PARIS — With the exception of Wimbledon, there is no set formula when it comes to opening-match court assignments for defending champions at majors.
But the French Open's decision to place four-time defending champion Rafael Nadal on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the tournament's second show court, for his first-round match Monday caused waves of surprise on social media and among players.
"That's really bizarre," American John Isner said after defeating French wild card Pierre-Hugues Herbert 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 7-5 in the first round Sunday. "I mean, how many times does the guy have to win the tournament to be able to have his first match on Chatrier?" he added, referring to the No. 1 stadium known as Court Philippe Chatrier.
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Nadal, who has won a record eight Paris titles, faces wild card Robby Ginepri of the USA in his opening match.
It is typical for top draws such as Roger Federer and Serena Williams to play at least one match on Lenglen or a smaller show court. But it is unusual for a champion of Nadal's stature to be relegated to second fiddle in an opening contest.
Monday's four-match lineup on Chatrier includes 2012 champion Maria Sharapova and No. 2 Novak Djokovic. Both are big stars with strong past results in Paris.
The other two matches feature the top-ranked Frenchwoman Alize Cornet against Australia's Ashleigh Barty, and reigning Australian Open champ and No. 3 seed Stan Wawrinka vs. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
"I think, no offense to Stan, but if you look at it, figured they'd be flip-flopped," Isner said of substituting Nadal for Wawrinka.
A spokesperson for the French Tennis Federation said scheduling is determined not by a single factor but by numerous variables such as TV, local French players and gender.
Nadal's public relations manager, Benito Perez-Barbadillo, said by email he had not spoken to his client about the court assignment.
"Very strange, but they must expect blowout city vs. Robbie, so maybe they want to get it out of the way on that court, is my only guess," ESPN commentator Brad Gilbert wrote in an email.
Martina Navratilova called the court assignments "ridiculous, no disrespect to Novak or Stan."
Other players said Lenglen is nothing to sneeze at and that Nadal, one of the most self-effacing of champions, probably doesn't mind where he plays.
"Australian Open, Wimbledon, and this one, they kind of have two giant courts each," American Sam Querrey said after beating Italy's Filippo Volandri 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday. "You see the best players kind of flip flop back and forth, but it doesn't affect me. I don't really care, and I doubt he cares, too."
But fans and players were not the only ones taken off guard by the atypical assignment.
Isner laughed that Ginepri awoke early on Sunday so he could get a warm-up hit on Chatrier in preparation for Monday's match.