A new executive takes over, and things get complicated quickly

Paris – French tennis federation president Gilles Moreton removed his mask and leaned into conversation at a giant table at Roland Garros Tuesday morning.

Three months in, Moreton’s tenure isn’t quite off to the start of the flight. The French Open, run by his organization, has been blessed with sunshine for most of its first 10 days, but not much.

Pandemic restrictions have reduced the number of spectators allowed on the field and cut revenue deeply, such that the federation had to start paying off the hundreds of millions of euros it borrowed for a recent renovation at Roland Garros. For the first time in history a French singles player failed to advance past the second round. The biggest story of the first 10 days of the tournament are the matches not played, some of them excellent, but never starting.

there was Naomi Osaka’s second round comebackThe brightest rising star in the women’s game, after disagreements with Moreton and other Grand Slam tournament leaders over media duties. Roger Federer, at 39, still the biggest draw in the men’s game, left after three rounds To preserve his energy for his right knee and Wimbledon after the operation.

But Moreton, who was once close enough to face Bjorn Borg at the French Open (with a loss), did not lament his time during an interview at the Presidential Box with a grand view of the main stadium, Philippe Chatrier Court, though was empty.

“I have come at a time when the situation is very difficult due to the pandemic and the consequences of French tennis,” he said. “But at the same time I see this as an extraordinary opportunity. Because we have a saying that when you’re at the bottom of the pool, you’re bound to go back to the surface.”

Moreton defended second-seeded Osaka’s handling of his refusal to attend news conferences and other mandatory media duties, an announcement he made via social media ahead of the French Open that surprised Grand Slam officials .

Osaka’s initial announcement mentioned the need to maintain her mental health, without giving specifics. According to several tennis officials, Osaka did not respond to multiple requests for further clarification of the situation. He was fined $15,000 for not attending a news conference after the match in Paris. Moreton and the leaders of three other Grand Slam tournaments – Wimbledon and the Australian and United States Open – then issued a stern statement warning of increased penalties, including possible expulsion from the tournament if she continues to stay away.

“I think we did very well,” Moreton said, adding that officials had hoped to avoid expelling Osaka. “The goal was not to punish him. It was to say it plainly: Here’s the rule.

Osaka withdrew the following day via social media, where she revealed that she had suffered from prolonged depression since winning the US Open in 2018.

René Stubbs, a former player who is a coach and an ESPN analyst, said the French federation had “handled it very badly.” She and other former players said officials should have shown more sensitivity and avoided publicly threatening to punish Osaka.

“I think we will continue to fine him,” Moreton said. “I don’t think we would have gone on a strict sanction, because we understood the situation. But that’s the rule. It’s a rule to be fair to all players.”

Osaka has since announced that she will take an indefinite break from the tour.

Moreton, 63, said he was concerned about the mental health of the players. “The problem he raised is a real problem, a real topic of discussion,” he said.

But he said he was also concerned about maintaining equal treatment among players and the ability of the news media to cover the game.

“Maybe we’ll change the rules, and then everyone gets in the press only when they want to,” Moreton said. “You’ll see that many people won’t come.”

“Everyone will be their own journalist,” he said, “speak when they want to, say what they want to say, answer only the questions they want to answer. And I think that’s a serious problem. So yes, certainly for measures that will provide support and support to the athletes, but let’s keep the freedom of the press to ask a question that is uncomfortable and which is in the public interest, which provides a living for the athletes. and personality.”

As for Federer’s return, Moreton said he had “too much respect for Roger” for questioning his decision. Federer was not fined for the return. French Open tournament director Guy Forget told French news organization L’Equipe that Federer had cited his knee as the official medical reason for his return.

“Everyone wants to see him play for as long as possible,” Moreton said. “We know he’ll be 40 soon. It’s going to be difficult. We can see it, and he knows it himself, and he needs to protect himself.”

Moreton intends to build stronger ties with other Grand Slam tournaments and create greater unity that will give tennis leaders a stronger collective voice. The strong statement on Osaka was probably the result of that enthusiasm.

The French federation, under the previous president, Bernard Giudicelli, spread wings within the sport last year by moving the start of the French Open from May to September without approval from other tennis entities. The tournament was also moved back a week this year, but Moreton insisted this was done in consultation with other tennis leaders.

The one-week postponement this year was done to allow for more fans during the tournament’s second week, when the French government was set to soften restrictions. Spectators allowed on the field on Wednesday and Thursday will more than double from 5,300 to 13,000, and Moreton said there will be 5,000 spectators at Chattier for both singles finals.

Last night’s session without fans was on Tuesday, when fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas defeated second seed Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6(3), 7-5 in the quarterfinals.

“Our match was the match of the day, and Roland Garros preferred Amazon,” Medvedev said, referring to Amazon Prime Video.

Revenue is still low at an event that typically attracts 38,000 spectators per day. In 2019, the tournament earned 260 million euros or about $316 million. In 2020, it generated around €130 million, and Moreton said the number would be the same this year.

“We are going to get a tough competition,” he said.

Government relief and loans and the federation’s substantial reserves have helped soften the blow and, most important for Moreton, preserve financial support for tennis clubs and leagues in France.

Moreton retired from the sporting event management business and made two long trips to Nepal before being persuaded by friends to run for the federation’s presidency.

Although he is from Lyon, he also considers Roland Garros home. At the age of 12, he slept in a tent on the grounds while playing in a national junior tournament. He later stayed on the site for a year, sharing a small house with other aspiring French professionals, including Yannick Noah.

Noah won the 1983 French Open and is the last French player to do so. Moreton will now try to help develop Noah’s successor and work to make his remaining four-year term easier from the start.

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