A rival tennis star has levelled stunning allegations at Roger Federer over his 2018 Australian Open triumph.
French player Julien Benneteau caused a major stir during an interview on French radio station RMC Sport on Sunday, in which he said tournament referees were often kinder to Federer when it came to scheduling his matches.
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Benneteau was specifically referring to the Australian Open where he said the 20-time Grand Slam champion played “12 or 13” of his 14 matches at Melbourne in the past two years at night, avoiding the often scorching temperatures.
He also suggested Federer’s Laver Cup project, an exhibition team event in which Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley is also involved, represented a conflict of interest.
“Roger is a legend of the game, an icon,” said Benneteau. “Now, when he promotes the Laver Cup, there are a number of conflicts of interest that have become disturbing.
“With regard to the new Davis Cup, he says nothing about the date in November. When the date of September was mentioned [which clashes with the Laver Cup], he woke up and opposed Gerard Pique [the frontman behind the new Davis Cup] which is where I find that the tennis authorities are incredibly weak.
“His thing, it’s an exhibition, there is no sporting criteria in the selection. It gives $750,000 to Nick Kyrgios. Yes, those are the rates.
“Another thing: in the organisation of this event, there’s Craig Tiley, the boss of the Australian Open, who deals with marketing and TV rights. He is paid by Roger Federer’s agent and on the back of that, as luck would have it, Federer played 12 of his 14 matches at 7.30pm [when temperatures are cooler].
“This year, the US Open was inaugurating the new Louis Armstrong Court, [and] it seems that Tony Godsick went to the umpire’s office to in effect say ‘No way are you scheduling him here!’ It is normal that he should have privileges but there has been a slight excess.”
The alleged preferential treatment could have also extended to the final of January’s Australian Open final, which brought Federer his 20th major title.
However it also caused controversy when the roof of Rod Laver Arena was shut before play started, even though the tournament’s heat rule hadn’t been invoked yet.
Marin Cilic, runner-up to Federer, was asked on Monday whether he felt that Federer had received special treatment.
“It is tough to say,” Cilic said at the ATP Finals. “Roger is very popular. Night matches are always something the tournament wants him to play.
“I was just not happy at the end of the tournament in Australia because they changed the rules. That was the only part that didn’t go well by the referee’s side.
“I don’t think they were going one way or the other, for me or for Roger. I felt that in that part they need to be consistent.”
Djokovic goes in to bat for Federer
Asked for his thoughts after his victory over John Isner at the ATP Finals on Monday, Djokovic said Federer had earned the right for special treatment.
“In the end of the day, in a way he deserves the special treatment because he’s six-time champion of Australian Open and arguably the best player ever,” Djokovic told reporters.
“If he doesn’t have it, who is going to have it? People want to see him play on the centre court, and they want to see him play in showtime, the best hours, which is 7:30 at night in Rod Laver Arena.
“I understand Julien’s point because sometimes it does seem that maybe certain players get more favored year after year in certain tournaments. On the other side, you have to understand that Federer is a driving force of tennis in terms of revenue, in terms of attention.
“Julien and guys like him are also benefiting from tennis, because of Roger, because of what he has done for the sport.”
Isner went even further, saying the likes of Federer, Djokovic and Rafael Nadal should get even more privileges.
“If anything, maybe they should get more special treatment because those guys, the top players, have made other players below them a lot of money,” the American said after his 6-4 6-3 defeat.
“It is like the Tiger Woods effect in golf. So that is how you can look at a guy like Roger. He is men’s tennis in my opinion. He deserves everything and more that he’s ever had.”
Six-time champion Federer is back in action, in the night session, at the ATP Finals on Tuesday when he takes on Dominic Thiem, aiming to hit back after losing to Kei Nishikori in his opening group match on Sunday.