It happened again. Of course it was.
Two tennis players, starting around midnight, battling almost until sunrise in front of a crowd of scattered fans, with a team of kids in their early teens rushing after balls around four in the morning.
Last year it was Andy Murray dueling with Thanasi Kokkinakis until the night sky started to clear around 4am. Thursday and Friday, it was the Russian Daniil Medvedev and Emil Ruusuvuori from Finland does the tennis version of the 2 a.m. jazz set.
“I wouldn’t have stayed,” Medvedev said in an on-court interview after completing his comeback from two sets down and eliminating Ruusuvuori 3-6, 6-7(1), 6-4, 7-6(1). ). 6-0. Judging by the score, Ruusuvuori decided against it and it was hard to blame him.
The dynamic would seem absurd if it weren’t so routine. The two main tournaments where this happens, the Australian Open and the US Open, seem to treat this as a badge of honor rather than a serious risk to the players involved, particularly the one who wins the match, se goes to bed around 6 a.m., then has to come back the next day.
Medvedev was floating around Melbourne Park mid-afternoon Friday after sleeping a strange night and trying to figure out how to prepare for his Saturday night match against Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime.
“I wake up for my match today at 7 o’clock and I’m sure that’s when he fell asleep,” Karen Khachanov, Medvedev’s good friend and fellow Russian, said Friday after his victory against the Czech Tomas Machac. “There should be some limits because especially in best-of-five, you know the match can last up to five hours and then you start at 11 p.m. It’s not normal, it’s not healthy for anyone to recover, to prepare for the next day, the next match. You lose a full night of sleep. Sleeping is part of recovery, one of the most important parts. The food, everything we do, the treatments, the ice baths. All that and you don’t sleep. So how are you going to feel the next day?
In recent years, a growing number of actors have said enough is enough.
“Late night games not only harm the players, they negatively impact fans, ballplayers, event employees and all stakeholders involved,” Ahmad Nassar, executive director of the Association of Professional Tennis Players, the organization co-organized by Novak Djokovic. founded in 2020 to address, among other issues, the working conditions of arguably the most important people in sport. “From a health and safety standpoint, it’s not optimal, it’s frankly not fair,” Nassar said.
Pressure from the PTPA – as well as Jannik Sinner’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Masters in November after winning a match that started at 12:30 a.m. and ended at nearly 3 a.m. – helped constrain officials of the men’s and women’s circuits, the ATP and the WTA, to agree to prohibit the start of matches after 11 p.m. from next year. Matches scheduled on a field still in use after 10:30 p.m. will be moved to another field and both circuits have told tournament organizers they want night sessions to start at 6:30 p.m. rather than 7 or 7:30 p.m., with no more than two matches on the field. night schedule.
However, tennis being tennis, with seven different organizations empowered to make their own rules with little input from active players, the four most important tournaments – Wimbledon, the US Open, the Australian Open and the Open of France – are not obliged to follow this rule. .
Late-night arrivals are not a problem at Wimbledon, which has an 11 p.m. curfew, or the French Open, which schedules only one match during its night sessions, but Melbourne and New York do not. don’t observe curfew, so some of their biggest matches end up taking place in front of a few hundred brave souls.
“It’s a very obvious thing that needs to change,” Andy Murray said last week of late-night starts and finishes and changes to the circuit’s rules. “From a player’s point of view, it’s definitely going to help him recover for the next day’s matches and things like that. I certainly think for the fans and the tournament, it probably looks a little bit more professional if you’re not finishing at three or four in the morning.
Tennis Australia made some changes to the tournament this year which it said were aimed at avoiding late night starts and arrivals. Most notably, it scheduled only two afternoon matches on the main courts instead of three, thereby reducing the risk of a late start to the evening session.
The first round has been extended to three days instead of two, leaving more room to schedule the first 128 singles matches. This had little effect on late starts because the start time of evening sessions remained 7 p.m. and because tennis matches are longer than before because there is more depth, more athletics and points, so games, sets and matches last longer.
On opening night, defending women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka took the court at 11:30 p.m. after Novak Djokovic’s four-hour fight with Dino Prizmic.
It should be noted, and Tennis Australia officials were keen to note, that a cascading series of events led to Thursday’s late start and finish.
Two unexpected downpours occurred early in the afternoon, the first of which delayed play at Rod Laver Arena because rain was not forecast and its roof was open. Iga Swiatek usually goes through matches like she’s attending a Taylor Swift concert, but her duel with Danielle Collins lasted more than three hours.
Then Carlos Alcaraz’s victory over Lorenzo Sonego lasted almost three and a half hours. Because play at Rod Laver doesn’t start until noon, compared to 11 a.m. at the other courts, the long afternoon matches pushed the start of the evening session to 7 p.m. Then the first match of the evening, between Elena Rybakina and Anna Blinkova, lasted almost three hours and included a decisive tiebreaker with a final score of 22-20, the longest tiebreaker in history of the Grand Slam.
Medvedev stayed in the tunnel for half an hour, waiting for the end. He finally reached the court around 11:30 p.m. Another, albeit smaller, showground, located about 250 yards from Rod Laver, had been available for nearly two hours by then. Four hours and five sets later, Medvedev was in the third round.
On average, two men’s matches and two women’s matches at the Australian Open should add up to around nine hours of tennis. Thursday and Friday morning, the action on Rod Laver lasted nearly 14 hours.
There was even an advantage to this late arrival that Tennis Australia officials praised Friday afternoon in the murky light of the day. They looked at social media and saw many fans in Europe and the United States who, given the double-digit time difference, were able to enjoy Medvedev’s triumph for part of their workday.
It was enough for the world number 3 to have a sleepless night.
(Top photo: Anthony Wallace/AFP via Getty Images)