Channel 9's decision to show Aussie players instead of Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open on Tuesday night appears to have backfired. The TV ratings for the opening two nights of the tennis grand slam make for some grim reading for the host broadcasters.
TV audiences are down 28 per cent compared to this time last year when Ash Barty and Nick Kyrgios were captivating fans. But Barty has since retired and Kyrgios was a late withdrawal due to a knee injury, robbing broadcasters of their two main draw cards after agreeing to a new $500 million deal with Tennis Australia.
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The biggest drawcard remaining is arguably Djokovic, who played his first match at the Australian Open on Tuesday night since the deportation saga that erupted 12 months ago. Djokovic was treated to raucous applause as he walked out onto Rod Laver Arena, but TV viewers didn't get to see it.
Curiously, Channel 9 opted to prioritise matches featuring Aussie players Alex de Minaur, Thanasi Kokkinakis and Alexei Popyrin instead of the 21-time major winner. They did eventually switch to show Djokovic on 9Gem, but not before fans flocked to social media to complain.
With tennis greats Roger Federer and Serena Williams also announcing their retirements late last year, there's a definite feel that the 2023 Australian Open is missing some serious star power. Men's World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz also withdrew with injury, while two-time champion Naomi Osaka is taking a year off after announcing she's pregnant.
An average of 357,000 viewers across the five city metro regions tuned in for the opening night session on Monday. The number was about 100,00 less than the average for Home and Away on Channel 7. In the 18-49 demographic, Monday night's session also came in below The Bachelors on Channel 10.
While Tuesday night's figure did beat Home and Away, it was still well down on last year's mark.
Novak Djokovic delights in warm reception in Australia
Djokovic scored a 6-3 6-4 6-0 win over Roberto Carballes Baenain of Spain, before expressing his gratitude for the warm reception he received. Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley had previously warned fans against booing the Serbian star, with fears the vaccination saga would drag on.
"So much support. So much love. I mean, I could not ask for a better start of the tournament in terms of support, in terms of how I felt on the court," he said.
"Unbelievable atmosphere, thank you so much for staying this late everybody and also thanks for giving me such a welcoming reception I could only dream of. I really feel very happy that I'm back in Australia and I'm back on the court where I had the biggest success in my career.
"Definitely this court is the most special in my life ... so thanks for your support, I appreciate it."
Djokovic also reported the welcome news that his injured hamstring didn't bother him on Tuesday night. The World No.5 picked up the injury at the Adelaide International last week.
"I was kind of testing my leg a little bit. At the beginning I was a bit tight, mentally as well, to protect something that was bothering me last 10 days," he said.
"So it took me a little bit of time to really get into the match and start moving more freely. The great sign was that the longer the match went, the better I felt, the better I moved.
"The leg is good. It's not ideal, but it's getting there. Today was a really good test."
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