Roger Federer got his ATP Finals campaign back on track with a 6-2, 6-3 drubbing of Dominic Thiem then refused to address claims made by former world No. 25 Julien Benneteau that the Swiss receives preferential treatment at the Australian and US Opens due to his business dealings with the organisations that run them.
Federer had lost his opening match to Kei Nishikori on Sunday, then skipped practice on Monday to clear his head – a tactic that paid off for the six-time champion.
“I will do the same again tomorrow because it worked. Important was not about my forehand or my backhand or my serve or anything. I guess it was my head. For that sometimes you need a break,” admitted Federer after his win over Thiem.
The world No. 3 dropped just six points on his serve throughout the clash and benefited from an error-strewn performance from Thiem, who committed 34 unforced errors in the 66-minute encounter. Federer’s win, along with Kevin Anderson’s 6-0, 6-1 thrashing of Nishikori earlier in the day means that all four players in Group Lleyton Hewitt can still qualify for the semi-finals.
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Federer was asked if he had any reaction to Benneteau’s claims that were made in an interview with French radio last week.
Benneteau told Radio Monte Carlo that there are “disturbing” conflicts of interest that have arisen from Federer’s relationship with Tennis Australia and the USTA, who both co-organise the Laver Cup with Team8, the company Federer co-founded with his long-time agent Tony Godsick.
“I don’t [have a reaction],” said Federer. “I know about the comments, yeah. But I don’t really feel the mood during a World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest. In all fairness, I hope you understand why, because this is a bit of a celebration for tennis. For me it’s the year-end finale. I love playing here.
“The radio interview that happened over a week ago that surfaces now in French, Julien, who is a nice guy, I know him since the junior times, I think all of this has been totally taken out of context. I don’t feel like I need to comment on this. I’d rather put it to rest rather than adding to it so you guys got something to write about. Thank you, guys.”
Benneteau pointed out that Federer played 12 of his 14 Australian Open matches in 2018 and 2017 in the prime time slot of 7:30pm on Rod Laver Arena, avoiding the brutal heat players face when they are scheduled earlier in the day.
“On the same day, Federer played Jan-Lennard Struff – I have nothing against Struff, great guy – Novak Djokovic played Gael Monfils. We’re agreed that on paper, any tournament director would put Djokovic-Monfils on night session at 7:30 p.m., right? But no. They played at 2:30 p.m., in 104 degrees. And Federer-Struff played at night,” added Benneteau, in quotes reported and translated from French by Tennis.Life.
On Tuesday, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley released a statement vehemently denying Benneteau’s favoritism claims.
“In terms of players and their appeal, it needs to be said that Roger Federer is a once-in-a-generation player widely regarded as one of the biggest ‘box office’ athletes in the world. He has been regularly voted Australia’s favourite athlete,” said Tiley.
“The fans demand his appearance in the big stadiums and our broadcasters naturally want his matches to air in prime time. And I don’t think there’s a tournament director in the world who’s not going to take those factors into account when setting the schedule. This is the case with all the big names in tennis, and in sport in general.”
Benneteau had said this of Tiley: “He’s the Australian Open tournament director. And the man is paid by Roger Federer’s agent for the Laver Cup.”
The Frenchman also claimed that Federer’s agent requested the Swiss not play any matches on the new Louis Armstrong stadium at the US Open this year. Federer played all four of his matches on centre court in New York.
“It’s normal that he gets preferential treatment, with everything he’s done. But in some tournaments, there are big differences in the conditions. He has no idea what that’s like,” explained Benneteau.
Federer was asked if his agent had indeed made such a request to the USTA regarding the Louis Armstrong stadium, or if Godsick normally makes scheduling requests at the Slams.
“I get asked, ‘Would you like to play Monday or Tuesday?’ sometimes. Sometimes I get asked, ‘Do you want to play day or night?’ Sometimes they go ask the agent. Sometimes they ask me, you know, Asia wants you to play at night,” said Federer.
“Yes, sometimes we have our say. But I asked to play Monday at the US Open. I played Tuesday night. It’s all good, you know. I’ve had that problem for 20 years in the good way. Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t. I think there you have it. Yeah, sometimes they come ask, sometimes they don’t. But a lot of the facts are not right, just to be clear there, from what I heard.”
Both Novak Djokovic and John Isner were asked about the topic at the ATP Finals in London on Monday, and the pair said Federer deserves to be given special treatment.
“In a way he deserves the special treatment because he’s six-time champion of Australian Open and arguably the best player ever. If he doesn’t have it, who is going to have it? People want to see him play on the centre court, and they want to see him play in showtime, the best hours, which is 7:30 at night in Rod Laver Arena,” said Djokovic.
“I understand Julien’s point because sometimes it does seem that maybe certain players get more favoured year after year in certain tournaments. You kind of have to follow the pattern to really understand whether there is a case or not.
“Again, on the other side, you have to understand that also Federer is a driving force of tennis in terms of revenue, in terms of attention, in terms of all these different things. Julien and guys like him are also benefitting from tennis, because of Roger, because of what he has done for the sport.”
Isner echoed Djokovic’s sentiments, adding: “The top players, they sell the most tickets therefore they should get the most. That’s what I think. So I don’t think there’s a favoritism system like that at all. I think those guys are the ones that by and large carry our sport in a big way and they deserve everything they’ve ever earned.
“So again, if anything, they may be should get more special treatment because those guys, the top players, have made other players below them a lot of money. It is like the Tiger Woods effect in golf. So that is how you can look at a guy like Roger. He is men’s tennis in my opinion. So, he deserves everything and more that he’s ever had,” said the American.
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