Tennis fans and commentators are questioning whether Novak Djokovic received 'unfair' special treatment throughout his run to a 10th Australian Open title. The Serbian star captured a 22nd career major and will move back to World No.1 after downing Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-3 7-6 (7-4) 7-6 (7-5) in the final on Sunday night.
However controversy has erupted in the aftermath after it emerged that Djokovic is the only Australian Open champion to have played every match in one tournament at night time. While the Serbian star's rivals were forced to endure some brutal conditions throughout the day sessions at Melbourne Park, Djokovic was afforded the luxury of playing all seven of his matches in the cooler conditions at night.
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The perfect example occurred in the semi-finals when Tsitsipas played at 2.30pm against Karen Khachanov, while Djokovic later took on Tommy Paul at 7.30pm. As leading tennis writer Ben Rothenburg pointed out on Sunday night, there was a distinct lack of 'star power' in Djokovic's section of the draw, meaning officials and broadcasters would have been keen for him to play at prime time to draw bigger crowds and TV audiences.
But Catherine Whittaker and David Law of The Tennis Podcast were among the many to question whether the schedule was unfair for Djokovic's opponents. “Top players get preferential treatment in terms of scheduling. Goodness knows,” Whittaker said. “This is not news. This is not Djokovic specific by any means, but it is a bit extreme.
“I don’t think there’s ever been anybody who played all seven matches at night before (at the Australian Open). Doesn’t there reach a stage of the tournament where sporting integrity steps in?
“Both his last two losses (at the Australian Open) came in day sessions… I still think he’d be in the final if he’d played every match in the day session, I’m just saying it makes a difference. It’s not nothing.”
When asked if the scheduling was fair, Law responded: “Maybe not. That’s just the way it’s always been one way or another. I think they have gone out of their way to make him feel comfortable.”
Tennis fans took to social media to bemoan the telling detail. Some labelled it a 'joke' and a 'farce' from Australian Open organisers.
He’s rolling, as he has all #AusOpen long, helped by the consistent conditions of always playing at night.
Djokovic may be the first ever player to play seven night session matches at a major.
(There were no other stars on his half, so it made sense.)
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) January 29, 2023
Who is going to question @AustralianOpen about this?
Totally unfair to all the other players. #Djokovic is the only player to play all his matches in the evening. Even the Final is in the evening. He is a good player, but the favouritism is very unfair. @atp @channel9 https://t.co/deDmIRhVIS
— Sara Brooks #Socialist #AntiWar (@Sara520S) January 27, 2023
Hey @AustralianOpen why does Djokovic get special treatment with another night match? Has he had any day matches this tournament? Potentially closer semi being slugged out in heat this afternoon while @DjokerNole gets cool of evening again.
— Rhonda Edmonds (@redmonds60) January 27, 2023
— Lesley Morgan 🇭🇲🇺🇦🎾🏏 (@lesley_morgan25) January 22, 2023
@DjokerNole Why is it joker didn’t have to play any matches in the heat of the day. Not 1. If he had, he wouldn’t be where he is at now because of the heat and his asthma. Totally not fair. He’s struggling even now at night.
— Sharla Thompson (@forevercurlyQ) January 27, 2023
I don't think he earnt it, it was given to him... 6 matches in a row playing night sessions versus his opponents who played day and night. He had two weeks to get used to the conditions. #rigged
— Ange Gouvielos (@agouvielos) January 29, 2023
Was Novak Djokovic afforded special treatment?
Djokovic is now on a 28-match winning streak at the Australian Open, with his last loss at the grand slam coming way back in 2018 against Hyeon Chung in the quarter-finals. Coincidentally, that match was played in the day time.
That same year Djokovic spoke out in defence of Roger Federer after the Swiss Maestro came under fire for his night-heavy schedule. World No.1 at the time, Djokovic was forced to play a number of day matches because Federer kept getting the prime time spot.
“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 said at the time. “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 [the criticism] because sometimes it does seem that maybe certain players get more favoured 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. [Other] guys are also benefiting from tennis, because of Roger, because of what he has done for the sport.”
Djokovic's victory on Sunday night also extended his winning streak in Australia to 41 matches (including at events outside the Australian Open). It also allowed him to equal Rafa Nadal's men's record of 22 grand slam titles.
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