With all the emphasis on money in sport and allegations made against the tournament organisers this week about them forcing players to compete in the rain to avoid paying refunds to ticket holders, World No1 Novak Djokovic reminded us of what tennis is supposed to be about.
The Serbian icon became the first player to surpass $100 million in prize money, thanks to his fourth round win on Wednesday, but spoke his mind when he was asked what that milestone means to him.
“Nothing. Money does not mean a thing to me. I do not look upon tennis as a profession and as my life through the eyes of money. It is a mean that increases the quality of my life and lifestyle, but no more than that,” Djokovic told Serbian media outlet B92.
“I don’t like it when prize money discussions take over. Media are putting me in a very unpleasant position when they want me to talk about the amounts that I’ve won during my career.
“Success is being presented and explained through money and power and that shouldn’t be the unit of measure. I am 100 per cent against it and I have completely different views and values…
“Money comes as a consequence, a positive one, of course, of dedication, love, passion for the sport and a consequence of your success. Can you imagine me speaking about money right now, while the average salary in Serbia is 200-300€? What would that be like?
“Sports have lost its initial purpose, now it’s a business, a machine for making money, which is pitiful.”
A pleasant reminder from Djokovic, whom I will no longer refer to as tennis’ $100million man.
Timea the train?
Meanwhile, Timea Bacsinszky took her press conference chatting skills to a whole other level as she discussed everything from trains to ladybugs.
“Kiki Bertens from The Netherlands is moving like a fast train here at Roland Garros. Are you afraid?” a reporter asked her.
To which Bacsinszky responded with a smile: “Switzerland is quite famous for trains, too, you know?”
She was told by another reporter that she is an inspirational figure, just like the opponent she beat, Venus Williams, but Bacsinszky gave a story to refute that theory.
“Yesterday I was at Jean Bouin at the practice facilities for the French Open,” said the Swiss.
“Yesterday they uncovered two courts for (Andy) Murray and for myself. Well, my hitting partner told me that some juniors were complaining because they were saying ‘oh? Who is Bacsinszky? Why does she need a court?’ So I don’t know if I’m such a big inspiration then.
“I don’t know. I remember when I was myself a junior, believe me. I remember seeing Elena Likhovtseva. She was probably top 20 and she was playing in the second week. I saw her and like she was not my idol, but still, I was shaking in front of her. I was like ‘ahh’ she’s in the same locker room as I am.
“But I think maybe now I don’t know if juniors are feeling differently. I have no idea. But I got to talk during the juniors with Monica Seles in Hungary and it was like probably one of the best days of my life. I will remember that forever.”
She was then asked to choose which train would best “express her as a person” and she happily responded, before the conversation then swerved to ladybugs, as a reporter quizzed her on a bug she removed off the court unharmed in one of her earlier matches this tournament.
“It was a ladybug. It’s a lucky charm. I cannot step on it,” she explained.
“Also on the social media, one of my first practices on clay I took a picture and I posted it on Instagram. My first practice on clay – or second one, outdoor clay, there was a ladybug. Landed just on a tennis ball just in front of me.”
Once again, someone give this girl a radio show to host, stat!
On the surface, two-time grand slam champions Murray and Wawrinka, who face off in the Roland Garros semi-finals on Friday, may seem to have had comparable careers.
Murray is the world No2, Wawrinka is No4. They have won the same number of majors, are only two years apart in age, and have featured in the latter stages at the slams quite frequently in recent seasons.
They’ve both stormed into the last four in Paris playing some impressive tennis and with Murray owning a slender 8-7 head-to-head edge over Wawrinka, who has won their last three meetings, it’s a semi-final that is almost impossible to predict.
“I believe I can win the event. Whether I do or not, we’ll have to wait and see,” said a confident Murray on Wednesday after defeating ninth-seeded Richard Gasquet 5-7, 7-6(3), 6-0, 6-2 to reach a third successive French Open semi-final.
“But I believe it’s possible and only a couple of matches away now. Yeah, just give everything I’ve got the next few days.”
Wawrinka is also feeling great, following a convincing 6-2, 6-1, 7-6(7) over unseeded Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas but he keeps things in perspective when he is asked to compare his career to that of Murray.
“I think he is well ahead of me. Now that I’ve won a second grand slam people say I’m closer to him because I have won two and he’s won two as well. But if you were to compare our two careers he’s well ahead of me given all the titles, the finals, No2 in the world, and he has so many Masters 1000, as well,” explains Wawrinka, who is on a nine-match winning streaking, having captured the title in Geneva last week.
