March 17, 2020

See You In September?

So I hear Paris is lovely in the fall...

As you well know by now, in the latest curve ball thrown at the tennis world, organizers of the French Open made the surprise announcement this afternoon that they'd postpone the 2020 event until the end of September, with the champions now crowned on October 3rd and 4th.

The decision did not go over well.

Chief among the complaints is that the decision seems to have been made unilaterally -- a point the U.S. Open seemed to latch onto in announcing it (so far) still expects to go on as planned just a few weeks now before the French. Players, leagues, and officials of other tournaments were apparently given little if any notice the shift was coming.

Of course, we shouldn't necessarily be surprised that Roland Garros was moved -- it's been just over a week since Indian Wells was called off and less than that since the ATP suspended all events for a month and a half. That took a lot of clay court tune-up events off the calendar and didn't put anyone back in action until the BMW Open in Munich at the end of April. And that was in the best case scenario -- with mandatory shutdowns spreading across the globe, and impacting a much broader range of businesses and events, there was no assurance that we'd have kicked the coronavirus in any significant way within that time frame.

Still, plopping the French at the tail end of the tennis season brings up a lot of questions.

For one thing, there's the surface -- the French Open clay, as we know, is way different from the hardcourts of New York, and players would certainly prefer more than one week's time to get acclimated to it before such a high stakes event. Of course, you might argue, the turnaround between Roland Garros and Wimbledon is also short, but for one thing, we did manage to squeeze in an extra week on grass in recent years to help the transition, and for another, according to the current schedule, there's no clay court tourney scheduled that week between Paris and the U.S. to get ready. Not exactly a huge opportunity to train back up.

Speaking of that current schedule, moving the French is kind of a slap in the face to the events that had already been scheduled in that window. Now many of the women's events at the time are in China -- ironically, and I wonder if it factored into Roland Garros' decision, one is in Wuhan -- and might be cancelled anyway, but the men's Laver Cup is a big one, already drawing a commitment from Roger Federer. Would he pull out in favor of a Major? Would he skip the Slam that he's probably not going to win anyway, especially as he's recovering from injury?

And what about the guy who does usually win in Paris? Rafael Nadal was a big part of Laver Cup last year -- if he skips, does it deal a blow to that event's prestige? What'll it mean for him as he gets ready to defend not just that title, but the U.S. Open as well?

But it's not just the very top players who are affected -- for those lower-ranked players who've been effectively furloughed without a paycheck during this suspension, this shift throws their schedules even further up in the air. How do they manage qualifying events? Do they skip smaller tournaments they'd planned around for a slim chance at picking up Slam ranking points? If the whole coronavirus crisis doesn't get resolved soon, how do they manage their careers?

There are several other options that might have been taken, though I'm not sure which one is best -- they might have allowed more time between the U.S. and French, we might have considered a different location or surface, it could have been cancelled altogether. Who knows, maybe the course Roland Garros took was the least of all evils, but at the very least those with the most at stake should have been consulted. And hopefully the next time they will be.

Anyway, here's a smattering of other reactions to the Roland Garros move from across the Twitterverse.

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