Alex de Minaur had expressed his hope of playing on Rod Laver Arena just hours before Australian Open officials made the staggering call to bump Novak Djokovic out of his preferred spot. De Minaur was given prime-time billing on centre court for his clash with Andrey Rublev on Sunday night and played the first match of the night session on Rod Laver.
The big loser from the decision was World No.1 Djokovic, who was forced to play second in the day session. It marked the first time since 2021 that the 10-time Australian Open champion hasn't been given the night session on Rod Laver at Melbourne Park, but it mattered little as he recorded a dominant 6-0 6-0 6-3 win over Adrian Mannarino.
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Organisers were forced to make the tricky decision because de Minaur and Djokovic have been playing on the same day, but they eventually gave the preferred time-slot to the local player. And in all fairness, the World No.5 (Rublev) against the World No.10 (de Minaur) would be a better spectacle than the World No.1 (Djokovic) against the World No.19 (Mannarino).
Tellingly, de Minaur had previously said that he prefers Rod Laver to John Cain Arena - where he played his third-round match. "I would love to play on RLA," the 24-year-old said before the Sunday schedule was confirmed.
"That prime-time slot is pretty special, and you've got to earn it. But ultimately it doesn't really matter when I play, whether I play first match, whether I play last. Whether I play on RLA or court 27, I'm still going to be the same."
Tennis fans left fuming over Novak Djokovic 'insult'
The decision to put Djokovic in the afternoon ended a run of 15-consecutive night matches for the 24-time major winner at Melbourne Park. The last time he played in the day was in the second round in 2021 when he overcame Frances Tiafoe in four sets in sweltering conditions.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 20, 2024
As some pointed out on Saturday, Australian Open officials might have been more comfortable scheduling Djokovic in the afternoon on Sunday because the temperature only reached a top of 19 degrees. There were light showers around Melbourne Park as well, meaning the roof was closed on Rod Laver and Djokovic would have felt like he was playing a night match anyway. If they had made him play in oppressive heat and he lost, one can only imagine the outrage.
The scheduling decision was also a massive impediment for Mannarino in that it gave him very little time to recover from a marathon third-round match. The Frenchman overcame 16th seed Ben Shelton in five gruelling sets on Friday night in a match that lasted over four hours and finished near midnight. It was the 35-year-old's third match in a row in which he won in five sets.
Djokovic had it much easier against Tomás Martín Etcheverry in a straight-sets win. Nevertheless, fans of the Serbian star have been crying foul on social media, describing it as an 'insult' to the 10-time champion that he wasn't given top billing. But others have argued that gifting Djokovic whatever he wants would be continuing to show favouritism and disadvantages his rivals.
Either way, it presented de Minaur a golden opportunity to make the quarter-finals and equal his best showing at a grand slam. "I'll try to get a little bit better and beat my personal best, get to a quarter-finals. That's the first step," he said. "I've made a couple of fourth rounds in the past. I maybe have gotten to that point and not played the type of match I wanted to. I'm hoping I can break that barrier and go one further."
You actually gave him a day game. Hell has frozen over.
— Joe Kostowski (@JoeK64002711) January 20, 2024
Total joke schedule
— Michael Gray (@Jays_Fan2) January 20, 2024
#AusOpen match scheduling has been shockingly discriminatory in favour of Men's No.1 #Djokovic who has played every match for almost 3 years in night session at Rod Laver-14 straight night matches. By contrast Women's No.1 #Swiatek has played 1st match 2 days in a row & 5… pic.twitter.com/MTKXZXmcQY
— Hidden truth Guru (@rajeshworld) January 18, 2024
Australian Open saw the criticism that Djokovic has played 87 night matches in a row and said "fine, we'll sneak in a day match where his opponent played almost 5 hours to finish at 11 PM in what was his 3rd straight 5 setter, now we won't have to schedule another till 2027"
— Trenton Jocz (@TrentonJocz) January 20, 2024
Not often Djokovic does not get his preferred night slot on Rod Laver Arena but they've bumped him to the day session tomorrow in favour of Alex De Minaur. If Demon and Novak both make the quarters that day/night schedule is going to be an interesting call indeed. #AusOpen pic.twitter.com/PBrPDZllyR
— Neil McMahon (@NeilMcMahon) January 20, 2024
Oh, the earth-shattering news! Brace yourselves for the groundbreaking event – Novak Djokovic, the nocturnal tennis maestro, graces the day session for the first time in centuries. I'm sure the sun itself is clearing its schedule for this monumental occasion… https://t.co/fACVLkkHIJ
— 🎾Adrian🎾 (@Adrian86uk) January 20, 2024
Forecast maximum is 21 and possible showers. They have scheduled him during the day tomorrow so he doesn’t have to play in the day when it is hotter later in the week.
— Luke Starick (@LukeStarick) January 20, 2024
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