“Therefore, as I kept on repeating, you know, he’s in the Big Four. You know, there is a reason for this. Maybe he has fewer titles, fewer titles than the other Big Three, but he’s always been with them during the semis, the finals. His career is very, very impressive.”
Murray did well against Gasquet but the match was not without its bumps. The Scot was up 5-2 in the opening set before losing the next five games to give Gasquet an early lead.
Attempting to serve out the second set at 5-3, Murray again was broken but held his nerve in the tiebreak to draw level.
Things got less complicated after that as he completed his knockout of the local favourite.
“I think I played some really good stuff today. I do think I played well. Obviously the match could have been maybe more comfortable had I done a bit better serving out the first two sets. But, you know, aside from that, I was playing some good stuff. I finished the match extremely well, I think,” said Murray, who is also on a nine-match winning streak, thanks to his win in Rome earlier this month.
The man Murray beat in that Rome final, Novak Djokovic, completed a rain-interrupted fourth round victory over Spanish No14 seed Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 7-5 on Wednesday, in a match suspended due to rain from the day before.
The win took Djokovic into a 28th straight grand slam quarter-final which means he now takes sole occupancy of second place ahead of Jimmy Connors for the most consecutive last-eight appearances at the majors.
Djokovic will have no time to rest as he has to contest his quarter-final on Thursday, against seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych, who beat No11 seed David Ferrer 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 in two hours and 12 minutes.
With the top half of the draw particularly disrupted by the rain, Djokovic might have to play again on Thursday should he get past Berdych.
The world No1 is a remarkable 23-2 against Berdych, who has lost his last 10 straight matches to Djokovic.
Asked if the heavier, wet conditions might help him overcome Djokovic today, Berdych said: “It’s really tough to say, especially with him. But I think he can also deal with these conditions quite well, so let’s see if it’s going to play to be advantage or disadvantage, which I don’t know right now.
“Really I have nothing to lose. I’m playing well and I’m just going to try to stick with that. I’m going to try to use my tennis as much as I can on the court and really just try to be the one who is dictating the ball.”
Also in action on Thursday is No13 seed Dominic Thiem, who needed two days to beat Spaniard Marcel Granollers 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-1, 6-4, to reach his first career grand slam quarter-final.
The 22-year-old faces No12 seed David Goffin, who took out Ernests Gulbis 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Women’s top seed Serena Williams is also on back-to-back duty as she takes on Kazakhstan’s grand slam quarter-final debutante Yulia Putintseva on Thursday, after crushing Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-1 in the fourth round.
Putintseva upset No12 seed Carla Suarez Navarro 7-5, 7-5 in a two-hour two-minute battle.
“I have actually played her a couple of times, and most recently in Indian Wells. She’s a tough player,” said Serena of Putintseva, who used to practice at the academy of the American’s coach Patrick Mouratogolou.
“She’s really hungry. I feel like she gives 200 per cent on every single point. You know, she’s a fighter. I think, you know, I feel like I’m a little bit that way myself, too. I give everything on every point. I’m a fighter.”
Ninth-seeded Venus Williams crashed out to Swiss No8 seed Timea Bacsinszky 6-2, 6-4 in the fourth round.
No4 seed Garbine Muguruza fought back from a break down in the opening set to end Shelby Rogers’ fairytale run 7-5, 6-3 and reach her first Roland Garros semi-final.
She takes on former runner-up Sam Stosur, who beat Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 6-4, 7-6 (6), saving two set points in the tiebreak.
Roland Garros tournament director Guy Forget hit back at accusations that organisers forced players to compete in the rain to avoid reimbursing ticket holders.
Philippe Chatrier ticket holders on Tuesday got zero per cent of their money back despite rain interrupting play multiple times. The last ball hit was at 16:45 before the weather suspended action and matches were officially cancelled for the day at 18:50.
The rain policy states that ticket holders would receive a 50 per cent reimbursement if the players lasted on court “between one hour and one hour fifty-nine minutes”.
The fourth round between Novak Djokovic and Roberto Bautista Agut – predominantly contested while it was raining – on Philippe Chatrier lasted two hours and one minute before players were taken off court due to the rain.
