At the French Open, a New Top Executive Has a Lot to Handle

PARIS — Gilles Moretton, the president of the French Tennis Federation, eliminated his masks and leaned into the dialog throughout a huge desk Tuesday morning at Roland Garros.

Three months in, Moretton’s time period will not be precisely off to a flying begin. The French Open, run by his group, has been blessed with sunshine by most of its first 10 days, however not a lot else.

Pandemic restrictions have decreased the variety of spectators allowed on the grounds and minimize deeply into income simply as the federation wanted to begin paying again tons of of hundreds of thousands of euros borrowed for the latest renovations at Roland Garros. For the first time in historical past, no French singles participant made it previous the second spherical. The greatest story of the event’s first 10 days has been not the matches performed, a few of them excellent, however the ones by no means began.

There was the second-round withdrawal of Naomi Osaka, the brightest rising star in the ladies’s recreation, following a disagreement with Moretton and different Grand Slam event leaders over media duties. Roger Federer, nonetheless the greatest attract the males’s recreation at age 39, withdrew after three rounds to protect his postoperative proper knee and his power for Wimbledon.

But Moretton, who was as soon as adequate to face Bjorn Borg at the French Open (taking a loss), didn’t bemoan his timing throughout an interview in the presidential field with a grand view of the principal stadium, Philippe Chatrier Court, nonetheless empty.

“I have come in at a time when the situation is very difficult because of the pandemic and the results in French tennis,” he mentioned. “But at the same time I see that as an extraordinary opportunity. Because we have a saying that when you are at the bottom of the pool, you are bound to start heading back toward the surface.”

Naomi Osaka throughout her first-round win at the French Open. She withdrew quickly after.Credit…Pete Kiehart for The New York Times

Moretton defended the dealing with of the second-seeded Osaka’s refusal to take part in information conferences and different obligatory media duties, an announcement she made by social media forward of the French Open that caught the Grand Slam officers without warning.

Osaka’s preliminary announcement talked about a want to protect her psychological well being, with out providing specifics. According to a number of tennis officers, Osaka didn’t reply to a number of requests to clarify the scenario additional. She was fined $15,000 for skipping one post-match information convention in Paris. Moretton and the leaders of the three different Grand Slam tournaments — Wimbledon and the Australian and United States Opens — then issued a stern assertion that warned of escalating penalties, together with a potential expulsion from the event if she continued to abstain.

“I think we did very, very well,” Moretton mentioned, including that the officers had hoped to keep away from expelling Osaka. “The goal was not to penalize her. It was to say clearly: Here’s the rule.”

Osaka withdrew the subsequent day through social media, the place she defined that she had skilled lengthy bouts of melancholy since successful the U.S. Open in 2018.

Rennae Stubbs, a former participant who’s a coach and an ESPN analyst, mentioned the French federation had “handled this horribly.” She and different former gamers mentioned the officers ought to have proven extra sensitivity and prevented publicly threatening to penalize Osaka.

“I think we would have kept giving her fines,” Moretton mentioned. “I don’t think we would have gone to a tougher sanction, because we understood the situation. But it’s the rule. The rule is there to be fair to all the players.”

Osaka has since introduced that she would take a break of indeterminate size from the tour.

Moretton, 63, mentioned he was involved about gamers’ psychological well being. “The problem she raised is a real problem, a real topic for discussion,” he mentioned.

But he mentioned he was additionally involved about preserving equal therapy amongst gamers and the information media’s capability to cowl the sport.

“Perhaps we will change the rules, and then everyone only comes to press if they want to,” Moretton mentioned. “You will see that there are not many who will come.”

“Everyone will be their own journalist,” he added, “speak when they want to speak, say what they want to say, respond only to questions they want to answer. And I think it’s a serious problem. So yes of course to measures that will provide help and support to players, but let’s keep the freedom of the press to ask a question that might be uncomfortable and that interests the public, who are the ones who provide a living for the athletes and the personalities.”

Roger Federer in his third-round win over Dominik Koepfer on Saturday. Federer withdrew from the French Open the subsequent day.Credit…Martin Bureau/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As for Federer’s withdrawal, Moretton mentioned he had “too much respect for Roger” to query his resolution. Federer was not fined for the withdrawal. Guy Forget, the French Open event director, advised the French information group L’Équipe that Federer had cited his knee as an official medical motive for his withdrawal.

“Everyone wants to see him play as long as possible,” Moretton mentioned. “We know he will be 40 soon. It will be difficult. We can see it, and he knows it himself, and he needs to preserve himself.”

Moretton is intent on constructing stronger hyperlinks with the different Grand Slam tournaments and creating extra unity that may give tennis leaders a stronger collective voice. The stern assertion on Osaka was maybe a product of that zeal.

The French federation, beneath the earlier president, Bernard Giudicelli, ruffled feathers inside the sport final 12 months by transferring the begin of the French Open from May to September with out approval from different tennis entities. The event additionally was moved again a week this 12 months, however Moretton insisted that was performed in session with different tennis leaders.

The one-week postponement this 12 months was made to permit for extra followers throughout the event’s second week, when French authorities restrictions have been set to soften. The variety of spectators allowed on the grounds will greater than double from 5,300 to 13,000 on Wednesday and Thursday, and Moretton mentioned there could be 5,000 spectators at Chatrier for each singles finals.

The final night time session with out followers was on Tuesday, when the fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas beat the second-seeded Daniil Medvedev, 6-Three, 7-6 (Three), 7-5, in a quarterfinal.

“Our match was match of the day, and Roland Garros preferred Amazon to people,” Medvedev mentioned, referring to Amazon Prime Video, which has been broadcasting the night time periods in France.

Revenue continues to be means down at an occasion that usually attracts 38,000 spectators per day. In 2019, the event generated 260 million euros, or about $316 million. In 2020, it generated about 130 million euros, and Moretton mentioned the numbers could be related this 12 months.

“We are going to be hit hard,” he mentioned.

Government reduction and loans and the federation’s ample reserves have helped soften the blow and, most vital to Moretton, protect monetary help for tennis golf equipment and leagues in France.

Moretton retired from the sports activities occasion administration enterprise and made two lengthy treks to Nepal earlier than being persuaded by pals to run for the federation’s presidency.

Though he’s from Lyon, he additionally considers Roland Garros house. At age 12, he slept in a tent on the grounds when he performed in a nationwide junior event. He later lived on website for a 12 months, sharing a small home with different aspiring French execs, together with Yannick Noah.

Noah received the French Open in 1983, and stands as the final Frenchman to accomplish that. Moretton will now strive to assist develop Noah’s successor and work to make the remainder of his four-year time period smoother than the begin.