The Australian Open has been criticized in the past (even as recently as this week) for its haphazard scheduling, both for heat and for match congestion, and Thursday’s slate of games added another point of evidence to the growing list of reasons why the first Grand Slam of the year needs a bit of an overhaul.
Eighteenth-seeded Spaniard Garbiñe Muguruza was scheduled to take on the last British hope on the women’s side, unseeded Johanna Konta, starting at 9 p.m. local time at the Margaret Court Arena. However, due to Alexander Zverev and Jeremy Chardy’s five-set slog earlier in the evening, the women’s match kept getting delayed until it finally began on Friday morning at 12:22 am local time.
The worst part is that Zverev sealed his victory over Chardy with a relatively breezy 6-1 final set; imagine if that had also gone to tiebreak, as the first and fourth sets did earlier in that match. Zverev-Chardy also started late, due to an earlier five-set match that did drag into a final set tiebreak, between Kei Nishikori and Ivo Karlovic; that ended in favor of the 29-year-old Japanese player, who won the final set 7-6 with a 10-7 tiebreak.
There was a possibility of swapping courts for the Muguruza-Konta match, except that it was so late that the Open did not have enough staff on hand to clean up bird poop on Court 3. One of the four biggest tournaments in world tennis started its latest match ever—the previous record was set last year, when Daria Gavrilova and Elise Mertens started at 11:59 p.m. local time—because of seagulls getting an un-fixable case of the shits on the court. Fantastic.
The simplest solution for this nonsense is unfortunately one that the WTA has not taken seriously so far: make men’s matches during Grand Slams three damn sets. Laura Wagner did a great job of breaking this down during the U.S. Open last year, and one of the suggestions that was floated around then—making every Grand Slam institute a fifth-set tiebreak—was put into play at the Aussie Open starting this year. As Wagner wrote, though, “The problem isn’t what happens once players get to 6-6 in the fifth set, but how long it takes to get to that point.”
Three sets would benefit both fans—who would get to watch all the matches they paid for without the risk of falling asleep in the stands—and players—who would not have to start matches at ungodly hours.
In the meantime, for the sake of the remaining players in the Australian Open, we hope that the tournament hires a few more people to clean up bird crap. If Grand Slams—aside from Wimbledon, who does a good job of getting everyone home at a reasonable hour with its hard stop on matches that go on past 11 p.m.—are going to keep congesting the schedule to the point where matches can begin after midnight, the least organizers can do is be prepared to wipe both the literal and metaphorical crap off of their tournament.
As of press time, Muguruza won the first set 6-4, but was locked into a tight second set with Konta, which sat at 3-4 in favor of the Brit.