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The Roar



Murray right to be annoyed at Aus Open overnighter but cut-off time would create all new problems

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19th January, 2023
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Andy Murray’s comeback five-set triumph over Thanasi Kokkinakis on Thursday night (and, mostly, on Friday morning) was quite clearly one of the Australian Open’s greatest ever matches.

Not only did it have some exceptionally high-quality tennis from both players, a fightback to rival any we’ve seen before at Melbourne Park and a whole tournament’s worth of drama, it had enough juicy talking points to continue to dominate discussion over the coming days.

Most obviously, the prospect of a cut-off time for overnight matches is set to again come under consideration – as you’d expect for a match that finished at 4:06am, the second-latest finish in grand slam history. Only the famous 2008 match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis, that ended at 4:34am, finished later, and that was in violation of since-tightened rules stopping men’s singles matches from going ahead if they begin after 11pm.

“It’s so disrespectful that the tournament has us out here until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, and we’re not allowed to go and take a piss,” Murray seethed at the end of the fourth set, after he was told he wasn’t allowed to take a toilet break.

“It’s a joke. You know it’s a joke. It’s disrespectful.”

Murray is bang on that that incident was completely ludicrous – it’s absurd that a four- or five-hour match is subjected to the same ‘one three-minute toilet break’ rule as a 90-minute straight setter – and that rule needs to be changed immediately.

But Murray’s elaboration after the match, in which he claimed the late ending time was ‘a bit of a farce’ and benefits no one, warrants further examination.


“I don’t know who it’s beneficial for,” Murray said of the early-morning finish.

“We come here after the match, and that’s what discussion is. Rather than it being ‘epic Murray-Kokkinakis match’, it ends in a bit of a farce.

“Amazingly people stayed until the end. I really appreciate people doing that, creating an atmosphere for us at the end. I really appreciate that. Some people need to work the following day and everything.

“If my child was a ball kid for a tournament, they’re coming home at 5 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. So, yeah, we talk about it all the time… when you start the night matches late and have conditions like that, these things are going to happen.”

Andy Murray.

Andy Murray during his Australian Open match against Thanasi Kokkinakis. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Murray has every right to be aggrieved at the late finish – it will likely impact his preparation ahead of a third-round duel with Roberto Bautista Agut on Saturday.


But surely it would be just as detrimental for him had the match been paused after the third, or fourth, set, and forced the pair to finish the game during their allotted day off?

I also couldn’t disagree more with Murray’s argument that ‘I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans’. There are plenty of disadvantaged parties in this whole debate – but the fans are absolutely not one of them.

Thousands stayed in Margaret Court Arena for the duration of the match, and were utterly transfixed throughout. Anyone who bought a ticket to the night session on that court got their money’s worth and more, and you can guarantee the conversation at the water cooler at work on Friday morning (unless, understandably, they chose to chuck a sickie) would have been about the insane match they’d witnessed live and in person.

Remember the scenes two years ago when the midnight curfew at Melbourne Park forced fans to leave ahead of a fifth set between Novak Djokovic and Taylor Fritz? We would have seen the same anger and frustration, magnified even more by the presence of an Australian in Kokkinakis, had this match been put on hold until the next morning at any stage.

At the same time, no one was stopping anyone who had to, or wanted to, leave earlier.

No doubt poor parents having to pull overnighters to pick up their exhausted ballkids isn’t ideal; then again, I can imagine one or two of those kids would be thrilled to have been involved in such a historic match. Imagine the bragging rights when school starts in a week’s time!

Solutions have quickly been offered on social media: Murray’s brother Jamie advocated for just one match played on the major courts in the evening session, while Martina Navratilova is keen to see greater restrictions brought in place for starting and finishing times at night.


I can’t imagine Murray’s idea proving popular among fans: two matches immediately doubles the chances of seeing a high-quality match. Equally, is it worth changing the current format, pushing more matches onto outside courts and away from marquee venues, all for once-in-a-blue-moon miracle matches like this one?

This would also, I guarantee it, disproportionately disadvantage women’s players. If only one match every evening is scheduled on the major courts, you can bet your bottom dollar it will be the men who get it 19 times out of 20.

Is that fair on Belinda Bencic, a gold medallist and world number twelve who earned her chance on a main court? Would it be fair for Ons Jabeur, the defeated women’s second seed, to be shunted from Rod Laver Arena because men’s fourth seed Novak Djokovic is a bigger drawcard?

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As for Navratilova’s argument about start and finish times, men’s matches started later on Wednesday evening than Murray-Kokkinakis did, given the backlog caused by a day’s worth of matches being rained out. The only difference was that none of those matches turned out to be a marathon.

In any event, had Murray and Kokkinakis’ match been delayed a day due to the late start time, or stopped midway, then more problems will be created in fixing the current ones.

Had the match resumed on Friday, Kokkinakis, thanks to his rain-interrupted first-round win over Fabio Fognini, would have entered a fourth consecutive day playing tennis, and needing to make it five in a row had he won.

At least with a late finish like this he could theoretically have headed straight to bed, got a good morning’s sleep and still had half a day or so to recover, had he emerged victorious.

The fact is, also, that late finishes like Murray’s with Kokkinakis are incredibly rare, and that makes the occasions they happen even more memorable.

Fifteen years on, an otherwise unremarkable third-round match between Hewitt and Baghdatis is still utterly iconic in a way it never would have been had they stopped at 1am or 2am and continued with the match the next day.


This epic match was a perfect storm: the second-longest match in Australian Open history, starting later than scheduled thanks to longer games on MCA from earlier in the day.

There are arguments to be made about changing many things about it: earlier start times for evening sessions, greater allowances for player breaks in long overnight matches, and of course that toilet break farce.

But anyone who believes a cut-off time wouldn’t cause other problems to crop up, or once again dud the fans of the chance to see in full the match they paid to witness, probably needs to think again.