Amelie Mauresmo, the former world No.1 in her first year as the French Open’s first female tournament director, says nine of this year’s 10 night sessions at Roland Garros have involved men’s matches because women’s tennis currently has less “appeal”.
The former French star said she tried on a daily basis to find a women’s pairing with the star power or a match-up worthy of being highlighted in the separate night session on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“I admit it was tough,” said 42-year-old former Australian Open winner.
Watch the latest sport on Channel 7 or stream for free on 7plus >>
The last of the 10 night sessions was scheduled for Wednesday, and the only women’s match that got the prime-time treatment – part of a deal with a streaming service – was France’s Alize Cornet’s victory over Jelena Ostapenko in the second round.
Mauresmo said having just one match in each night session made it “more difficult to have” that be only a women’s match.
“In this era that we are in right now, I don’t feel – and as a woman, former women’s player, I don’t feel bad or unfair saying that, right now – you have more … appeal,” Mauresmo said.
“That’s the general (reasons) for the men’s matches.”
She added: “My goal was, when I was doing the schedule every day, to try and see, from the first round, when the draw came out … ‘what match in the woman’s draw can I put there?’ Honestly.”
The French Open is the first grand slam to be played since former world No.1 Ash Barty’s retirement, with that shock decision removing a layer of certainty for tournament organisers in Paris and at Wimbledon.
But the Australian’s replacement at the top, reigning Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek, said Mauresmo was off the mark.
“It is a little bit disappointing and surprising because she was also in the WTA,” the Pole said.
“I want to entertain and I also want to show my best tennis on every match.
“So for me I’m always focused the same way when I’m going out, it doesn’t matter if it’s day session or night sessions. But yeah, it is a little bit disappointing.”
Swiatek accepts people may like men’s tennis or women’s tennis more, regardless of their gender, but pushed back on Mauresmo’s argument that the women’s draw was uninviting.
The women’s tour has long thrived on surprise results, providing a significant contrast to men’s tennis being dominated by the special few.
Swiatek herself had not reached a grand slam quarter-final before winning the 2020 French Open as a 19-year-old ranked outside the top 50, defeating the 2019 runner-up Marketa Vondrousova in the first round and knocking out top seed and title favourite Simona Halep in the fourth round.
“I think women’s tennis has a lot of advantages,” Swiatek said.
“And some may say that it’s unpredictable and girls are not consistent.
“But on the other hand it may also be something that is really appealing and it may really attract more people.”
The WTA said there is “room for improvement” in the French Open’s decision-making.
“The generation and depth of talent we are currently witnessing in the sport is incredible,” the tour said in a statement.
“Our fans want to see the excitement and thrill of women’s tennis on the biggest stages and in the premium time slots.
“If we want to build the value of our combined product, then a balanced match schedule is critical in providing that pathway.”
Mauresmo’s session with reporters was held the morning after 13-time French Open champion Rafael Nadal’s epic quarter-final victory over defending champion Novak Djokovic in Tuesday’s night session.
The match lasted four hours and 12 minutes and finished after 1am on Wednesday, leaving some of the 15,000 or so spectators unable to use public transportation to get home.
“That’s actually a key issue that needs to be settled, and that will be one of our priorities in the future,” Mauresmo said.
“We haven’t planned anything yet, but obviously we need to organise ourselves differently with the Department of Transport of Paris with bus systems, with the underground system.
“If we continue with these night sessions in this direction, people need to leave the stadium late enough and make sure that they have a way to come back home, as they should.”