MELBOURNE, Australia — It was 4 o’clock on Friday morning on the Australian Open, and Andy Murray and Thanasi Kokkinakis were still playing tennis.
It was not a very rare marathon match or a vagary of the tournament’s distant time zone. On the U.S. Open last September, Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner were still playing at nearly 3 a.m.
Skilled tennis is the one major sport that puts athletes through all-night competitions and requires them to return lower than 48 hours later and put their minds and bodies back on the road.
It’s a longstanding problem. But as matches stretch later into the morning hours, increasingly players are pushing back, citing concerns for his or her physical and mental health, and performance. Not to say fans who’re falling asleep within the stands or on their sofas around the globe.
“It’s crazy,” Jessica Pegula, the American women’s star, said on Friday.
Murray’s 5-hour, 45-minute victory over Kokkinakis within the second round ended at 4:05 a.m. It was the third-latest recorded finish within the history of skilled tennis, surpassed only by Alexander Zverev’s victory over Jenson Brooksby in Acapulco, Mexico, last yr that ended at 4:54 a.m., and by Lleyton Hewitt’s victory over Marcos Baghdatis on the 2008 Australian Open that ended at 4:34 a.m.
It’ll be certainly one of the highlights of the 35-year-old Murray’s late profession. But he experienced it, unnecessarily, with mixed emotions.
“If my child was a ball kid for a tournament, they usually’re coming home at 5 within the morning, as a parent I’m snapping at that,” Murray said. “It’s not useful for them. It’s not useful for the umpires, the officials. I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players.”
He added later, “Somewhat than it being like epic Murray-Kokkinakis match, it ends in a little bit of a farce.”
It has been a specific challenge on the Australian and U.S. Open, where each a men’s and ladies’s singles match are scheduled in each night session, an awesome move for gender equality, ticket sales and star power.
In 2008 when Hewitt finally defeated Baghdatis on the Australian Open in a match that began just before midnight and ended not long before sunrise, Hewitt’s post-match news conference didn’t begin until 5:30 a.m.
The 2023 Australian Open
The yr’s first Grand Slam tennis tournament runs from Jan. 16 to Jan. 29 in Melbourne.
“Obviously, happening that late will not be easy for anyone, any players, since it does throw your whole rhythm and clock out quite a bit,” Hewitt said on the time.
The toll is heavy on athletes, support staff and spectators with regular jobs, although a really informal poll of fans coming out of the Murray match at 4:15 a.m. didn’t reveal any outrage.
“We might never leave early,” said Kathie Griffith from Canberra, Australia. “Implausible tennis.”
Requiring play into the midnight seems contradictory to the game’s increased concentrate on supporting players’ mental health. Nick Kyrgios, the Australian star, said his series of late matches ultimately yr’s U.S. Open were particularly draining.
“I used to be all the time last match, happening court at 10 p.m., ending matches around, like 1 a.m., then doing media and treatment and eating,” Kyrgios said. “I used to be not going to sleep before 4 a.m. every night. And I felt as if, you recognize, I used to be going out night-clubbing or something. It was like I’m not even getting enough sleep to go and perform the subsequent day.”
Decompressing from a late match is a challenge.
“I’m gazing the room,” Kyrgios said. “You’ve got a lot adrenaline, and it’s incredibly hard to wind down and to do it on a each day basis potentially seven times to win a Grand Slam. It’s exhausting, obviously.”
The game has never had a proper collective discussion a couple of higher, saner approach nevertheless it may very well be coming. On Friday, the Skilled Tennis Players Association, the player group recently co-founded by longtime men’s No. 1 Novak Djokovic, released an announcement saying that “we look ahead to exploring alternate means to scheduling that put fans and players and their well-being first.”
There are guidelines on each the lads’s and ladies’s tours about not starting matches after midnight, but that also doesn’t preclude long-after-midnight finishes. And while the lads play best-of-three sets on the regular tour, they proceed to play best-of-five on the 4 majors partially because that continues to be a degree of separation for the Grand Slam tournaments.
