The French Opens decision to move to September has forced the various governing bodies to unite for a coordinated response and has reaffirmed the need for closer cooperation
For the past three weeks of isolation, Stan Wawrinka and Benot Paire have spent much of their idle time talking on Instagram. They invariably log in with a glass in hand, giggling and trading stories as they drink together and entertain their followers. Wawrinka of Switzerland is much more famous and the superior tennis player, but in this setting Paire, a bearded six feet five inches of sheer eccentricity, is the focal point. During their latest conversation, a fan asked whether they had ever had sex within an hour of a match. As an amused Wawrinka sipped and revealed nothing, Paire shrugged and said: Yes. It never bothered me.
In some ways, Paire, a Frenchman currently ranked 22nd, is a reflection of the disruptive, entertaining role that France plays in tennis. As with most male French tennis players, his game is a volatile marriage of flamboyance and self-destruction. Paire is as likely to scythe an opponent to pieces with a million perfect drop shots as he is to be booed off the court at home by his own supporters after another trademark meltdown. Between Paire, Gal Monfils, Richard Gasquet and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, French players are agents of chaos on the court.
Away from the courts, the Fdration Franaise de Tennis acts as a courier of commotion in its own way. When Maria Sharapova returned in 2017 amid deafening arguments about whether she should be granted wildcards after her doping ban, the FFT president Bernard Giudicelli decided to reveal the French Open wildcards, and her rejection, via a Facebook live broadcast. In 2018, Giudicelli was found guilty of defamation towards a former French player. After consequently being deemed ineligible from the ITF board for four years, he took the ITF to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Last month, in the middle of a quiet Tuesday afternoon, the FFT set fire to the tennis world by announcing that it was unilaterally uprooting the French Open from May to September, two weeks after the US Open. The ATP and WTA were blindsided, players were in shock and other tournaments were threatened. As things stand, the French Open sits on the same dates as nine ATP and WTA events.
The consequences of chaos have been fascinating. After the cancellation of Indian Wells on 9 March, initially, the tours could not even agree on a sufficient provisional period of suspension; the ATP erased six weeks of tournaments shortly after Indian Wells, the ITF settled on five weeks and the WTA slowly culled its calendar week by week. The disjointed reactions of the governing bodies further reflected a broken system.