Too Much Ado About Court Placement

Over the next few days I will be registering my curmudgeonly complaints about things related to the French Open, in no particular order.

This one is a complaint about a complaint. There’s a bit of noise, at least on tennis Twitter, about where certain players or matches are placed. OK, I understand the prestige issue. It can be seen as a snub that Roland Garros is putting Simona Halep, the No. 1 seeded woman, on Court 18. I get that.

But no one is actually hurt by stupid court placement, other than possibly fans attending the tournament. That is, if you are there and you can’t see Halep because the stands at Court 18 are full. Other than that, it has no impact on anybody. The playing surface is the same for both players. The dimensions inside the lines are the same whether it’s Chatrier or Court 18. I know the space behind the baseline varies from court to court, but it’s the same for both players. It’s not like getting a shorter left-field fence in baseball depending on what stadium you’re in.

It’s also the same for fans at home. TV networks can show the match on Court 18 if they want. The tennis looks the same to TV viewers regardless of what court it is. (I will concede that if it’s a court without cameras that’s a different story.)

Back to the prestige point: If fans of women’s tennis (and I am one of them) feel dissed because Halep is on Court 18, fair enough. But far more people are watching the tournament on TV than in person. So the much, much, much bigger issue is whether TV is giving women enough time. If I’m there in person and I want to see Halep, I probably can. It doesn’t matter what court she’s on. TV has a far bigger role than court placement in the dissing of women’s tennis. That’s where the complaints should be directed.

One counter-example from a fan’s perspective: I went to Roland Garros last year from Monday to Wednesday of the first week. Del Potro was playing his first-round match against Guido Pella on a small outside court, I believe Court 6. Despite his No. 29 seeding at the time, Delpo is one of the most popular players in the world. We all know that. So putting him on Court 6 created a logistical nightmare. The line of fans waiting to get in during the entire match snaked around and blocked the pedestrian thoroughfare in that area, creating human gridlock all around. It was a mess. The dude’s a rock star; you can’t put him on Court 6. (I got in, but had to wait about 40 minutes.)

So that decision was almost certainly a mistake for fans at the event. But not for the players or TV viewers. Delpo and Pella could play on Court 6 just like anywhere else. TV cameras can get on that court (though perhaps not at the usual angle), so fans at home could see the match if the TV networks wanted to show it.

I’m not saying court placement is totally irrelevant, but it’s just not as big a deal as tennis fanatics are making it out to be. TV coverage is the much bigger deal.

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