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Aryna Sabalenka dudded as Alex de Minaur caught in 'ridiculous' Australian Open storm

The defending women's champion was given a rather rude welcome at Melbourne Park on Sunday night.

Aryna Sabalenka and Alex de Minaur, pictured here at the Australian Open.
Aryna Sabalenka and Alex de Minaur at the Australian Open. Image: Getty

The Australian Open's attempt to avoid early-morning finishes came unstuck on the first day of the tournament on Sunday, while also having an unwanted affect on Aussie star Alex de Minaur. The Australian Open began on Sunday for the first time in history, extending the tournament to 15 days rather than the traditional 14.

The aim is to spread the first round across three days rather than packing it into two, with less matches each day meaning the night session theoretically shouldn't run so long. It comes after backlash in recent years that matches have finished in the early hours of the morning, leaving players little time to recover.

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But the best laid plans came unstuck on the very first night session on Sunday, with defending women's champion Aryna Sabalenka playing until after 1am. Novak Djokovic was forced to four sets by Croatian teenager Dino Prizmic, and the four-hour tussle didn't finish until after 11pm.

It meant Sabalenka didn't get on court until near midnight, and although the Belarusian won 6-0 6-1, she was still made to play until 1am. It created the sad sight of a half-empty Rod Laver Arena for Sabalenka's match - a pretty poor display for the defending champion.

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The majority of the crowd filed out after Djokovic's match, with hardly anyone keen to stay past midnight. The sorry situation came after American legend John McEnroe had blasted the decision to extend to 15 days as nothing more than a "money grab".

“They just found another way to make some money," he said last week. "I don't agree with it. I'm a commentator. No one's particularly concerned about my feelings. The players, if they accept it and they're getting something from it, like some money for their pensions or retirement for some players that don't have insurance, I would say that's a good thing that they have added an extra day."

The ATP and WTA tours are soon to adopt new scheduling regulations that won't allow matches to start after 11pm unless approved by a supervisor. Matches will be moved to an alternate court if they don't start by 10:30pm, and night sessions can't start after 7:30pm. But because the Australian Open is a grand slam event, organisers are under no obligation to adopt the same measures.

Alex de Minaur dudded by 'ridiculous' Australian Open scheduling

The extra day in the schedule has also sparked an unwanted situation for Australia's highest-ranked player de Minaur. The World No.10 will hit the court at 7pm on Monday night against Milos Raonic, with Matteo Arnaldi waiting in the second round.

But the scheduling changes mean Arnaldi gets way more time to recover and prepare. The Italian had already won his first-round match by Sunday afternoon, giving him about 29 hours more than the winner of de Minaur and Raonic.

Aryna Sabalenka and Ella Seidel, pictured here after their clash at the Australian Open.
Aryna Sabalenka claps Ella Seidel off court after their clash at the Australian Open. (Photo by Frank Molter/picture alliance via Getty Images) (dpa/picture alliance via Getty I)

Tennis journalist Jose Morgado commented on Sunday: “Matteo Arnaldi into the 2nd round at the Australian Open with a 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-4 win over Adam Walton. Awaits De Minaur or Raonic who play... tomorrow night. Odd scheduling.”

Sports journalist Ricky Dimon added: “There are EIGHT first-round match-ups in the top half of the men’s draw in which opponents facing each other in the second round of the tournament are playing on different days in the first round. Absolutely ridiculous scheduling.”

But Aussie great Paul McNamee didn't see the issue, writing: “Everyone has a minimum one day off … so the integrity of rest between matches is fully protected … no issue here at all.”

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