‘Rafael Nadal can be ambassador of Roland Garros’

BENGALURU: Gilles Moretton, President of the French Tennis Federation, is shooting for a bigger and better Roland Garros experience for players and fans. Moretton, who has former No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo as tournament director, said in an interaction with TOI that the clay court major, starting May 22, is equipped for the challenges ahead.

The 64-year-old Parisian, who sported Ukrainian colours, however, underlined that that the FFT will not take a position against individual players. Excerpts: You spoke about ‘new ambitions’ for Roland Garros when Amelie Mauresmo took over as Tournament Director…I know Amelie from a long time, she has a very strong personality. We wanted to ‘move the lines’, that’s our claim for Roland Garros this year.

When I say, moving the lines, it means never to hesitate to change things. We have a good tournament, we are very proud of it, but we need to do more. To do more means having new challenges and we feel Amelie will handle these challenges.

What Amelie is doing is good for the image of the tournament inside France and all over the world. Rafael Nadal’s domination of Roland Garros is unprecedented, would you say the French Open has benefitted from his consistency?Nadal is more like an ambassador of the tournament and all of the clay. It’s more than Roland Garros. He is an exceptional player and a real great person.

We are very happy to have him as the winner of 13 titles in Roland Garros. He is still playing and could have his 14th title here this year. He’s an incredible champion. We feel that in the next few years Nadal can be the ambassador of Roland Garros and tennis on clay. Some 12 months after Osaka pulled out of the tournament, would you say that tennis has a greater understanding of mental health issues…Mental health has always been a concern. As a former player, I understand that.

As big as it was with Naomi Osaka last year, it was probably caused by the pandemic. Players were unhappy with the situation, playing without spectators and travelling the world by themselves. The first objective of a tennis player is to share… victories with the crowd. We went to Naomi last year, but we couldn’t even talk to her before she withdrew from the tournament.

We feel that in Grand Slam tournaments especially, we need to have assistance for players. We have to be there if they need us. Was there a discussion on whether to allow Russian and Belarussian players to play? I’m wearing the Ukrainian flag (lapel pin), we tried to help Ukrainian players and also the Ukrainian people. At the same time, we will continue to allow Russian and Belarussian players to compete in France, but not under the name of their country.

We are not going to take a position against individual players. Like the IOC, we will ban teams from competition, but not individual players.

(This interview was facilitated by Sony Sports Network, the official broadcasters of the French Open).