Australian Open step ahead of changes targeting late finishes

Brutal early morning finishes like last year’s Andy Murray–Thanasi Kokkinakis “farce” will not be entirely preventable at the Australian Open despite significant changes to tour rules.

New scheduling requirements have been introduced by the WTA and ATP effective immediately in an attempt to cut down on late finishes to night sessions.

But tournament organisers at Melbourne Park, who are not bound by the new regulations, said little could be done to prevent freak outliers like Murray and Kokkinakis’ 4.05am finish in 2023.

The new rules, which will force night sessions to begin by 7.30pm and prevent matches from going on court after 11pm, will be trialled throughout 2024 at tournaments before being reviewed at the end of the year.

Day sessions will also be limited to three matches, but the Australian Open had already moved ahead of the changes with its own bid to crack down on late finishes by adding an extra day to the fixture and cutting down to two day matches.

It came after Murray called his victory last January a “farce”, saying his match had began to late at 10pm.

“If my child was a ball kid for a tournament and they’re coming home at five in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that,” he said at the time.

Extreme heat or wet weather could compress the Open schedule this year, but “waivers” will be considered by the WTA and ATP to hold matches at later times, the tours said in a joint statement.

“The number of late match finishes (defined as matches finishing after midnight) has risen considerably in recent years, negatively impacting players and fans,” the statement read.

“This is tied to an increase in average match length on tour.”

Australian Open sources were confident cutting back to two day matches would limit most of the threat of night sessions running late, as the third match spilling over into the night session had been responsible for most of the late finishes in previous years.

Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis famously played until 4.33am in their third-round match in 2008 after beginning at 11.47pm due to a marathon daytime eventually won by Roger Federer.

ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said addressing late finishes had become a “priority topic” as they continued to increase in frequency.

“It’s imperative that we evolve and adapt to the demands of the modern game, particularly where player health and fan experience are concerned,” he said.

“We’re optimistic about the impact we can make on both these fronts, now and in the longer term.”

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