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When It Rains, Tempers Pour

French Open: Amid postponements, Agassi, absence for childbirth and an anti-ATP rant bring controversy.

June 06, 2002|LISA DILLMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PARIS — Andre Agassi could not get away from Roland Garros fast enough Wednesday evening, away from the cold, the rain and the wind ... and, more important, away from Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero.

The long day of waiting--a 6 1/2-hour rain delay--ended with a rush. Play resumed for 13 minutes, enough for Agassi to lose two of the three games played, meaning Ferrero led their quarterfinal, 6-3, 1-0. Agassi gestured to the chair umpire, who summoned tournament referee Stefan Fransson. Agassi had his say, then Fransson went over to speak to Ferrero, and the match was called for the day, at 7:04 p.m. Paris time.

It appeared to spectators and television viewers that Agassi had called the shots. Whether that was accurate or not, the perception was shared by Ferrero and his supporters. Later, when asked if he had the chance to speak on the court, Ferrero said: "I didn't say anything."

A member of his entourage was more pointed, saying: "Andre canceled the match."

Fransson maintained the players had proper input, before the match resumed, and on the court.

"As far as I could tell, they both agreed," he said, adding later that he couldn't do much about the perception of the incident.

By the time Fransson and French Open officials held a news conference, Agassi and his wife, Steffi Graf, had left the grounds. Ferrero, Alex Corretja and Albert Costa stood in the back at the news conference and Corretja felt aggrieved, saying, "It's always the same with us."

Corretja spoke with Fransson in the hallway of the players' lounge, and Ferrero and his agent had a closed-door meeting with the referee and did not seem placated afterward. Other matches were still going on despite light rain on other courts, and the decision to stop on the main court, Philippe Chatrier, triggered a chain of events.

Corretja had hoped to finish his quarterfinal match against Andrei Pavel of Romania, which started Tuesday, having been stopped because of darkness with Corretja leading, 7-6 (5), 7-5, 4-5. But in what was a strange twist on a strange day, Pavel was not even in the country. His wife is expecting and he left Paris to be with her for the birth of their son in Germany, knowing the weather forecast for Wednesday was dubious.

Javier Durate, Corretja's coach, was on the long list of unhappy people with the sudden cancellation, especially after the weather improved. "For me, the decision is no good," he said, noting that Corretja and Pavel had played much later in the evening Tuesday.

Weather permitting today, Corretja and Pavel will finish--if Pavel returns to Paris--followed by Agassi and Ferrero and another men's quarterfinal, Marat Safin against Sebastien Grosjean. The women's semifinals will follow, and all of this is scheduled to take place on Philippe Chatrier. Although it appears to be a risky move to attempt to squeeze it all in, officials refused to consider the idea of moving the Safin match to the secondary show court.

"Well, we think there is a good chance we will finish the matches on center court tomorrow, to give everybody the chance to be there," Fransson said.

Already, the women feel as though they were treated unfairly by being relegated to Suzanne Lenglen for the quarterfinals. The Women's Tennis Assn. is expected to meet with Roland Garros officials on this issue, and a source said that a letter from the top players voicing their displeasure probably will follow in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the men's tour was dealing with its own controversy. French player Nicolas Escude alleged in an interview with Le Parisien that the ATP is withholding reports on doping.

"What I don't understand is that in any company that presents a negative balance sheet, the CEO is axed," Escude told the newspaper. "And when I hear today that Mark Miles is untouchable, I wonder. They tell me there are files that can't be opened. What can they be, if not files on doping?

The ATP issued a statement rejecting the "unfounded allegations," and Miles said: "Some of what I read attributed to players, if accurate, I find uninformed, irresponsible and offensive."

In an interview Wednesday night, Miles said he planned to speak with Escude and the other French players mentioned in the newspaper. On the issue of the "files," Miles said: "We [the ATP] don't have the files, the review panel have the files."

He explained why the tour shifted to a European-based company for administration of the anti-doping program earlier this year

"We did it because they do a lot more in international sport and offer us two things, more testing for the same dollars," he said, adding the ATP is spending more on tests. "This firm has more blood testing expertise than anyone around."

In 2001, the ATP had 542 in-competition tests and 50 out-of-competition, at nine ATP tournaments, officials said. The tour has increased its testing by 20% in-competition and 100% out-of-competition.

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