MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley has defended giving Roger Federer “prime time” treatment at the year’s first grand slam, saying it was a matter of meeting fans and broadcasters’ demands for the “box office” athlete.
Frenchman Julien Benneteau caused a stir during a radio interview on Sunday, in which he said referees were often kinder to the Swiss great when it came to scheduling.
Benneteau also criticised Federer’s Laver Cup project, saying the exhibition team event, in which Tiley is also involved, represented a conflict of interest.
In a statement issued by Tennis Australia on Wednesday, Tiley said players and fans were “obviously at the forefront” when scheduling matches but added that there was no way of pleasing everyone all the time.
“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 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.
“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.”
Federer, playing at the season-ending ATP Tour Finals in London, attempted to avoid getting dragged into a row with Benneteau but said “a lot of the facts (were) not right” about his scheduling.
“Sometimes I get help, sometimes I don’t,” he said.
Tiley also hit back at Benneteau’s criticism of the Laver Cup’s integrity.
“I’d say the success of the Laver Cup has been seen as somewhat of a ‘disruptor’ to the men’s game,” he said.
“We run our events to the highest standards and reject as well as challenge any claims to the contrary.”
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by John O’Brien)