Sloane Stephens says women were not even considered to play on the main courts in Brisbane. (AAP: Albert Perez)
American grand slam winner Sloane Stephens says the ATP Cup and Brisbane International organisers have shown women’s players a lack of respect, with the schedule pushing the “girls to the side” in favour of men’s players.
- The women’s Brisbane International has been played on the side courts as the men’s ATP Cup took priority over the main arena in Brisbane
- Grand slam winners Sloane Stephens and Petra Kvitova are among those who have felt sidelined
- The policies mean hometown favourite Ash Barty will have a packed schedule to start her 2020
The Brisbane International women’s tournament has been run concurrently at the Queensland Tennis Centre this year with the inaugural men’s ATP Cup, which was given priority status on the main arena in Brisbane.
That meant some of the biggest names in women’s tennis were forced to start the year on outside courts.
Defending Australian Open champion and world number three Naomi Osaka began her season in the relative obscurity of Brisbane’s Stadium Court on Tuesday, claiming a hard-fought three-set win over Greece’s Maria Sakkari.
Even hometown favourite and women’s world number one Ash Barty has been forced to wait for access to the main stage.
Barty will not play her first match of the Australian summer until Thursday as the ATP Cup group stages wrap up in Brisbane on Wednesday.
The late start means the 23-year-old will start her season with what could be a gruelling four matches in four days if she reaches Sunday’s final, all ahead of the Australian Open, which starts on January 20.
And Stephens said it showed a lack of respect.
“When you’re a number one player in the world who is going to play on the side court, I don’t think that that’s great,” the 2017 US Open champion said after an opening-round loss to Russian qualifier Liudmila Samsonova.
“I think it’s kind of a respect thing. We just weren’t in the conversation to even be considered.
“It was what the ATP wanted, they got what they wanted, girls to the side, that’s kind of how it always is.
“I think it’s unfortunate, but we play and we do what we do and hopefully next year there will be some adjustments.”
Former world number one Maria Sharapova, who lost to American qualifier Jennifer Brady on Tuesday night, said the Brisbane International had the feel of “second-hand event”.
“You definitely recognise it and notice it [starting on outside courts], it feels like a little bit of a second-hand event,” she said.
“I think on Thursday the girls go back on centre court, but it’s definitely a bit of a strange strategic move.
“I think there’s a lot of girls that are deserving of that centre-court spot in this draw, I think there are six out of [the world’s] top-10 players [in Brisbane].”
Defending Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka began her season away from the main court. (AAP: Albert Perez)
Dual Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also was not impressed after claiming a 2-6, 6-1, 6-0 first-round win over Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the Stadium Court on Tuesday night.
“I just feel that it’s kind of weird that the ATP Cup pushed us to the outside courts,” the world number seven said.
“I just don’t feel it’s pretty fair. I just feel a bit sad for the women’s field.”
Australian veteran Samantha Stosur, who earlier in the week said it was a “bit rough” on female players and fans to be relegated to the outside courts, will play her second-round fixture on Wednesday against American eighth seed Madison Keys.
Australian ATP Cup team captain Lleyton Hewitt said the men had also been affected by the concurrent tournaments.
“There’s times this week though where we certainly haven’t been able to get the practice times that we want,” he said.
“I know there’s meant to be certain allocation of courts for men, the men’s teams as well, so I think it works both ways.”