Aussie tennis great Mark Philippoussis inadvertently became the cause of all the Australian Open's troubles on Tuesday when his legends doubles match created a scheduling disaster. Tennis fans and commentators took Australian Open officials to task over the decision to begin four singles quarter-finals at 1pm on Tuesday, instead of the usual 11am or midday start.
Coco Gauff's win over Marta Kostyuk took over three hours to complete, before Novak Djokovic and Taylor Fritz also played a long four-setter. The two matches were supposed to be finished by 7pm, at which point the night session would begin with Aryna Sabalenka and Barbora Krejcikova, followed by Jannik Sinner and Andrey Rublev.
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But Djokovic's match didn't finish until closer to 9pm, meaning fans with tickets to the night session were locked out for two hours. When the night session finally began there were thousands of empty seats around Rod Laver Arena, with fans evidently sick of waiting and heading home to get some sleep before work on Wednesday.
And the farcical situation was all down to the fact that organisers inexplicably decided to put a legends doubles match - featuring Philippoussis - as the first on Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday morning. Philippoussis teamed up with Marcos Baghdatis to beat Thomas Johansson and Robert Lindstedt, but couldn't have imagined the havoc that the match was about to produce.
Sabalenka and Krejcikova didn't get on court until around 9pm, and by the time Sinner had beaten Rublev it was 1.30am. Organisers would have been counting their lucky stars that Sabalenka and Sinner didn't play long matches, otherwise we would have been looking at another 4am finish that organisers had supposedly taken steps to avoid this year.
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Organisers immediately took steps to rectify the situation for Wednesday, starting play at midday instead of 1pm. They even asked Sabalenka and Krejcikova if they wanted to relocate to Margaret Court arena on Tuesday night so the night session could begin, but they declined.
Sabalenka later revealed that she would have taken up the offer if Djokovic and Fritz went to a fifth set. "There was the possibility that one of our matches will be moved, but we just decided to see how the Novak and Fritz match will go," Sabalenka explained in her press conference. "If it's gonna be too long, then we kind of agreed for the possibility to be moved, but Novak won third and fourth sets, so we just went on court as normal."
The women's World No.1 said she believed Sinner and Rublev were offered the same move. "I'm pretty sure they asked the guys if they want to move, but yeah. It's not like they pushed us, you know," she said. "They just ask our opinion and what we are thinking about being moved."
Fritz said he felt for Sinner and Rublev having to play into the early hours of the morning, especially before a semi-final in the Italian's case. Thankfully he and Djokovic have two full days off before the men's semis on Friday.
"It just screws up your whole clock. I pray for those guys," Fritz said. "If they end up doing that, then they can at least get scheduled at that time for the rest of the tournament. If you have to turn around and play in the afternoon in any of the other days, it just completely messes your sleep schedule.
"There's got to be something they can do to where people aren't playing until 2-3am. I don't think people really fully understand how much time we actually have to spend doing stuff after we finish playing as far as like ice bath, treatment with physios, massage, all this stuff. If you finish at 2am, there is no chance I'm going to sleep until 5am, 6am."
All tournament until now they've played 2 matches on Rod Laver Arena for the #AusOpen day session. Then today they inexplicably add a Legends Doubles at 12 noon.
Surely they should have played the singles matches starting at 11am. That would have started the night session on time
— Michael Shillito (@tealfooty) January 23, 2024
Of course you can never control how long matches will go for, but you can control what time you start a day session! Didn’t start until midday with a pointless Legends doubles match! The women’s QF should’ve started at 11am! #AusOpen
— Matt Sullivan (@MattSull67) January 23, 2024
I think the problem was much more to do with the day session starting at midday (rather than 11) with a legends doubles match. What happened to only 2 matches on RLA during the day session?
— Daniel Young (@DanYoung555) January 23, 2024
I thought AO moved to 2 matches to the day session to avoid the night session starting late. So they decided to put legend doubles match on at the start? Shouldn’t that be the kinda match you put on if the 2 others ones are drubbings or easily cancel if they’re are going long?
— Ali (@emerald_229) January 23, 2024
... and this time the organisers brought it on themselves. Whose stupid idea was it to schedule a legends doubles match on RLA at lunchtime Aus time and hence put everything back (at least) one hour ?
— Scotland to Wembley (@donkinitex) January 23, 2024
It’s so pathetic on their part. The exact situation JUST happened 5 days ago with Medvedev where he started his match at 11:30pm and didn’t he was on court until 3:30am. This was a major screw up putting that useless legends doubles match on.
— Ben (@BenTheBettor) January 23, 2024
Fans paid for their tickets so you could argue that they deserve to hear an on-court interview. Just think with a 2 hour delay to the night session…better decisions need to be made.
No legends doubles scheduled tomorrow. First singles match commences 12pm. #AusOpen https://t.co/hITEid48Xh
— Christian Montegan (@monte_sports) January 23, 2024
Aus Open: "Early finishes here we come."
Also Aus Open: 9pm, starting a women's QF which will be followed by a men's QF because the day session didn't start till 1pm because they had to have *checks notes* Legends Doubles first.
Somebody make it make sense. #AusOpen
— Scott Pryde (@sk_pryde) January 23, 2024
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