empty. / Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Jon, what do you think of the children holding hands with the players as they escort them onto the Chatrier court? I can see how it’s sweet and endearing but I wonder if it reinforces the dated stereotype of tennis being a mild and gentle game. Can you imagine Mike Tyson or Ronda Rousey being escorted to the ring like this? Prime Iron Mike would say, Thanks kid, Now run along and hide because I’m about to put this guy’s teeth into the back of his throat. Actually, that sounds like something that Serena Williams allegedly said.

Kevin Kane, Kingston, Ontario, Canada

• Funny, I do post-match interviews at Roland Garros. As I prepare for matches to end and the next one to begin, these kids are nearby. (I have to keep reminding myself they are not ball kids.) They are dressed in Lacoste, endearingly excited and nervous, and look a bit confused by it all.

I’m all for it. Why not make as many memories as possible? Why not attract kids to tennis? (Spoiler: I am all about a tradition whereby losing players give their rackets to kids in the stands, as Stan Wawrinka and Christopher Eubanks did.) I see your point about the incongruity, but some differentiators: 

A) We are all happy that tennis is more tame than boxing, aren't we? 

B) Boxing doesn’t have “glove kids,” like tennis has ball kids. That is, there is already a climate of players interacting with the younger set. 

C) A tennis tournament pitches its tent in the community for weeks, not one night. 

D) If anything, this speaks well of tennis. Carlos Alcaraz can enter the court holding the hand of a young boy (as I write that sentence, yes, it does sound weird). Moments later he can transition to the ruthless, ball-bashing Minotaur (as opposed to [Alex] de Minaur).


I just finished your midterm report card article for the French Open and as always enjoyed your perspective of the tournament so far. You stated the Americans are "holding their own" and I would like to know your definition of "holding their own." I look at the men's draw and see that only one American male (Taylor Fritz) made the fourth round. I think the results of Ben Shelton, Sebastian Korda and Frances Tiafoe, for example, are disappointing. The women did a little better and had two women (Coco Gauff and Emma Navarro) in the fourth round but it is not shocking that Gauff made it and her draw was really easy. Navarro played Keys in the third round, so it was a given that another American would make the fourth round. 

I remember the days when American men (Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Michael Chang) actually made the French Open finals and won titles. We have also had Serena Williams win the title and a few women like Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin make the final in Paris. Personally, I would rather have one or two American contenders (get into the semifinal) than say three or four Americans making the third round and "holding their own". 

Don't you think most American fans are more concerned with having an American with a decent chance of making the finals than a bunch of American players winning a couple of matches. Your thoughts.

Bob Diepold, Charlotte NC

• Fair. Full disclosure—self-defense—there were more Americans left in the draw when I filed than when I submitted. But it was not a banner event for Americans after all, Gauff notwithstanding. 

Comparing eras is ill-advised. The Big Three carmakers used to dominate auto sales. We are in a different, globalized world. Same for tennis. But I agree with your larger points.

1) Clay remains an American bugbear and, aside from Gauff, the Yanks underachieved. 

2) Diversification is great. But in sports, you’d rather have a unicorn than a portfolio of solid but unspectaculars.

Gauff has been a standout for the Americans, advancing to the French Open semifinals.
Gauff has been a standout for the Americans, advancing to the French Open semifinals. / Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Hey Iga: NBA players are expected to hit clutch free throws with the roof caving in. You can hit a second serve. Woman up.

Thank you, Dominic Ciafardini NY

• This pertains to Iga Swiatek’s scolding of rowdy fans during the on-court interview following her win over Naomi Osaka. I wouldn’t analogize it to free throws. There is a precision required to hit a tennis ball—and hearing is part of that importance—that makes crowd noise especially distracting. I get why players need silence when the ball is in play. (I don’t get why you go here when addressing a crowd after a stirring victory.)


Hi Jon,

At what point are networks going to say enough is enough with regards to John McEnroe? I was watching the Grigor Dimitrov-Zizou Bergs match and it was appalling to hear them making fun of Zizou's name. Does he think it's O.K. to say stuff like this because he was joking? Hey, can't you take a joke?

I was a huge fan of McEnroe the player but he's way past his sell-by date as a commentator.

Any comments?

Ananth

• I get it. And you don’t have to go far—you don’t even have to leave the players’ locker room—to find complaints similar to Ananth’s.

