Tennis-Azarenka lashes out at French Open over favouring men for night session

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French Open
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By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Former world number one Victoria Azarenka criticised French Open organisers on Sunday for scheduling men's matches in all but one of the night slots so far this year.

The twice Grand Slam champion also said practice courts were not prepared properly and complained that organisers of the claycourt major were unhelpful.

So far, six of the seven night sessions, for which Amazon have the exclusive television broadcasting rights in France, have featured men's matches, with only Serena Williams being asked to take the court shortly before sunset.

Defending champion Iga Swiatek was pencilled in for Monday's night session for her fourth-round match against Marta Kostyuk when the organisers announced the order of play.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT), which organises the tournament, and the women's WTA Tour did not respond to a request for comment.

The night session, in place for the first time, is being played in an empty stadium because of the nine p.m. local curfew due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"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," Azarenka told a news conference.

"Everything else, I wouldn't even agree a little with that. And that's disappointing," the Belarusian said after her fourth-round defeat, later adding she was not targeting a specific person.

"I think there are enough examples over the years where we've heard remarks towards women, where we've seen two women's semi-final 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."

Asked how she would have reacted if asked to play in a night session here, she said: "I will answer that whenever I will be asked if I would like to play a night session or not. Honestly, that would be already a step forward."

EVERT SUPPORT

The U.S. and Australian Opens also have night sessions but, unlike the French Open, they feature more than one match.

Azarenka received support from American tennis great Chris Evert.

"At the U.S Open it's all balanced, it's all equal, night sessions are always one men's and one women's... or one women's and one men's," Eurosport expert Evert, an 18-time Grand Slam champion, told Reuters.

"Europe has always been a bit later when it comes to equality with men and women (in tennis). Let's put it bluntly. The U.S. Open was the first to have equal prize money and France maybe was the last one, I don't know.

"They have got to step up and support the women a bit more. I agree with Azarenka."

Azarenka, beaten 5-7 6-3 6-2 by Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, also said of Roland Garros: "I just think that in general sometimes things here are made a bit too complicated.

"And it has nothing to do with today's match. It's just honestly a bit frustrating every time you're trying to deal with the organisation here, it's becoming 'pas (not) possible'. Everything you hear is 'pas possible'.

"It has nothing to do with the outcome today or the other day. When you're coming to warm up before the match, the court is completely wet where it's kind of dangerous to move.

"I just have a genuine question, Why? Why can it not be ready when people know somebody is coming to practise, players are going to warm up? I don't understand why simple things like this are not in place."

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; additional reporting by Martyn Herman in London and Sudipto Ganguly in Berhampore, India; Editing by Clare Fallon and Ken Ferris)

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