Multiple players, including No2 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, No6 seed Simona Halep, and former semi-finalist Ernests Gulbis, said conditions were unplayable but that they had to follow the officials’ decision to play.
Players on Court 1, Gulbis and David Goffin, and on Court 2, Dominic Thiem and Marcel Granollers, managed to convince the supervisor to halt play on their courts, while matches continued on the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen a short while longer.
All the ticket holders except those on the main stadium ended up getting a 50 per cent reimbursement.
“Respect for the game always takes precedence,” Forget said in a statement.
“If what we are being accused of were true, it would have been in our best interests as organisers to stop play before the one-hour, 59-minute mark as our insurer would have been responsible for ticket reimbursement.
“However, that was not the basis of our decision. Our aim was to play for as long as possible, even if that meant being criticised for playing in difficult conditions.”
Statement from Guy Forget: "The decision to suspend or resume play lies solely w tournament referee Stefan Fransson https://t.co/QRqe6Eye7v— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) June 1, 2016
Two days earlier, Forget was making his case for adding a roof at Roland Garros, and said that his main concern was the spectators.
“The main thing is, first of all, our spectators. We have seen hundreds, thousands of people waiting with kids with umbrellas, and, you know, all the people will be reimbursed. You know, we have insurance for that. Our main concern is going to them.”
Spanish former runner-up David Ferrer, who played for three games under the rain against Tomas Berdych before play was suspended on Tuesday, did not hold back in his interpretation of the situation.
“It was a way to save the day, for making money and not reimbursing ticket holders,” Ferrer was quoted as saying in El Español Spanish website. “At the end of the day, players are the least important factor for this tournament. They played for two hours and one minute and then they stopped.
“The way I see it, I don’t think what they did was right.”
Bautista Agut, who had taken the opening set from Djokovic in the rainy 37-minute period they spent on court the first time out, said: “The conditions were not good to play tennis, of course. I can understand the view of the tournament, their position. They push us to play two hours.
“Of course the court at the end was not in good shape to play. Also was a bit difficult to play with these heavy balls. I had a bit pain on the elbow because of the balls.”
French Open always brings to mind fond childhood memory of pronouncing Guy Forget as Guy Forget & not Zhee Four-zhay pic.twitter.com/hG7VMHaUte— Anand Ranganathan (@ARangarajan1972) June 1, 2016
Halep and Radwanska accused tournament organisers of “not caring” about the players or their health.
Berdych agrees and warned officials of setting the wrong priorities.
“In the end you don’t really see that it’s more about players than about the tournament. I think it was a nice example. I think it shouldn’t be forgotten that the tournament like this, without the players would never exist.”
Almost all the players said they felt pain somewhere in their body due to competing with heavier wet balls, while Goffin complained repeatedly to umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore about how slippery the court was.
“They forced us to play. I didn’t have another solution,” said Goffin.
His opponent, Gulbis, almost walked off court without the permission of the umpire, but was pulled back by Asderaki-Moore.
“I don’t understand what I was doing there,” explained the outspoken Gulbis.
“If we’re not allowed to play, why should I freeze on the court in the rain? I wanted to go under – I mean, everybody is under the roof and then we have to stay on court and freeze.
“You know, it wasn’t very warm. That’s why I took my bag and I wanted to wait at least inside. The umpire didn’t let me, but then after 15 seconds she let me…
“I think that we went on court when it wasn’t really playable because it was drizzling all the time. I don’t think the players should walk on court while it’s raining.”
Venus Williams did not compete on that rainy Tuesday but could tell that the weather conditions were “terrible”.
She said: “It’s hard to see. The balls are wet, the courts are wet. I wasn’t out there the whole time that some of the matches were on, but it just seemed terrible.
“It should be fair. You know, some players shouldn’t have to play in that weather and others not. It doesn’t seem quite equal.”
Novak Djokovic was asked if players should have more power when it comes to decisions regarding having to play in difficult conditions.
The world No1 said it was a “delicate subject” but that “priority should always be the health of the players, no doubt.”
“I think it should be a decision of a group of people, everybody. It shouldn’t be just players saying ‘okay, I’m not going to play and I go out from the court’,” said Djokovic.
“It’s not fair I think towards also the crowd and everything if the other player doesn’t feel the same. So that’s why it’s always a conflict of interest and it’s important that you have some neutral sides that are there to kind of try to find a mutual understanding and solution that is the best for everybody.”