Roger Federer brushes off preferential treatment talk

Tennis


LONDON — Roger Federer denied Tuesday that he receives preferential treatment with scheduling at the biggest events because of his standing in the sport.

Frenchman Julien Benneteau, who retired at the end of this season, pointed out on French radio that Federer had been allowed to play 12 of his past 14 matches at the 2017 and ’18 Australian Opens — both of which he won — at night, avoiding the heat of the day.

“I know about the comments,” Federer told reporters at London’s O2 Arena, after keeping alive his hopes of qualifying for the semifinals at the Nitto ATP Finals with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Dominic Thiem. “But I don’t really feel in the mood during the World Tour Finals to discuss that topic, to be honest. The radio interview that happened over week ago, which surfaces now in French [with] Julien, who is a nice guy, I know him since junior times, I think all of this has been taken out of context.”

Benneteau told RMC Sport he had heard that Tony Godsick, Federer’s agent, had requested that the Swiss not play on the new Armstrong Stadium Court at this year’s US Open. Federer ended up playing all his matches on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“It’s normal that he gets preferential treatment, with everything he’s done,” Benneteau said of the 20-time Grand Slam champion. “But in some tournaments, there are big differences in the conditions [from court to court]. He has no idea what that’s like.”

Federer said he and his team occasionally make requests but that tournaments also ask him if he would mind playing on a particular court, at a particular time, often to suit the needs of television.

“Sometimes we have our say,” he said. “But I asked to play Monday at the US Open, I played Tuesday night. It’s all good. I’ve had that problem for 20 years, in a good way. Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t. I think there you have it. Sometimes they come ask, sometimes they don’t. But a lot of the facts are not right, just to be clear there, from what I heard.”

Benneteau suggested Federer might receive preferential treatment at the Australian Open because Tennis Australia, run by Craig Tiley, is an investor in the Laver Cup, a tournament owned and run by Federer and his management group, Team 8.

That, Benneteau said, was a conflict of interest.

“In the organization of this event, there’s Craig Tiley, the boss of the Australian Open, who deals with marketing and TV rights,” Benneteau said. “He is paid by Roger Federer’s agent and on the back of that, as luck would have it, Federer played 12 of his 14 matches at 7.30 p.m.”

In a statement Tuesday, Tiley said Federer was unique in tennis.

“In terms of players and their appeal, it needs to be said that Roger Federer is a once-in-a-generation player widely regarded as one of the biggest box-office athletes in the world,” Tiley said. “He has been voted Australia’s favorite athlete.

“The fans demand his appearance in the big stadiums and our broadcasters naturally want his matches to air in prime time. And I don’t think there’s a tournament director in the world who’s not going to take those factors into account when setting the schedule. This is the case with all the big names in tennis, and in sport in general.

“We’ve prided ourselves on really listening to the players and taking into account their needs and priorities, whether it’s the way we operate our transport system, the food we serve, the relaxation and training areas we provide and, of course, scheduling matches.”

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic and American John Isner both came to Federer’s defense.

“At the end of the day, in a way he deserves the special treatment because he’s six-time champion of Australian Open and arguably the best player ever,” Djokovic said. “If he doesn’t have it, who is going to have it? People want to see him play on the center court, and they want to see him play in showtime, the best hours, which is 7:30 at night in Rod Laver Arena.

“I understand Julien’s point because sometimes it does seem that maybe certain players get more favored year after year in certain tournaments. On the other side, you have to understand that also Federer is a driving force of tennis in terms of revenue, in terms of attention, in terms of all these different things. Julien and guys like him are also benefitting from tennis because of Roger, because of what he has done for the sport.”

Isner said the top players sell the most tickets and deserve their reward.

“If anything, they maybe should get more special treatment because those guys, the top players, have made other players below them a lot of money,” the American said. “It is like the Tiger Woods effect in golf. So that is how you can look at a guy like Roger. He is men’s tennis in my opinion. So, he deserves everything and more that he’s ever had.”

Federer plays his final round-robin match Thursday.



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