Amelie Mauresmo’s French Open stance on women’s tennis risks repressing era of progress

The French Open’s tournament director has blamed the women’s game for being uninteresting as reasoning behind scheduling

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The French Open 2022 has been filled with the usual fire, fury and force that attracts so many people to Grand Slam tournaments.

Young players on tour have bounced into action, upsetting the general order of the competition with some of the tournament’s biggest names finding themselves unceremoniously eliminated in the opening rounds.

However, the drama has not just been restrained to the court.

Former Wimbledon winner and French Open tournament director Amelie Mauresmo has faced a backlash after scheduling just one women’s match out of ten in the prized evening slot.

As she attempted to defend the scheduling decision, Mauresmo said: “In this we are in right now - as a woman, a former woman’s player, I don’t feel bad or unfair saying this - you have more attraction and appeal in general for men’s matches.”

What era would this be?

Would this be the era that has seen a huge resurgence in recent months of audience views for women’s sport in general?

Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez after their US Open final matchEmma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez after their US Open final match
Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez after their US Open final match

Would this be the era that saw Emma Raducanu and Leylah Fernandez’s US Open Final match see more viewers than the men’s Final between Daniel Medvedev and Novak Djokovic?

Raducanu’s US Open triumph was watched by 2.4 million viewers while the men’s final was watched by 2.1 million - a staggering feat considering both players were under the age of 19 and newcomers to the WTA tour.

Not only has this fact seemed to escape the Roland-Garros tournament director, but it has also escaped the former British number one Annabel Croft.

Croft, who reached the second round of Roland-Garros in 1986, defended her former colleague by saying: “Would you honestly replace Nadal against Djokovic with a women’s match? There is a natural demand, that is what it is. You can’t force it.”

While she might be admirable in hoping to help out a former WTA partner, Croft’s arguments offer several fundamental flaws that are not only flagrantly baffling, but remarkably unhelpful for any young girl hopeful of coming up through the ranks.

As former women tennis players, who were playing in the relatively early days of the Open era, one would have imagined they would wish to promote an equal showing between the men and women’s matches.

But Croft blatantly disagrees with this philosophy and does not seem particularly interested in helping to challenge and change it.

It is hardly a surprising fact that matches which take place at peak times gain a greater audience view than those which take place in the middle of the day.

It is also hardly a great shock to the world that if women’s matches aren’t put on at peak times, then they are not going to receive the same number of views as their male equivalents whose matches are put on at those prime times.

Croft has used the rather extreme example of Tuesday’s glitzy quarter-final match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal as a reason to not put on women’s matches.

It’s fairly obvious that no one is suggesting to replace a match between a 20 Grand Slam winner and record 21 Grand Slam winner with any other match.

However, there were eight other matches that could have been changed.

Not all of these matches contained two heavyweights of tennis and would have offered perfect opportunities to show the women’s tournament at peak times.

Additionally, it might have been a different story had 23 Grand Slam winner Serena Williams been playing.

Would Mauresmo have faced the same scheduling dilemma if she had the choice between Djokovic vs Nadal or Williams vs Williams? Or would we still be reading that a match between sisters who have a collective 30 Grand Slams between them is not as interesting because it is a women’s match?

Women’s sport has been enjoying a major upheaval in its TV scheduling and promotion, such as the Women’s Six Nations tournament having its own title sponsor, the Women’s El Clasico seeing a record attendance, and TV scheduling being worked around the Women’s Euros tournament due to take place this summer.

So why is tennis behind?

Young girls who are hoping to make it on Centre Court at Wimbledon, or the Philippe-Chartier court at the French Open do not want to read that their game will be less exciting than their male equivalents.

‘This era that we are in’ (as Mauresmo liked to phrase it) is actually attempting to run away from such archaic thought processes as Mauresmo and Croft’s, not conform to it or, even worse, play into such a mindset.

The women’s game may not be driving the same audience at this moment as the men’s game, but when women’s matches are openly not given the same scheduling opportunities as the men’s, is it any wonder that this is the case?

As we head into a summer chock-a-block full of men and women’s sport fixtures, all we can hope for is that Mauresmo’s attitude is not shared by the majority, and that these small-minded perspectives are soon wiped away in favour of open and equal opportunities.

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