But I’ll go to bat for John McEnroe here. Broadcasters are like tennis players. Different ones have different strengths. Straight talk: does he geek out on the players outside the top 20? He does not. Does he come to the booth prepared with arcana about Zizou Bergs? He does not. When the ball is in play, are there many commentators better at providing insight, speaking plainly, finding nuance and answering the questions posed to them by their well-prepared partner? There are not. 

Besides, too many of his contemporaries are disparaging tennis, playing golf and reappearing only for corporate affairs. Midway through his 60s, John McEnroe is crossing oceans to sit in a booth and commentate on Belgian qualifiers.


Jon,

I just don’t get the Sebastian Korda hype. Everyone says he’s gonna win a major someday, and yet, when I see him play he loses in straight sets. When he does win, it seems like it takes him five (or three at a non-majors) sets against some dweeb ranked 112. (Obviously, I’m exaggerating since he was seeded at a major.) If I recall, his most famous match is his epic meltdown against Rafael Nadal. I’m sure I sound like a jerk picking on him, but I guess I’m more frustrated with the commentators who won’t stop hyping him up incessantly. What’s your view of Korda?

P. 

• I think that’s too harsh by an order of magnitude. He’s a good athlete and player, comes from an athletically successful family and is still relatively young. (He will turn 24 at Wimbledon.) I also question the “hype” premise. Optimism, yes. Even exuberant optimism. But I’m not sure it rises to the level of hype. 

That said, objectively, this stock hasn’t taken off as expected. He’s had a lot of injuries and some disappointing failures to close. Coupled, though, with some big-time wins. (Beating Daniil Medvedev at a hardcourt major is a serious takedown.) Give him time. Meanwhile, this is a fascinating Korda-orbit read. 

Korda fell to Alcaraz in straight sets in the third round of the French Open.
Korda fell to Alcaraz in straight sets in the third round of the French Open. / Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Jon

To add to the wild card discussion, I would like to see the two players with the best record during the ITF clay court season get two of the wild cards into the French Open. The same would apply to the grass court season at Wimbledon and the hard court season at the U.S. Open and Australian Open. More players should have to earn their way into a major event. This would also make the ITF events more meaningful.

David

• I like that idea. At least the USTA makes players earn the hideous reciprocal wild card based on points. If we are going to have these golden tickets, at least add an element of merit. Not, say, Kristina Mladenovic may be in her 30s and no longer a top-200 singles player. But she was good a bunch of years ago and is French. So, hey, why not let her take the spot of a top 100 player who earned it?


I love watching Gaël Monfils play and we are sad to see him lose. It occurs to me that I cannot recall hearing him say anything [memorable]. Is it me? Is it a language thing? What is he like to speak to?

Sarabeth

• In no way whatsoever is this a criticism. But Monfils’s flair and creativity, expressiveness and—in the best sense of the word—on-court outrageousness do not extend to the interview milieu. He’s professional and courteous but it’s much more of a chill vibe than Nicholas Kyrgios or even Alize Cornet. See for yourself

I once thought that perhaps something got lost in translation. But, no, the French journalists report similarly. Nice guy. Impossible not to like. But saves his outrageousness and flair for the court.


Jon, I've been wholly dissatisfied with how unseriously the ATP has taken the accusations of partner abuse against Alexander Zverev and his associated legal entanglements. Because of this, I personally am boycotting his matches. I don't know how much commentators have focused on this part of his story,  but I imagine Tennis Channel is doing a good job. I skipped the Break Point episodes that featured Zverev too. 

Barbara Katzenberg

Lexington, MA

• Tallon Griekspoor nearly made your life easier. This has not been the ATP’s finest moment—I don’t think many would argue otherwise. My moles on the inside defend the inaction by pointing to the rulebook, the fact that players are half the ATP, the absence of legal resolution and an inconclusive investigation. But our hands were tied is, apart from a regrettable metaphor, a weak response. Plenty of sports leagues—and workplaces—would not abide by this fact pattern. 

I would argue that Tennis Channel has been responsible here. You cannot do what Netflix’s Break Point did and simply ignore these allegations. You also cannot recite them every time Zverev tosses the ball to serve. At some level, this is the same for fans. Some have written him off entirely, as Barbara has. While I would submit it takes a lot of willful ignorance, other fans believe this is—altogether now—a witch hunt, and that opportunistic women are the problem here.

On that happy note … Enjoy the final few days!


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Jon Wertheim

JON WERTHEIM

Sports Illustrated executive editor and senior writer L. Jon Wertheim is one of the most accomplished sports journalists in America.