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Nights Prove a Tricky Ticket at French Open

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PARIS — Perhaps 10 years ago, over a late dinner at la Porte d’Auteuil after a protracted day of covering matches at Roland Garros, I remember agreeing with Philippe Bouin, the good French tennis author for L’Équipe, that if the French Open ever selected to affix other Grand Slam tournaments and stage night sessions, it might be the appropriate time to maneuver on to other pursuits as a substitute of filing stories long after midnight and missing any probability at a last-call bistro meal.

There are actually greater issues in tennis, but Bouin roughly kept his word, retiring long before the French Open adopted its “sessions de nuit” in 2021. But I’ve kept coming, and there I used to be bundled up in an almost full stadium as Tuesday become Wednesday and May into June as Rafael Nadal finished off Novak Djokovic of their stirring quarterfinal at 1:15 a.m.

There I used to be, too, walking out of Roland Garros a few hours later and — with no public transport available — observing just a few French fans still trying in vain to hail a taxi or book a ride.

Night sessions have their upside in tennis, little question: electric atmosphere, prime-time coverage (depending on one’s time zone) and a probability for fans who work in the course of the day to attend in person.

But the brand new night sessions at Roland Garros, created above all to extend profits for an event that trails the opposite the Grand Slam events in domestic television revenue, even have had loads of downsides. That is essentially since the French decided to do them their very own way by scheduling only one match in that slot as a substitute of two, the standard offering at other Grand Slam events.

Guy Forget, the previous French Open tournament director who was a part of that call, said it was made “so matches wouldn’t end at 3 a.m.”

Wimbledon stays a holdout on night sessions (grass gets much more slippery after sunset). However the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, which have had night sessions for many years, often schedule a men’s singles match and a women’s singles match, and there have been just a few all-nighters along the best way, including a Lleyton Hewitt victory over Marcos Baghdatis on the 2008 Australian Open that ended at 4:34 a.m. (It was quite a sunrise on the best way back to the hotel.)

The French Open approach has been problematic by way of value for money — is one blowout in the chilliness, like Marin Cilic’s rout of Daniil Medvedev — price well over 100 euros a ticket?

It also has been problematic for gender equality. The ten Roland Garros night sessions this 12 months featured only one women’s match: the Frenchwoman Alizé Cornet’s victory over Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia. It was the identical ratio last 12 months, when the tournament debuted the night sessions, with no fans on nine of 10 nights due to coronavirus pandemic.

The disparity has continued regardless that Amélie Mauresmo, a former WTA No. 1 from France, is the brand new French Open tournament director. Pressed on the problem on Wednesday, the morning after the Nadal-Djokovic duel, Mauresmo displayed clumsy footwork, saying that, as a lady and a “former women’s player,” she did “not feel bad or unfair saying that immediately” the lads’s game was generally more attractive and appealing than the ladies’s game.

Mauresmo said her goal after the draw got here out was to try to search out women’s matches that she could put in that showcase nighttime slot. But she said she struggled to search out the marquee matchups and star power she was searching for. Women’s matches are also typically shorter with a best-of-three-sets format, compared with better of five for the lads.

“I admit it was tough,” she said. “It was tough for a couple of night to search out, as you say, the match of the day,” she said, sounding somewhat apologetic.

Iga Swiatek, the 21-year-old Polish star, didn’t get a nighttime project despite being the brand new No. 1 and a former French Open champion.

“It’s just a little bit disappointing and surprising,” Swiatek said of Mauresmo’s comments after running her winning streak to 33 singles matches on Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Jessica Pegula, an American. She added that it was more convenient for many players to compete in the course of the day, “but obviously I would like to entertain, and I also want to point out my best tennis in every match.”

In a text message, Steve Simon, the WTA chief, expressed disapproval with the nighttime scheduling and with the undeniable fact that women’s matches were often picked to be the opening match on the 2 important show courts in the course of the day sessions: a time slot by which crowds and viewership are sometimes smaller.

“The generation and depth of talent we’re currently witnessing in the game is incredible,” he said. “Our fans wish to see the joy and thrill of girls’s tennis on the most important stages and within the premium time slots. There’s actually room for improvement, and if we wish to construct the worth of our combined product, then a balanced match schedule is critical in providing that pathway.”

The WTA was short on superstar power at Roland Garros with the surprise 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 yet to compete this 12 months.

However the one-match nighttime format also made it difficult to showcase Swiatek, who’s winning most of her matches in a rush at this stage. “The quantity of playing time is actually an element,” Mauresmo said in a text message.

Why not simply schedule two matches, or two women’s matches, at night to ensure enough entertainment? Because, in response to Mauresmo, the night-session broadcast contracts from 2021 through 2023 stipulate that there be only one match.

“Not possible to alter that,” Mauresmo said. “But we still will talk with our partners to consider other possibilities that might satisfy ticket holders.”

That seems like a positive idea, as does starting sooner than 8:45 p.m., even with a single match, if the concept is to spare players too many late nights and avoid irking the neighbors within the leafy and peaceful suburb of Boulogne, which was another excuse for the one-match concept.

The larger issue in France is accessibility. Amazon Prime Video, the web broadcaster that purchased the night-session rights here, has a small footprint compared with the standard public broadcaster. And yet it’s alleged to get the marquee match even when the contract, in response to L’Équipe, allows the French Open organizers the ultimate say.

But there was little question concerning the marquee match on Tuesday, and though Amazon Prime agreed exceptionally to permit free access to its service to viewers in France, the choice to schedule Nadal and Djokovic’s quarterfinal at night sparked debate and anger.

“The French Tennis Federation’s decisions shocks me profoundly,” Delphine Ernotte, president of France Televisions, told Le Figaro. “It’s a low blow to our partnership after we’ve got broadcast and popularized the event for years.”

To have the matchup of the tournament end at 1:15 a.m. on a weeknight surely was not great for viewership in France, either. And though the atmosphere was still transcendent contained in the important stadium after midnight, there was a price to pay on the road home.

French Open organizers have yet to succeed in an agreement with the Parisian authorities to maintain public transport operating after very late finishes.

The Métro was closed, and so — as Bouin and I feared way back — were the bistros.

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