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French Open Organizers Slammed for Sexist Scheduling by Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka

French Open Organizers Slammed for Sexist Scheduling by
Former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka 1

Two-time Grand Slam tournament winner Victoria Azarenka has lambasted French Open organizers on Sunday for a perceived lack of gender equality in the scheduling of this year’s tournament.

Like the other three Grand Slam tournaments—the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open—the prize money at the French Open has been equal for men and women since 2007. However, the former World No. 1 suggested gender equality was far harder to come by when it came to scheduling.

For the first time in the tournament’s history, Roland-Garros has introduced daily night sessions.

Last week, Serena Williams and Romania’s Irina-Camelia Begu made history by becoming the first pair to play a night game at the French Open. On Monday, defending champion Iga Świątek of Poland will headline the evening session, when she takes on Ukraine’s Marta Kostyuk for their fourth-round match.

The night sessions have been played in front of empty stands due to the 9 p.m. curfew still in place across France because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Asked whether playing behind closed doors could be an issue for players, Victoria Azarenka of Belarus indicated the issue had never arisen as organizers selected matches from the men’s draw to headline the evening sessions for the past six days.

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“I will answer that whenever I will be asked if I would like to play a night session or not,” she told reporters.

“Honestly, that would be already a step forward.”

The planned easing of the COVID-19 restrictions on June 9 means the men’s quarterfinal will be the first of 10 evening sessions to feature fans, with approximately 5,000 spectators allowed on Court Philippe-Chatrier—the tournament’s center court.

Speaking to Agence France-Presse over the weekend, French Open director Guy Forget acknowledged the curfew made playing in the evening sessions far from ideal.

“I know it’s going to strongly displease you, but know that contractually the prize money we’re paying you comes in part from the deal we’ve negotiated,” he told the players.

“So you will all play at least one night session in front of empty stands.”

Citing the example of the 2019 tournament, however, Azarenka added the disparity between men and women was not an issue limited to the current edition of the French Open.

Two years ago the men’s semifinals and women’s semifinals were played on the same day, but organizers reserved Court Philippe-Chatrier for the men’s tournament. The two women’s semifinals, meanwhile, were played on outside courts.

“I think there is enough examples over the years where we’ve heard remarks towards women, where we’ve seen two women’s semifinal matches playing on the outside courts,” she added.

“I think sometimes you need to hold some people accountable for some of those things and not continuously point to the obvious of prize money.”

The two-time Australian Open winner also criticized the French Tennis Federation, which is in charge of organizing Roland-Garros, for paying lip-service to gender equality.

“What concerns me is when somebody from the French federation is continuously trying to say that there’s equality and only pointing to prize money, which is true,” she explained.

“Everything else, I wouldn’t even agree for a little with that, and that is disappointing.”

The No. 15 seed at this year’s tournament, Azarenka lost 7-5, 3-6, 2-6 to No. 31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia in the fourth round on Sunday.

The former world No. 1 has failed to reach the quarterfinals of the French Open since 2013.

Victoria Azarenka of Belarus in action against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia on Court Philippe-Chatrier during the fourth round of the singles competition at the 2021 French Open tennis tournament at Roland-Garros on June 6 in Paris, France.
Tim Clayton/Corbis/Getty Images

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