The Australian Open will add an extra day to its schedule next year in a bid to reduce pressure on players and fans following a series of punishing matches in recent years that ended well into the early hours.
The new 15-day schedule for January’s season-opening grand slam in Melbourne comes after growing calls to limit finish times across a notoriously crowded schedule marked by a number of matches going long into the night and taking a grueling toll on players.
At this year’s tournament, Andy Murray and Thanasi Kokkinakis famously ended a marathon battle at 4:05 a.m. in a second-round match that lasted nearly six hours.
Murray, a three-time grand slam champion and former world No. 1, was left fuming not just at the duration of the match but also because he was denied a chance to go to the toilet in the middle of the contest.
The Australian Open has a demanding schedule in the early rounds of the tournament; five matches are regularly played each day on the show courts – three during the day session and two at night.
“We’ve listened to feedback from the players and fans and are excited to deliver a solution to minimise late finishes while continuing to provide a fair and equitable schedule on the stadium courts,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement.
With the new changes, the tournament’s first round will last for three days, instead of the previous two, easing the squeeze in the busy opening stages.
The Australian Open’s new dates for 2024 will be January 14-28 and the Sunday start will increase the number of sessions across three arenas from 47 to 52. But organizers did not mention whether there would be a cutoff time for night matches.
The battle between Murray and Kokkinakis was only the second-latest finish in the tournament’s history.
In 2008, Lleyton Hewitt beat Marcos Baghdatis in five sets at 4:33 a.m. after Roger Federer had taken four and a half hours to defeat Janko Tipsarevic earlier in the day.
Those late finishes are a bonus for international viewers in Europe and North America, who are able to enjoy the drama and tension of a five-set match in their daytime hours. But they are less fun for the players and those watching in the stands.
The lack of a time cap in tennis means matches last as long as it takes players to win.
Three out of the four grand slams – the Australian Open, the French Open and the US Open – currently schedule night sessions, while Wimbledon ends evening sessions at 11 p.m. with unfinished matches resuming the following day.
The Wimbledon curfew, implemented in 2009, is said to be intended to get spectators home safely from the venue but the cutoff has at times left fans hanging on a cliff during the most intense matches.
The longest professional match occurred at Wimbledon in 2010 when US player John Isner eventually defeated French opponent Nicolas Mahut after an epic 11-hour contest played over three days.