A host of tennis legends have hit back at criticism of the Australian Open’s scheduling, describing late night matches as the beauty of grand slam tennis.
Pressure was heaped upon tournament organisers on week one following Andy Murray’s marathon match-up with Thanasi Kokkinakis that ended shortly after 4am the next morning, with Murray particularly critical.
The match saw the second latest grand slam finish, only beaten by the 4.34am finish between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis in the third round of the 2008 Australian Open.
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While admitting he was frustrated at the time, Baghdatis called it a « privilege » to be a part of such a historic match.
« I feel honoured, especially playing a long match like that against Lleyton Hewitt, » he said.
« I remember waking up after that match and going to the hotel and people were coming down for breakfast.
« It’s an experience, something you don’t live every day and I lived it. That’s how I take it and how it is in my head.
« Of course it’s tough when you’re on tour and especially if you win that match you want to continue on the tournament, but it’s unlucky when it happens. S–t happens. »
Badghdatis stressed the importance of not overreacting to rare occasions where an epic match results in a late-night finish.
« In the last 20 years, how many times did it happen? Maybe three times? It’s very difficult, » he said.
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« I understand the players are frustrated, especially the ones that went through it because I went through it and it was frustrating.
« But on the other hand, when you talk to the tournaments and they explain to you … I think they’re doing the best they can. It’s very hard to point fingers at somebody. »
Australian legend Mark Philippoussis backed up Baghdatis’ view, saying postponed or suspended matches could lead to the schedule being clogged the following day.
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« It’s a hard call, I mean you’re playing five hour, 45 minute matches, what can you do? » he said.
« You’ve got two athletes out there giving it their all and unfortunately there’s a match after it or they go on late and there’s rain delays, there’s heat, they’re things we can’t control.
« I understand it’s frustrating, but this is something that has been around since the start of tennis, it hasn’t changed.
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« You look at the other side, (if) you call off the match and come back the next day, what happens if they play five sets during the day and now they’ve got to come back and double it up and not have a day off? You can look at it in different ways.
« It’s never easy to play matches like this, it’s always going to hurt. You can get it on earlier, but by the time you get these day matches done, you’ve got to get the day crowds out and you’ve got to get the court ready. It’s never an easy call for a tournament. »
One man who has seen both sides of it is former world No.2 Tommy Haas, who is now the tournament director at Indian Wells.
The German suggested that tournaments are always looking for ways to ease the load on players in terms of late night finishes.
« Even when I came along to Indian Wells we were looking at the same thing, talking about it, having suggestions, seeing if we could change certain things, and I’m sure every tournament does the same thing, » he said.
« As a former player, you know that if you’re scheduled for the third match or fourth match of the day after 11am and you’re following two ladies matches and a men’s match, that means you could play at 2pm, that means you could play at 6.30pm, so you don’t really know.
« That’s the beauty and also the tough part as a tennis player because you don’t know when you’re going to go on the court. »
The legends’ comments follow Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley’s defence of the schedule last week after the Murray-Kokkinakis epic.
»There are so many variables that go into thinking about how you’re going to make it work each day, » he told Nine’s Today.
« Over the last few days we have had extreme heat, we’ve had over five breaks of rain, we’ve had cold.
« It’s Melbourne, but we don’t often get those conditions in such a short period of time. »
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