Novak Djokovic joins calls for Australian Open to address schedule issues

Novak Djokovic has added his voice to calls for changes to be made to the Australian Open schedule amid growing concern over player welfare and fairness at this year’s tournament at Melbourne Park.

Andy Murray was forced to back up just a day and a half after a gruelling near-six hour epic against Thanasi Kokkinakis that did not finish until 4am local time, a match that highlighted the issue for the first time at this year’s grand slam.

After bowing out of the tournament in Saturday night’s third-round loss to Roberto Bautista Agut, a drained Murray indicated he was in favour of reducing the number of show court matches during the day and bringing forward the night session to avoid playing into the small hours.

Australian Open boss Craig Tiley said after the Murray-Kokkinakis marathon that there were no plans to change the schedule, saying that the occasional late-nighter was inevitable at grand slams and that broadcast deals were a consideration in not implementing a cut-off point.

But pressure is increasing on Tiley to reconsider his stance as Djokovic, the nine-times Australian Open champion, lent his support to the idea of change after he progressed into the fourth round with a hamstring-hampered straight-sets win over Grigor Dimitrov.

“Players’ input is always important for tournament organisation,” Djokovic said. “Whether it’s decisive, we know that it’s not because it comes down to what the TV broadcasters want to have. That’s the ultimate decision-maker.

“For the crowd, it’s entertaining, it’s exciting, to have matches [at] midnight, 1, 2, 3am. For us, it’s really gruelling. Even if you go through and win, prevail in these kind of matches, you still have to come back. You have your sleeping cycle, rhythm disrupted completely, not enough time really to recover for another five-setter.

“Something needs to be addressed in terms of the schedule after what we’ve seen this year.

Murray was hailed for his efforts after rallying from two sets down to beat Australian wildcard Kokkinakis with the clock reading 4.05am on Friday morning, when the Scot labelled the situation “a bit of a farce”.

After his tournament came to an end on Saturday, Murray reiterated his view that “finishing matches at four in the morning isn’t good for the players”.

“I would also argue it’s not good for the sport, anyone involved in it. I do think there’s some quite simple things that can be done to change that.”

Murray pointed to recent changes at the US Open, where the number of matches on the show courts during day sessions has been reduced from three to two.

“That would stop the day matches running into the night session starting too late. I think that’s quite a simple one that you could look at,” he said. “You’d still get quality matches during the day. The people who bought ground passes would get to see more of the top players, which would be excellent for them.

“If you did that, you could also potentially bring the night sessions slightly earlier, as well, like 6.00 or 6.30. That time, those few hours, can make a difference to the players. That’s something that’s probably worth, yeah, considering moving forwards.”