Someone edited the Roland Garros Wikipedia page on Sunday [9th June] afternoon. It read, “The French Open, officially Roland Garros, is a major tennis tournament held over two weeks at the Stade Roland Garros in Paris, France, beginning in late May and ending after Rafael Nadal kisses the trophy.” Most of that description is factually correct. And amazingly, the last part has been the case for 12 of the last 14 years. Rafael Nadal won the French Open again on Sunday. It’s the most titles a player has ever won at a single major tournament. Roger Federer’s eight Wimbledon titles is the next closest.
The men’s singles was predictable on a historical level. Semifinal Friday was comprised of all the top four seeds for the first time at any event since the 2012 Australian Open. Federer had a successful run to the semifinal in his first French Open since 2015. Nadal, who Federer has never beaten at Roland Garros, ended the Swiss’ run in three sets. In the other semifinal, Dominic Thiem beat Novak Djokovic in a long 5-setter that stretched out over two days. The win secured Thiem’s second consecutive French Open final. Unlike last year, the Austrian managed to take a set off the eventual champion Nadal.
On the women’s side, Australian Ashleigh Barty won her first career major title. Barty stands out among her competition with her frequent use of net play, and her unique background as a former cricketer. Her performance in the final was emphatic, taking just over an hour en route to a dominating straight set victory over teenager Marketa Vondrousova. Vondrousova had defeated 28 year-old Briton Johanna Konta in the match prior. It was Konta’s third career major semifinal, but she has yet to advance to a final. All four semifinalists on the women’s side were vying for their first slam. .
Excitement on the court wasn’t enough to drown out controversy at Roland Garros 2019. Poor attendance on newly renovated centre court Philippe Chatrier was a storyline throughout. On Sunday, Reuters reported that tournament organisers asked employees to discreetly fill empty corporate seats, in attempt to improve optics.
Scheduling came into question frequently during the final weekend. Rainy conditions forced the women’s semifinals to be played on the same day as the men’s semifinals. The women’s matches were relegated to outer stadium courts and the men stayed on centre as originally scheduled. Two-time grand slam champion Amélie Mauresmo called the decision ‘disgraceful.’ Women’s Tennis Association President Steve Simon classified the scheduling as ‘unfair and inappropriate.’
French Open Director Guy Forget was called into question once again later that day when the match between Thiem and Djokovic was suspended due to high winds even though there is no rule that explicitly clarifies how much wind warrants stopping play. With that match pushed to Saturday, Thiem lost the customary day of rest ideal before a final. The women’s final was pushed later in the day to the dismay of Australian fans staying up past midnight to support Barty.
The timing for such controversies are slightly ironic. 2019 is the last year there will be no retractable roof over Phillipe Chatrier. Lights for night tennis will be another welcome addition to future French Opens. The old version of Roland Garros did not leave quietly. Now they can raise a glass of French wine to a better future.