Australian Open organisers are once again copping it from fans after Victoria Azarenka's match against Zhu Lin finished after 2am on Monday. Organisers have been feeling the heat from tennis fans and commentators alike after a number of matches stretched well beyond midnight throughout the opening week of the Melbourne Park grand slam.
Andy Murray's win over Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round went for five hours and 45 minutes and finished at 4.05am, sparking anger around the tennis world. And while it wasn't as bad on Sunday night, many were still left fuming that Azarenka and Zhu were forced to play so late.
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The women's match was scheduled second on Rod Laver Arena after Stefanos Tsitsipas' blockbuster clash with Jannik Sinner. Tsitsipas eventually prevailed in a five-set battle that went well past four hours, meaning Azarenka and Lin didn't get on court until around 11.30pm.
The women's match then went to three sets and finished at 2.17am on Monday. "It was two hours and 40 minutes of complete pressure," the 33-year-old Azarenka said after the win, which sets up a clash with Jessica Pegula in the quarter-finals.
Asked what time she would get to bed, Azarenka replied: "I don't even know what time it is. Probably I'll be up till 6am, then mask on and sleep during the day."
While Murray's late-night finish against Kokkinakis was largely unavoidable due to the amount of matches that needed to be played during the second round, many pointed out that there was no need to make Azarenka and Zhu start so late on Sunday night. There were only eight matches on the schedule on Sunday due to it being the fourth round, while there were two other courts that could have been used for Azarenka and Zhu on Sunday night.
Organisers will often schedule two night matches on Rod Laver Arena to give fans bang for their buck. But many are now calling for a rethink, with Margaret Court and John Cain arenas sitting unused on Sunday night.
Should’ve started their match first before Tsitsipas imo
— JAKE 🇦🇺 (@IncrediblyBozza) January 22, 2023
Just absolutely ridiculous that Tennis continues to play matches again and again in the early hours of the morning...something needs to be done #AusOpen
— Lee Fergusson #FBPE #FBPA (@LeeFergusson) January 22, 2023
Silly O'clock Tennis again it's beyond ridiculous Tennis is only sport that allows this to happen 🤦🏽♀️ #AusOpen
— Shaheen (@topgooner100) January 22, 2023
They still have to play a women’s match after this. Ridiculous! Why not move it to MCA? #ausopen
— Chris (@SuthoChris) January 22, 2023
I agree with all the players at #AusOpen - it’s ridiculous that they are playing so late into the night. There’s a match today that will have to start AFTER MIDNIGHT because of the order of play. Most viewers do not support this either. Hope @AustralianOpen reviews & changes.
— Denisa Delić (@denisadelic) January 22, 2023
— GΞMMΛ (@gemmalsmith7) January 22, 2023
@CraigTiley @AustralianOpen How is it fair to ask athletes to start a tennis match so late at night? The schedule needs to be fair. Finishing at 2am/4am messes with the winner’s next match and isn’t fair. There are solutions to fix this #AusOpen #tennis
— Sandra Randall (@SJRCopywriter) January 22, 2023
Novak Djokovic calls on Australian Open to change
On Saturday night, 21-time grand slam champion Novak Djokovic became the latest big name to call on Australian Open organisers to make changes to the scheduling. Tellingly, no player has ever won a singles match at the Aussie grand slam after playing a previous encounter that finished after 2am.
Speaking after his win the third round, Djokovic said he believes there should only be two matches on the show courts during the day before the feature night matches begin at 6pm rather than 7. He said: "For the crowd, it's entertaining, it's exciting, to have matches (at) midnight, 1, 2, 3am. For us, it's really gruelling.
"Even if you go through and win, prevail in these kind of matches, you still have to come back. You have your sleeping cycle, rhythm disrupted completely, not enough time really to recover for another five-setter.
"Yeah, something needs to be addressed in terms of the schedule after what we've seen this year. Players' input is always important for tournament organisation.
"Whether it's decisive, we know that it's not because it comes down to what the TV broadcasters want to have. That's the ultimate decision maker."
Murray lost in four sets to Roberto Bautista Agut after backing up from his clash with Kokkinakis. "I'm sure if you went and spoke to some sleep experts and sports scientists etc, the people that actually really know what's important for athletes to recover, they would tell you that sleep is the number one thing," he said.
"That that's the most important thing, Finishing matches at four in the morning isn't good for the players.
"I would also argue it's not good for the sport, anyone involved in it. I do think there's some quite simple things that can be done to change that."
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