Tennis great John McEnroe blasts Australian Open 2024 move as a ‘money grab’ as tournament adds extra day

Tennis great John McEnroe has rubbished suggestions that adding an extra day to the Australian Open schedule is a move focused on player welfare – calling it a “money grab” that he doesn’t agree with.

Australian Open director Craig Tiley announced in October the 2024 grand slam would start a day earlier than normal, on Sunday January 14, and become a 15-day event for the first time.

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The move means the event will cover three weekends for the first time ever, and was based on data showing that matches now take longer increasing the risk of games being played well into the morning at Melbourne Park.

Tiley said adding an extra day to the schedule would take the pressure off both players and fans after complaints from both following late starting and late finishing night games in recent years.

“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. The first round will now be played over three days instead of two, also giving fans an extra day of unbelievable tennis, entertainment, food and family fun.

“Every year our team works hard to bring fans an event that feels new and exciting, and this is another opportunity to grow what is already the biggest annual sporting event in the world in January.”

However American great McEnroe, who is back in Australia to commentate the Aussie Open this year for ESPN, wasn’t buying Tiley’s justification, instead arguing tournament organisers had just found another way to make money considering the extra day’s play means more TV revenue and ticket sales.

“First of all, it’s a money grab as far as I’m concerned,” McEnroe said on an ESPN conference call.

“They just found another way to make some money. I don’t agree with it. I’m a commentator. No one’s particularly concerned about my feelings.

“The players, if they accept it and they’re getting something from it, like some money for their pensions or retirement for some players that don’t have insurance, I would say that’s a good thing that they have added an extra day.

“I don’t think that has happened (players are getting more money), just like it didn’t happen at the French Open. I completely disagree with it.

“That’s probably me being selfish that I have to be away from home an extra day or two,”

While the extra day’s play will almost certainly mean more money for tournament organisers, it’s hard to argue it won’t also alleviate the growing issue of games finishing way too late at Melbourne Park.

The Sunday start increases the number of playing sessions from 47 to 52.

Among other changes, the day session at Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena will feature a minimum of two matches, down from three, to limit the potential of late finishes due to day games running late.

Night sessions will continue to feature a minimum of two matches and the John Cain Arena schedule also remains the same.

The first round of play will now be run over three days instead of two.

Earlier this year, Andy Murray branded it a “farce” when his match against Aussie Thanasi Kokkinakis did not finish until 4.05am after starting at 10pm the night before.

Murray then went on to call out the issue of unpaid ballkids being made to work until 5am on late games.

“If my child was a ball kid for a tournament, they’re coming home at 5am in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that,” Murray said.

“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.

“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.”

Novak Djokovic also hit out at the late finishes in 2023, saying it completely throws the players out of their rhythm during the tournament.

“For the crowd, it’s entertaining, it’s exciting, to have matches (at) midnight, 1, 2, 3am. For us, it’s really gruelling,” Djokovic said.

“Even if you go through and win, prevail in these kind of matches, you still have to come back.

“You have your sleeping cycle, rhythm disrupted completely, not enough time really to recover for another five-setter.

“Something needs to be addressed in terms of the schedule after what we’ve seen this year.”

Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis famously played until 4.33am in their third-round match at the Australian Open 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.”

The Australian Open will take place at Melbourne Park from January 14-28.

– with NCA Newswire

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