Andy Murray said what many were thinking when he barked during his epic five-set victory at the Australian Open: “Why are we playing at 3am?!”
The 35-year-old Briton with a metal hip has made a career of dramatic comebacks, but even for the former world number one this was taking it a bit far.
The three-time Grand Slam champion’s remarkable second-round win over Australian player Thanasi Kokkinakis eventually ended at 4:05 am on Friday in Melbourne.
At five hours and 45 minutes it was the Briton’s longest match in a storied career characterised by comebacks both on and off the court.
Having also survived a five-setter on Tuesday against 13th-seeded Matteo Berrettini, Murray must now get himself up for a meeting with 24th seed Roberto Bautista Agut on Saturday.
Murray was back at Melbourne Park less than eight hours after his match for practice, but he made little effort to hide his disdain for what happened.
“Rather than it being, like, ‘epic Murray-Kokkinakis match’, it ends in a bit of a farce,” said the veteran, who was on the verge of retirement four years ago in Melbourne before undergoing career-saving surgery on his hip.
Murray, a father of young children and someone who has always been able to see the bigger picture beyond tennis, said it was to nobody’s advantage.
“Some people need to work the following day,” he said, thanking those spectators who stayed on at Margaret Court Arena even as night threatened to become day.
“If my child was a ball kid for a tournament, they’re coming home at five in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that.
“It’s not beneficial for them. It’s not beneficial for the umpires, the officials. I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players.”
Jessica Pegula, the American world number three, said it was damaging physically and mentally to the players.
“It’s crazy. There’s no (other) sport that does that,” said the 28-year-old, whose billionaire parents own NFL team the Buffalo Bills.
“I definitely think it’s something that needs to be talked about because I don’t think any of the players think that should be happening at all.”
The Murray-Kokkinakis encounter is not the latest finish in the Open era of tennis.
That was in 2008, again at the Australian Open, when Lleyton Hewitt outlasted Marcos Baghdatis in a third-round clash that ended at 4:34am.
And it’s not only there. At the French Open last year, Rafael Nadal finished off Novak Djokovic in a quarter-final that ended at 1:15am.
The French Open launched night sessions for the first time in 2021, reserving the day’s top match for primetime audiences as part of a new broadcasting deal.
Australian Open chief Craig Tiley said Friday there was “no need” to alter the scheduling in Melbourne, despite a barrage of criticism from inside and outside tennis.
Murray’s brother Jamie, a doubles specialist who is also playing at Melbourne Park, was among those saying it was time to have only one match during night sessions at Grand Slams.
But Tiley said: “If you just put one match at night and there’s an injury, you don’t have anything for fans or broadcasters.”
And not all the players mind playing so late.
“The match started at 10:00pm. Kokkinakis made it long. Murray made it long, too,” said Stefanos Tsitsipas, the highest seed remaining in the men’s draw at three.
“I think tennis likes these kind of matches because there’s a story behind (them), there’s a great story behind this match and it’s going to be remembered.
“I do remember very vividly, very well the match that Baghdatis played with Hewitt. It’s somewhere back inside my mind somewhere.
“I do remember this moment.”
The 21-year-old Jannik Sinner said he “didn’t care” what time he played.
“It’s all part of our sport now,” the Italian added.
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