The Australian tennis hierarchy have defended themselves against allegations that Roger Federer has benefited from favouritism regarding scheduling at the Grand Slam they run each January in Melbourne.
Frenchman Julien Benneteau caused a stir during an interview on French radio station RMC Sport on Sunday stating that tournament referees give Federer preferential treatment when it comes to scheduling his matches.
Benneteau, 36, blamed the Australian Open officials, and was concerned that the 20-time Grand Slam Champion had played “12 or 13” of his 14 matches at Melbourne in the past two years at night, avoiding the often blistering temperatures.
The world No. 137 also suggested Federer’s Laver Cup involvement is a conflict of interest as Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has numerous business dealings with Swiss management company Team8, who represent Federer.
Tiley has described the Swiss Icon as a ‘once-in-a-generation’ athlete and insisted that scheduling the 37-year-old legend so often at night was mostly due to demand from fans and broadcasters.
“In terms of players and their appeal, it needs to be said that Roger Federer is an icon and is widely regarded as one of the biggest ‘box office’ athletes in the world,” said Tiley in a statement, per the Daily Mail.
“He has been regularly voted Australia’s favourite athlete. The fans demand his appearance in the big stadiums and our broadcasters naturally want his matches to air in prime time.
“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.”
Tiley was also quick to defend his investment in the Laver Cup, a tournament he envisions will grow in stature and popularity each year.
“Tennis Australia is proud of the success of the Laver Cup, in which we certainly have a share, along with the USTA and other partners,” said Tiley.
“It’s been one of the most successful new tennis events in recent times, showing the sport in a new light and attracting new fans. I’d say the success of the Laver Cup has been seen as somewhat of a ‘disruptor’ to the men’s game.
“We run our events to the highest standards and reject as well as challenge any claims contrary. We also make no secret about working hard to provide the very best experience for all the players at the Australian Open.
“There’s no way we can please everyone all the time, and everyone knows we do everything we can.”
The privilege of playing in prime time slots must be earned, therefore, there can’t be much of an argument against putting Federer in the spotlight as the Swiss maestro has achieved more on a tennis court than most players could only dream of.