Murray match highlights how tennis can be an all-night sport

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Andy Murray of Britain leaves Margaret Court Arena in the early hours of Friday Jan. 20, 2023 following his five set win over Australia's Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

MELBOURNEAndy Murray just wanted to go to the bathroom.

It was 3 a.m., he'd already been playing his Australian Open second-round match against Thanasi Kokkinakis for more than 4 1/2 hours — they would carry on for another set across more than another hour — and Murray was hoping to be allowed to head to the locker room for a quick break.

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Rules are rules, though, and Murray already had left the court twice, so chair umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore wouldn't budge, prompting this rebuke from the three-time Grand Slam champion: "It’s a joke. And you know it, as well."

Ah, the perils of playing all night, something that occurs occasionally in tennis, more than in other professional sports. It all left the 35-year-old Murray angry and wondering aloud after 4:05 a.m. Friday — when he finally, mercifully, finished off the 4-6, 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-3, 7-5 victory over Kokkinakis following 5 hours, 45 minutes of clashing skills and wills at Margaret Court Arena — why this sort of “farce,” as he termed it, needs to occur at all.

“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,” said Murray, a father of four. “So, yeah, we talk about it all the time. It’s been spoken about for years. When you start the night matches late, and have conditions like that, these things are going to happen.”

Especially at events like the Australian Open and U.S. Open, which hold daily night sessions that usually include two matches on some courts. Which can lead to extreme situations such as Murray vs. Kokkinakis, which came 15 years to the day after the latest finish in Grand Slam history, a match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis at the 2008 Australian Open that concluded at 4:34 a.m.

“There’s no sport that does that. I don’t think it’s very good. ... Who really wants to watch a five-, six-hour match? That’s long, even for TV,” said the tournament's No. 3-seeded woman, Jessica Pegula, whose parents own NFL and NHL teams. “I don’t think any of the players think that should be happening at all.”

She and others pointed out it's hard to go to bed after a match like that, because of the adrenalin involved, which hurts efforts to recover mentally and physically.

The last women's match on Thursday's schedule, in which Marketa Vondrousova upset No. 2 seed Ons Jabeur 6-1, 5-7, 6-1 at Rod Laver Arena, finished at after 1 a.m. Friday.

“It's kind of crazy. For the body, also: I don’t think it’s healthy to play at 1 a.m,” Vondrousova said. “I just need some sleep.”

Murray's brother, Grand Slam doubles champion Jamie, tweeted: “Time for tennis to move to only one match at the night sessions. ... We can't continue to have players compete into the wee hours of the morning. Rubbish for everyone involved — players/fans/event staff. Etc."

Still, do not expect anything to change anytime soon.

“At this point, there is no need to alter the schedule,” Craig Tiley, the tournament director and head of Tennis Australia, told local broadcasting partner Channel 9 on Friday.

Murray will be back on court Saturday, facing No. 24 Roberto Bautista Agut for a berth in the fourth round.

Murray, who also played a five-setter in the first round against Matteo Berrettini and has already put in more than 10 1/2 hours on court, was back at Melbourne Park before 1 p.m. on Friday.

“It’s no fun for Andy. I saw him today before my match," said Stefanos Tsitsipas, the 2021 French Open runner-up who won his third-round match Friday afternoon. “I was thinking to myself, ‘What is he doing here? He should be in bed!’”

Tsitsipas thinks folks such as Tiley are not all that disappointed by this sort of ‘round-the-clock competition.

“There’s a great story behind this match, and it’s going to be remembered,” Tsitsipas said. “I do remember very vividly, very well, the match that Baghdatis played with Hewitt. It’s somewhere back inside my mind somewhere. ... It is definitely a very magical moment — for sure, not for the one who loses, because it’s painful.”

At last year's U.S. Open, eventual champion Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner, two bright young stars, engaged in a five-set struggle over 5 hours, 15 minutes, until 2:50 a.m., setting the mark for the latest finish in that tournament's history.

Sinner was on the wrong end of that one. On Friday, his result was better and his schedule more straightforward: His 4-6, 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-0 win against Marton Fucsovics began at 11 a.m.; his day was done by 2:45 p.m.

“I don’t care so much, no? I’m happy to be on court. Doesn’t matter what time,” Sinner said. “For sure, I prefer (beginning) at 11 than playing in the night, (but) it's all part of our sport now.”


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