Tennis

Sloane Stephens slams Brisbane organisers for favouring men's players

American slams Brisbane organisers for schedule which has seen ATP Cup dominate use of centre court

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens yesterday blasted organisers of this week's Brisbane International, accusing them of favouring the male players and not respecting the women.

The WTA tournament is being run alongside the Brisbane leg of the men's inaugural ATP Cup, which has monopolised the centre court of the Queensland Tennis Centre since it began on Friday.

The ATP Cup's last round-robin matches in Brisbane will be played today, meaning women's matches will be relegated to the outside courts until tomorrow.

While most women's players have been reluctant to comment on their treatment this year, Stephens, who is on the WTA players' council, was not so reticent.

"There have been a lot of challenges just because it's a new event, combined with the girls," she said.

"When you're a No. 1 player in the world who is going to play on the side court, I don't think that that's great. It's kind of a respect thing."

Australia's world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty heads a high-quality field at the WTA Brisbane which includes four of the women's top five.

But Stephens said the women had been sidelined in favour of the men.

"We just weren't in the conversation to even be considered," the 26-year-old American said.

"It was what the ATP wanted, they got what they wanted, girls to the side, that's kind of how it always is... Obviously, business is business. Their priority was the ATP Cup. I feel there could have been some things done differently."

Stephens may have started the conversation, but she will not continue to do the talking on the court after the world No. 24 fell at the first hurdle to Liudmila Samsonova. The 129th-ranked Russian won 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

OSAKA AND KEYS THROUGH

Stephens' compatriot and eighth seed Madison Keys advanced with a 6-3, 6-2 win over the Czech Republic's Marie Bouzkova.

Also going through is two-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka, who began her 2020 season with a 6-2, 6-7 (4/7), 6-3 win over the 24-year-old Maria Sakkari in two hours and seven minutes.

Osaka fired 16 aces and broke her Greek opponent four times, but struggled in the second-set tie-break when Sakkari won five points in a row before squaring the match on an unforced error from the Japanese.

The pair traded breaks in the opening stages of the final set before former world No. 1 Osaka clinched victory, despite double-faulting on her first match-point.

In New Zealand, top seed Serena Williams kick-started her Auckland Classic singles campaign with an easy 6-3, 6-2 victory over Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi yesterday.

Playing her first singles match since losing last year's US Open, Williams fired eight aces in a first-round match lasting 68 minutes.

"It was really fun to be back out again," Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam winner, said.

"Spent a long time off from tournament play... It's a great start to build on. It's really good to know I still have some power in my arms and legs." - AFP, REUTERS

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