Switching to best-of-three for the lads (the ladies already play best-of-three all over the place) could be one of the vital effective ways of controlling finish times. But there are less extreme measures available, including starting play earlier, establishing a curfew or playing one singles match in an evening session as a substitute of the customary two.
Long matches have gotten more common, and there are multiple aspects. Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, said the institution of the 25-second shot clock, intended to hurry up play, has not necessarily worked that way. “A number of players are taking full time now between points because they will see the time,” he said. “There’s also the equity of play with so many good players.”
Nicolás Pereira, a coach and tv analyst, thinks the recent widespread use of analytics in skilled tennis may have made matches more even.
Tiley said the game should consider changes like reducing changeover times or cutting the time between points to twenty seconds. But the most important obstacle still appears to be that the Australian Open and U.S. Open schedule a men’s singles match and ladies’s singles match in each night session. That’s for gender equality in a sport that was a front-runner in that area but in addition for entertainment value. If one match is a rout or ends early due to an injury, the opposite could still be a classic.
Tiley said that market research showed that offering only one match on a court in a night session could be dangerous.
“I feel you lose loads with broadcasters and with fans who could be buying a ticket to risk seeing one match where one player can potentially blow out one other player,” he said on Friday in an interview. “All the info and research we now have on that indicates that it’s an option that may have a big impact on the success of the event. We have now various examples where our first match has gone 56 minutes and if that was your only match that night, I feel you begin to run a risk by way of the worth you provide.”
The French Open, which began night sessions in 2021 that featured just one match, has sparked complaints about gender inequality by scheduling mostly men’s matches in that slot (best-of-five generally gives you more content than best-of-three). But with an 8:45 p.m. start, there have been some late finishes in Paris, too, leaving spectators without public transport and players with the too-familiar late-night routine.
An alternative choice in Melbourne and Recent York could be to schedule one singles match each night, alternating men and ladies, and pair that match with a doubles match that may very well be moved to a different court if the singles match turns right into a marathon.
Tiley said the issue is that the doubles events don’t start until several days into the tournament. “You’d miss the primary three or 4 nights with that,” he said, also expressing resistance to the concept of scheduling an exhibition doubles match to complement the essential singles match.
“I feel you’ll erode interest and the info shows us that,” he said.
Playing a compelling match in the course of the night doesn’t help local viewing figures. But due to global audience, it could paradoxically generate greater audiences elsewhere. When it was 4 a.m. in Melbourne, it was noon in Recent York and 6 p.m. in Paris. “I’m more concerned concerning the well-being of the athletes playing that late than concerned about who’s watching in several parts of the world,” Tiley said.
Tiley, like Stacey Allaster, the U.S. Open tournament director, agrees that late finishes like Alcaraz’s in Recent York and Murray’s in Melbourne are problematic. “Ending that early within the morning will not be ideal,” Tiley said. “I completely empathize with anyone who must be there that late.”
Tiley said the Australian Open may very well be open to a curfew just like the one at Wimbledon, which due to a town edict requires matches played under the lights to be stopped by 11 p.m. But Tiley said players traditionally have been proof against the concept of stopping a match for the night once it begins.
That was once routine on the French Open and Wimbledon when there have been no lights and positively seems a greater solution than testing players’ limits and reducing their possibilities of recovering well for subsequent matches. Alcaraz did manage to win last yr’s U.S. Open after beating Marin Cilic and Sinner in matches that finished after 2 a.m., but that’s an exception, and that draining effort could have contributed to Alcaraz’s recent struggles and injuries.
“If the players need to have a curfew, high-quality we’ll have it,” Tiley said. “We’re open to anything, and we all the time have been. It’s not a recent thing. We’ve all the time made adjustments.”
The Australian Open did recently move up the beginning of the night sessions to 7 p.m. from 7:45 p.m. But that clearly was not enough change to avoid, in Murray’s words, a “ridiculously late” finish.
Matthew Futterman contributed reporting.