Aryna Sabalenka’s first round match starts just before midnight on Australian Open day one

It’s only been one day of the 2024 Australian Open and serious questions are already being asked over the scheduling.

The 2024 Australian Open added an extra day to the schedule for the first time in tournament history to allow for any potential late night finishes.

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Those changes saw tournament organisers cut down the number of day matches on Rod Laver Arena to two instead of three.

The two day matches didn’t come close to affecting the night session schedule with the main court emptied out before 5pm.

The plan to minimise late night matches however fell apart as Novak Djokovic encountered an opening round scare at the hands of an 18-year-old qualifier.

It resulted in defending women’s champion Aryna Sabalenka not walking out onto Rod Laver Arena until 11:33pm (AEDT) to an almost empty stadium.

The opening round match against 18-year-old qualifier Ella Seidel officially got underway at 11:41pm.

Sabalenka avoided an ugly situation for Tiley as she dispatched Seidel in ruthless fashion, claiming the 6-0, 6-1 victory in only 53 minutes.

But the late start to the opening round encounter left tennis journalists and fans questioning the supposed changes to avoid the exact scenario that had played out.

“Amid the wild ride of Djokovic-Prizmic, sparing a thought for defending #AusOpen champion Aryna Sabalenka, who is going to walk out to an almost empty Rod Laver Arena some time around midnight. The best-of-three match should always go first in a night session,” Ben Rothenberg wrote.

Tournament director Craig Tiley said they had listened to player feedback and come up with a solution to minimise games dragging into all hours of the night.

“We’ve listened to feedback from the players and fans and are excited to deliver a solution to minimise late finishes while continuing to provide a fair and equitable schedule on the stadium courts,” Tiley said.

“The additional day will achieve this, benefiting scheduling for fans and players alike.”

Unfortunately a similar situation on Rod Laver Arena could be set to unfold on day two as Australian star and world number 10 Alex de Minaur will kick off the night proceedings against former world number three Milos Raonic.

Number 16 seed Caroline Garcia and Naomi Osaka will then take place following that match in their first round encounter.

If de Minaur and Raonic unfolds like Novak Djokovic’s opening round battle, the late game may not get underway until closer to midnight and leave even more questions hanging overhead.

It could see new rules, set to be implemented by the ATP and WTA, brought into play at Melbourne Park.

Under the new rule changes, matches aren’t allowed to go on court after 11pm unless approved by a supervisor.

Matches will be moved to an alternate court if they have not begun by 10:30pm and night sessions not being allowed to begin after 7:30pm with a recommended 6:30pm start.

The extra day added to the schedule has allowed the first round to be stretched out over three days instead of two, but it has created bizarre situations for several players.

De Minaur, if he’s to get through to the second round, his opponent will be coming off a lengthy break having booked his place in the second round by midafternoon on Sunday.

When de Minaur and Raonic step onto court at around 7pm on Monday, Arnaldi would have already had the best part of 29 hours of extra rest.

For the record, de Minaur, assuming he wins, will also have a full day off before facing Arnaldi on Wednesday.

In all, there are eight second round matches where one player will have had two full days off, while the other player will have one.

Tennis journalist Jose Morgado tweeted: “Matteo Arnaldi into the 2nd round at the #AusOpen with a 7-6(5), 6-2, 6-4 win over Adam Walton. Awaits De Minaur or Raonic who play… tomorrow night. Odd scheduling.”

Sports writer Ricky Dimon posted: “There are EIGHT first-round match-ups in the top half of the men’s draw in which opponents facing each other in the second round of the tournament are playing on different days in the first round. Absolutely ridiculous scheduling.”

But former Australian World No. 1 doubles player Paul McNamee responded: “Everyone has a minimum one day off … so the integrity of rest between matches is fully protected … no issue here at all.”

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