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Organisers hit back as more French Open criticism rains down

Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros - Novak Djokovic of Serbia v Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain - Paris, France - 31/05/16. Djokovic holds an umbrella as he arrives at the court. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
Tennis - French Open - Roland Garros - Novak Djokovic of Serbia v Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain - Paris, France - 31/05/16. Djokovic holds an umbrella as he arrives at the court. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

By Julien Pretot

PARIS (Reuters) - Another defeated player added his voice to the growing criticism of the organisers of the French Open after bowing out of the rain-plagued tournament two days after his match had been scheduled to start.

Roberto Bautista Agut sympathised with disgruntled spectators after his rain-interrupted fourth-round defeat to world number one Novak Djokovic on Wednesday.

The Spaniard told reporters that organisers had forced the players to stay on court for two hours -- just exceeding the threshold for reimbursing ticket-holders -- although tournament organisers said in a statement that they just wanted to let play go on for as long as possible.

Roland Garros's refund policy states that spectators should receive a 100 per cent refund if there is less than an hour's play during the day and 50 per cent if there is between one and two hours -- but nothing if two hours of tennis are played.

Tuesday's match between Djokovic and Bautista Agut was halted when the clock showed 2h 01m.

"The conditions were not good to play tennis, of course. Today was much better than yesterday. I can understand the view of the tournament, its position. They pushed us to play two hours yesterday," Bautista Agut said after his 3-6 6-1 6-4 7-5 defeat on Wednesday.

"Of course, the court at the end was not in a good shape to play. Also, [it] was a bit difficult to play with these heavy balls. Today I had a bit pain on the elbow because of the balls."

Djokovic was less critical, even if he reminded organisers the health of the players was paramount.

"I remember early in my career I played a match against (Nicolas) Kiefer in Wimbledon for five days. Same reason -- raining," he said.

The Djokovic v Bautista Agut match was supposed to start on Monday but rain washed out the whole day and the tie did not get under way until Tuesday, ending around lunchtime on Wednesday.

The top seed repeated his call for a roof on the main court -- which is not expected to be ready until 2020 -- but refused to complain.

"Once you accept the circumstances and the decision is such that you play, then you have to go with it," he said.

"It's the same for you and your opponent. But it was a great mental test for all of us, really, yesterday, the entire day," he said, adding: "But priority should always be the health of the players, no doubt."

French Open organisers, stung by the criticism over the past couple of days, issued a statement defending their stance.

"The decision to suspend or resume play lies solely with tournament referee Stefan Fransson," tournament director Guy Forget said.

"Our aim was to play for as long as possible, even if that meant being criticised for playing in difficult conditions.

"I understand that not refunding spectators with tickets to the Philippe Chatrier Court has caused frustration and anger.

"But can we really change the rules in the middle of the game? What happens tomorrow if a match is interrupted after two hours and three minutes, or two hours and seven minutes of play?"

However, the experienced Venus Williams hinted that Tuesday should have been another washout.

"I think the conditions were not playable yesterday. It was

really bad. It's hard to see. The balls are wet, the courts are

wet," she said after losing to Timea Bacsinszky 2-6 4-6.

Simona Halep and Agnieszka Radwanska, who were both knocked out in the drizzle on Tuesday, agreed.

World number two Radwanska, who lost to Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, hit out at organisers, saying a major tournament deserved more care.

"I'm just so surprised and angry that we have to play in the rain. I mean, it's not a 10,000 (dollar) tournament. It's a grand slam," she told the media on Tuesday.

Sixth seed Halep, a former Roland Garros finalist, who was beaten by Australian Samantha Stosur, said after her match that it was "impossible" to play during the rain.

"No one cares about the players, in my opinion," she said.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Neville Dalton)

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