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January 22, 2023

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PARIS — For 30 weeks in 2006, Frenchwoman Amélie Mauresmo was world No. 1, champion of the Australian Open and Wimbledon that year.

But in her first year as tournament director at Roland Garros, Mauresmo did not prove to be the champion of women’s tennis that many expected.

At a Wednesday morning press conference at Roland Garros, Mauresmo, 42, defended her decision to schedule only one women’s game (compared to nine for the men) for the night sessions, saying she currently finds women’s tennis less attractive and less appealing than men’s.

“In this era that we’re in right now, I don’t feel – and as a woman, a former women’s player, I don’t feel wrong or unfair to say that right now you have more attraction , more attractiveness – Can you say that? Call? – for men’s matches,” Mauresmo said when asked about the gender imbalance in the nightly featured match schedule.

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Top-ranked Iga Swiatek called Mauresmo’s comments “a bit disappointing”.

Swiatek, a 21-year-old who extended her winning streak to 33 games with a 6-3, 6-2 win over American Jessica Pegula to clinch a spot in the semifinals, said she believes whether men’s tennis was more interesting is a matter of opinion.

“I think women’s tennis has a lot of advantages,” she said. “Some might say [that] it’s unpredictable and the girls aren’t consistent. But on the other hand, it can also be something that… can really attract more people. … Of course I want to entertain, and I also want to show my best tennis in every game. But yes, [Mauresmo’s remarks were] a bit disappointing. »

Pegula, 28, who will enter the top 10 in the standings after his career-best result at Roland Garros, also called Mauresmo’s comment “disappointing”.

“It’s not something you want to hear,” the No.11 seed said. is also a good product.”

Pegula, who is in the women’s doubles semi-finals with Coco Gauff, said she thought the depth of women’s tennis was an asset, as well as the personality of the players she felt fans would appreciate if given the lucky to know them.

“I feel like so many people like to watch women’s tennis because, you know, we don’t have huge serves. We’re not great,” Pegula said. a lot of super, super fast points. There’s more rallies. There’s more drama.

This is the first year that Roland-Garros has held night sessions – 10 in all – and requires fans to purchase a separate ticket to attend. Only one match is played during the night session – the so-called “Match of the Day”, which takes place on the 15,000-seat Philippe-Chatrier court and does not start until 8:45 p.m.

Dissatisfaction with the lineup among players and fans was evident during the first week of the tournament. It came to a head after Tuesday’s men’s quarter-final between Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, which only started at 9 p.m. and ended at 1:15 a.m. Afterwards, Nadal and Djokovic said they felt that 9 p.m. was too late to start a best-of. -Match in five sets.

Mauresmo’s programming has also raised issues of gender bias. She chose nine men’s matches and one women’s match as her featured match night, making most of the women’s matches the “undercard” of the men’s main event.

Pam Shriver, 22-time Grand Slam doubles champion, said she understands the role of the tournament director is to ensure the financial health of the event, and that she can see an argument for favoring matches over best of five sets during night sessions if only one match was offered.

“But a women’s match against nine men? she asked. “It’s ridiculous.”

Shriver questioned why none of Swiatek’s matches were picked for a night session, given his ranking and winning streak, which has only been eclipsed this century by Venus Williams’ 35-game winning streak (2000 ) and Serena Williams’ 34 (2013). What troubled Shriver the most was the justification given by Mauresmo.

“Why did she have to insult women’s tennis?” Shriver asked. “It really hurts to have a former player, who is now a tournament director, who made history as the female coach of a top male player. [Andy Murray], really hated women’s tennis the way she did. … This is a big two-time winner, someone who’s in the Hall of Fame, crossing a line that’s not acceptable. It was not necessary. …His words today were inexcusable for a leader.

Mauresmo’s comments came during a press conference where she was asked about her scheduling decisions. She explained that when planning the daily schedule for the 15-day event, she looked for women’s matches that she felt had star power and appeal to ticket buyers and broadcasters.

“I admit it was difficult,” Mauresmo said.

The only women’s match chosen by Mauresmo for the night session was a second-round clash between French veteran Alizé Cornet and 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia.

“It was difficult for more than one night to find, as you say, the match of the day,” Mauresmo said. “When you have that – it’s interesting because, like I said, the fact that it’s currently a one-game night session is tough about it. It’s tough.”

Mauresmo’s professional career, which spanned from 1993 to 2009, overlapped with that of many of women’s most marketable soccer stars, including sisters Williams and Maria Sharapova. After her retirement, she expanded the role of women in tennis as the coach of former world No. 1 Murray. In December, she was appointed director of the French Open by the French Tennis Federation. She is the second woman to take the reins of one of the sport’s Grand Slams; the US Open has named Stacey Allaster its first female tournament director of 2020.

Women’s tennis has seen an exodus of top talent over the past 12 months. Serena Williams, 23-time Grand Slam champion, has not competed since her first-round defeat at Wimbledon last year. Now 40, she has yet to announce her intention to return.

In March, three-time Grand Slam champion Ashleigh Barty shocked the sport with her abrupt retirement at 25 despite being the highest-ranked player in the world. His decision came just months after winning the Australian Open.

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