By Pritha Sarkar
LONDON (Reuters) – It was a case of “Don’t you know who I am?” for Rafael Nadal when a reporter had the temerity to question whether he deserved to be on Wimbledon’s Centre Court when women’s world number one Ash Barty had been cast off to a smaller outside arena.
‘Manic Monday’ always causes a scheduling headache for Wimbledon organizers with all 16 fourth round matches in both the men’s and women’s draw due to take place on day seven of the grasscourt major.
However, while Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Nadal have not been away from the main two showcourts throughout these championships, Australia’s French Open champion Barty found herself relegated to Court 2 for the second time in four matches despite being the world’s top-ranked woman.
With Barty coming off second best in a 3-6 6-2 6-3 tussle won by little-known American Alison Riske, some thought it would have made more sense to play that match in front of a bigger audience than Nadal’s 6-2 6-2 6-2 procession over Joao Sousa.
But if anyone thought Nadal was about to be his usual humble self and toe the ‘politically correct’ line by having a go at the Wimbledon organizers they were sorely mistaken.
“Can we predict the future or not? I am the world No 2 and I won 18 Grand Slams,” he told an amused group of reporters at news conference as he justified his billing.
“In the world of tennis today, honestly, my feeling is today I am little bit more than Ashleigh Barty, even if Ashleigh Barty is the first (ranked) player in the world and she already won in the French Open and she is playing unbelievably good.”
While the equality police were getting hot and bothered on Barty’s behalf, the Australian, who took a break from tennis to play Big Bash cricket a few years ago, flat-batted the question.
“Scheduling is out of my control. I’ll play on any court I’m scheduled on,” said the 23-year-old, whose only outing on the main 15,000 seater Centre Court stage was when she played lowly-ranked British wildcard Harriet Dart on Saturday.
“Obviously scheduling is very difficult. There are so many incredible matches all the fans and all the people want to watch, and players want to be a part of.
“For us, the tennis court is the same size. Court 2 is a beautiful court. I enjoyed my time out there.”
Last week former world number one Victoria Azarenka said there is “big inequality” in the scheduling of men’s and women’s matches at tournaments.
Last month, the French Open organizers’ decision to stage the men’s semi-finals on the main Court Philippe Chatrier and move both of the women’s last-four matches to smaller venues after rain played havoc with the schedule was labeled a “disgrace” by former world number one Amelie Mauresmo while WTA boss Steve Simon said it was “unfair and inappropriate”.
Twelve months ago, five-times Wimbledon champion Venus Williams contested her first-round match on Court 2.
In contrast the so-called Big Four in men’s tennis — Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Andy Murray, who is only playing doubles here this year after hip surgery — have never been scheduled to play singles matches outside of Centre and Court One since they held aloft the Challenge Cup.
The last time any of the quartet had to venture on to an outside court was in 2009, when Djokovic played his fourth-round match against Dudi Sela on Court 3 — two years before he won the first of his four titles at the All England Club.
However, over the first seven days of this year’s championships, more women’s singles matches have been contested on the two main show courts (22) than men’s (20) — albeit not always the right ones according to some disgruntled observers.
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar; Editing by Ken Ferris)