Australian Open: Late-night finishes labeled a ‘nightmare for tennis’ after Andy Murray’s 4 a.m. victory
It was 4:05 am in Melbourne when Andy Murray drilled a backhand winner past Thanasi Kokkinakis, finally ending a marathon game that had started five hours and 45 minutes earlier.
Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 1, came from straight sets to beat Kokkinakis at the Australian Open, exposing all the grit and determination that his signature tennis career.
Kokkinakis also deserves huge credit for continuing to fight into the wee hours of Thursday morning, when most in Australia were long in bed.
But as the players drained all their energy reserves at the Margaret Court Arena, many wondered why a match was still being played after 4am.
Among them was Murray himself, who was furious at not being allowed to go to the toilet after taking a bathroom break earlier in the game.
“It’s so disrespectful that the tournament allows us to be here until three in the morning, four goddamn hours and we’re not allowed to piss,” the Scot said.
Murray’s brother, doubles specialist Jamie, shared his brother’s frustration, tweet during the second round match: “We can’t let players compete into the small hours. Bullshit for all involved – players/fans/event staff.”
The Australian Open has a demanding schedule in the early rounds of the tournament; Five games are regularly played on the show courts each day – three during the day and two at night.
The match between Murray and Kokkinakis was the second-to-last finish in Australian Open history.
In 2008, Lleyton Hewitt took victory over Marcos Baghdatis in five sets at 4:33 a.m. after Roger Federer took four and a half hours to defeat Janko Tipsarevic earlier in the day.
Those late finishes are good news for international viewers in Europe and North America, who can enjoy the drama and thrills of a five-set match, but less so for those involved in the spectacle itself.
“I really think this is a tennis nightmare,” said Simon Cambers, a tennis writer and co-author of The Roger Federer effecttells CNN Sports.
“The players involved in these night matches are badly affected and their chances of progression are slim.
“There were very few people in Australia who would have stayed up to watch the whole game and while the international ratings would have been good, the game must be about more than money.
“Many others are also affected, including staff, civil servants, media, ball boys, all of whom are working ridiculous hours, making them tired and not doing their jobs properly. Which other top sport plays until 4 a.m.? It’s crazy.”
CNN contacted Tennis Australia about the Australian Open schedule, but did not receive an immediate response.
Murray, who will play Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round on Saturday, was back in practice at the Margaret Court Arena eight hours after his match against Kokkinakis on Friday.
In that time, he would have fulfilled his media responsibilities, warmed up, had something to eat, traveled back to his hotel and, once the match’s adrenaline wore off, slept.
However, the organizers of the Australian Open see no need to change the tournament schedule immediately after the nightly finish.
“We need to protect the matches,” said Tennis Australia chief Craig Tiley told Australian broadcaster Nine. “If you only play one game at night and there’s an injury, you have nothing for fans or broadcasters.
“At the moment there is no reason to change the schedule. We always look at it when we do the debrief, as we do every year; we’ve had long matches before, right now we have to fit the matches in 14 days, so you don’t have many options.
Cambers thinks it would be worth exploring the option of shortening men’s matches in the earlier rounds to the best of three sets to ease schedule pressure, then reverting to the best from the fourth round of five.
“Before anyone starts screaming about tradition, it’s been done before, in the 1970s,” he says.
“If they don’t want to change the schedule, make matches shorter and less epic by speeding up lanes and balls. That way, rallies and matches won’t exhaust everyone and potentially extend a player’s career.
Murray, who also needed five sets to beat Matteo Berrettini in the first round, will play the first game of the night session at Margaret Court Arena on Saturday.
Both he and opponent Bautista Agut, who came from two sets down to beat Brandon Holt in the second round, are hoping for faster wins this time around.
But history is not exactly favorable to them on that front: last time they met in Melbourne, Bautista Agut triumphed in five sets and over four hours.
Maybe we should prepare for another marathon roller coaster at the Australian Open.