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Courier Conversation: Night sessions, Nadal vs. Djokovic & Federer's return to Paris
The two-time Roland Garros champion and Tennis Channel commentator is excited to see the Paris major expand opportunities with late-night sessions.
Published May 28, 2021
The players are back in Paris and although it’s still not the same Roland Garros, there’s much to be excited about. Along with increased numbers of spectators permitted on ground and on Court Philippe Chatrier, there will also be night matches for the very first time. Former world No. 1 and two-time Roland Garros winner Jim Courier is excited for the sport to explore the opportunity to expand its audience with the late-night sessions.
“It shines a spotlight on the center court matches. Players look forward to it. Fans look forward to it. There's something special and electric about those atmospheres,” Courier told TENNIS.com
It’s almost as if the darkness of night lends to a more intense and thrilling affair—especially when it comes to center court matches. You don’t have to look very far to find a nail-biting night match. Nick Kyrgios and Dominic Thiem gave the Aussie crowd a spectacular show at this year’s Australian Open by battling out a tough five-setter. Melbourne isn’t the only one though—the US Open is the epicenter of historic late-night clashes as well.
Roland Garros will finally get a taste of these electric evenings.
From Monday of Week 1 until Wednesday of Week 2 there will be a total of 10 night-matches on Court Philippe Chatrier. For the first time in Paris, the world’s best will resemble boxers heading into the ring under the spotlight and it will surely be a treat for both fans and players.
“I think Roland Garros is wise to explore it,” Courier said. “It's a shame that we're not going to get a full crowd for these night matches. It's going to be pretty sparse until the last one, from what I gather, due to the local regulations.”
Unfortunately due to the on-going pandemic, the tournament will not be running at full capacity which will significantly impact the on-site viewing of these night matches. Due to a local curfew of 9 p.m. each night until June 8, no spectators will be at any of the night sessions until the very last one on June 9. France will then move into phase 3 of lifting restrictions, which will push the curfew back to 11 p.m., allowing fans to sit in for one men’s quarterfinal bout.
“I still think there's huge value there to be able to expand your day, open it up to tennis fans that are not in that time zone,” Courier said. “It will help a lot in America for kids that come home from school, there will be live tennis on, which is exciting. I think there's definitely value there.”
How will 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal fair with the new implementation of night sessions in Paris? While the Spaniard thrives on repetition and creating habits, he didn’t win 20 major titles without having the quality of adaptability.
“Rafa actually started his quarterfinal with Jannik Sinner at 10:45 p.m., 10:30. They finished well past midnight. While he's a creature of habit, he's shown he can adapt over the years to all kinds of circumstances. I don't think it will impact him too much,” said the Tennis Channel commentator.
Nadal is once again coming into the major clay-court event hot. He just grabbed his 10th title in Rome at the Masters 1000 tournament, defeating Novak Djokovic in the final. His level is very difficult to match on the red stuff, especially when playing best of five-set matches. Nadal plays a very physical game on the clay that very few have been able to match.
Djokovic is one of those competitors. The Serb took down Nadal back in 2015 on the terre battue in straight sets.
“We all know Rafa is the huge favorite. I think those of us who were lucky enough to see Novak take him down at Roland Garros years back recognized that if they both play at their best, Novak has a chance tactically and technically to take him out. It's not easy. It's obviously been incredibly difficult to do.”
In this edition of Roland Garros, the two sit in the same half of the draw and if they were to face each other, it would be in the semifinals this time around.
What about the other member of the Big 3, Roger Federer? The Swiss star will be back in action for the first time in Paris since 2019 when he fell to Nadal in the final four. The No. 8 seed sits on the same half of the draw as Nadal and Djokovic and will square off with a qualifier in his opener.
According to the Tennis Channel commentator, Federer’s eyes are most likely set on Wimbledon and building on match toughness. It’s not necessarily about winning as it is about improving and getting back into fighting shape both physically and mentally. Last week at the Geneva Open, the 39-year-old struggled when the finish line was in sight against Pablo Andujar—just one sign of needing more matches under his belt.
“You hope along the way he settles into being able to close out matches like he always has, which is challenging in his last match on the clay the other week. He talked openly about that. That's something that even the great ones have to kind of remember how to do it. I would imagine he'll figure that piece out between now and Wimbledon,” Courier said.
All in all, it should be an interesting Grand Slam full of storylines and history.