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Three Winners, One Big Snub

French Open: Capriati and the Williams sisters prevail but are unhappy about not playing on the main court.

June 05, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — The losers, of course, weren't happy. The winners, at least three of them, did not leave Roland Garros satisfied either, and the Women's Tennis Assn. shared their perception about a lack of respect.

The top three women's players, defending champion Jennifer Capriati and Venus and Serena Williams, were unhappy Tuesday about having to play their French Open quarterfinal matches on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the secondary court, instead of on Philippe Chatrier, the main court.

It might sound like a tribute to them, as well as three-time champion Monica Seles, to be placed on a court named for a legendary tennis player, but tradition was not a convincing argument for Capriati and the Williamses.

As expected, they all advanced. The top-seeded Capriati had the toughest time, defeating seventh-seeded Jelena Dokic of Yugoslavia, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. Dokic double-faulted 14 times and had 52 unforced errors. Venus Williams, seeded second, beat No. 6 Seles, 6-4, 6-3, avenging a quarterfinal loss at the Australian Open in January. Seles looked flat and was not close to her form of January.

The most impressive winner was No. 3 Serena Williams, who dismissed Mary Pierce of France, a former champion who was a wild-card entrant this year, 6-1, 6-1, in 49 minutes, and said: "It wasn't as easy as it looked out there."

There was drama behind the scenes. WTA officials put forth a strong case to the scheduling committee, which considered putting Pierce's match on the main court. Serena Williams spoke about the treatment of the women during a postmatch meal in the players' lounge.

"It's not fair," she said. "Women's tennis is at its peak. Everyone should be capitalizing on that. It's the principle of the matter: Jennifer Capriati, the defending champion, is playing a tough match on Suzanne Lenglen.

"I don't know. It's weird. I think there has to be an explanation given, I can't think of anything that can be good enough. If we take affirmative action, it will have to change. It can't be just one person pushing a boat. You have to have more."

Venus Williams, who reached her first French Open semifinal in six trips, agreed with her younger sister. They couldn't see the women's quarterfinals being played on a secondary court at any other Grand Slam tournament.

"Right now, I can't really concentrate on that because of everything that's at stake," Venus said. "It's disappointing to see doubles matches on Center Court when there are so many good women's matches to see. It's something I hope we can work toward changing."

One of the men's doubles matches was a contest carried over from Monday. It was shoehorned between Spaniard Albert Costa's 7-5, 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-0 victory over No. 15 Guillermo Canas of Argentina, which ended Canas' series of marathon victories, and the match between Alex Corretja of Spain and Andrei Pavel of Russia, which was suspended in the third set because of darkness. Corretja won the first two sets, 7-6 (5), 7-5.

Another doubles match was originally scheduled after the two men's singles quarterfinals. Georgina Clark, vice president for the WTA's European operations, was distressed by the decision and supported her players.

"I absolutely agree with them," she said. "It's a very tough decision for the French Tennis Federation to have made. We're not very happy with the decision. The doubles was an added insult."

Clark was talking as she watched Dokic take the second set from Capriati, which was the first set the defending champion had dropped in five rounds.

"It's a great shame for the rest of the public not to see a match of this quality," Clark said.

The French sports daily L'Equipe questioned the tradition on Tuesday, asking why those responsible at Roland Garros continue to send the women to Suzanne Lenglen on quarterfinal day. This rule, however, is not absolute. For example, Venus Williams played Martina Hingis on Court Central in 1998.

Alain Riou, co-director of the tournament, acknowledged the difficulties of the scheduling decisions.

"We have weighed all the possibilities and finally decided without any good solution, we had to lean on the sport side, which has led us to make this program," he said in an interview.

Wimbledon plays the women's quarterfinals on Tuesday, and the men's quarterfinals on Wednesday. Riou said the French Open could adopt that schedule someday, but not yet, suggesting the public might not be able to support a day of women's quarterfinals, alone on the schedule.

"I'm afraid the French public is not mature enough--maybe that's not the right word--but maybe not prepared enough to buy 25,000 tickets for the men and women separately," he said. "It should be our goal."

Capriati had her own suggestion: Rename the main court Suzanne Lenglen. She will play Serena Williams in the semifinals, and was pleased with her quarterfinal preparation, winning the third set in 19 minutes.

"This is what really starts to fuel my fire," Capriati said. "I enjoy getting at this stage of a tournament."

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