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Wimbledon sticking with later Centre Court start times despite player concern

·5 min read
Novak Djokovic points towards the Wimbledon roof - AP
Novak Djokovic points towards the Wimbledon roof - AP

Wimbledon is planning to stick with its controversial Centre Court scheduling that has guaranteed blockbuster evening television entertainment but drawn criticism from some players.

Novak Djokovic became the latest big name to finish a match under the Wimbledon roof on Sunday night and said that it would be “quite helpful” to not finish so many matches under the lights due to the changed playing conditions, notably a more slippery surface.

It is understood that Andy Murray is also not a fan of playing so many key matches under a roof that was expected to primarily deal with rail delays rather than facilitate late-night finishes.

The start time on Centre Court has been pushed back to 1.30pm from 1pm and, with post-match on-court interviews, around 20 minutes between matches and a potential break to close the roof, the Centre Court schedule is now regularly stretching past 9pm. Djokovic only just beat the 11pm Wimbledon curfew on Sunday night, even though none of the three Centre Court matches required a deciding set.

Djokovic has heard that a change was being considered, with start times potentially coming forward by up to an hour, but the All England Club stressed on Monday that this is not currently on the agenda.

Novak Djokovic plays his latest match under the roof - PA
Novak Djokovic plays his latest match under the roof - PA

As host broadcaster, the BBC also has an influence on the scheduling of matches on Centre Court and Court No 1 and has largely had wall-to-wall live tennis over this past week from 11am until around 10pm.

Asked if there were plans to switch the start time, All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton said: “No. Other than we continually review what we do, but there are no plans to move the start time.

“The reality of running a tennis event is that once you start the day you have no idea when the day's going to finish. It is pretty unpredictable. We have seen some matches go late this year. We think about that in the scheduling process but we're certainly not moving to night sessions.

“I'm certainly not seeking to have players playing late but of course at the other grand slams they are playing far later into the evening. It's not a particularly unusual occurrence for the players at grand slams.”

The key issue, however, is not so much the time of day but how the players are reporting differences in the playing conditions according to whether the roof is closed.

Djokovic said “the style of play, the way you move on the court” differed. The roof should be less of an issue in singles from Tuesday when the tournament reaches the quarter-finals and fewer matches are scheduled on the main show courts.

When it was suggested that Murray had also made his feelings known about late finishes under the roof, Bolton said: “I think it's understandable that players are providing feedback on the experience that they're having at the Championships. Of course we take account of all of that as we think about the way in which we plan our days.

“The start time has not been pushed back significantly. It's effectively half an hour [to 1.30pm]. One of the other questions is the gap inbetween matches. When we have matches running back to back, it is unreasonable to expect people to arrive here at even 1pm and sit through a day's play right through to 11pm. Putting these gaps in and starting when we did enables our guests to enjoy the full Wimbledon experience and have breaks off court.”

Djokovic made it clear that he would favour earlier starts. “It's really an indoor tournament in most of the cases when you're scheduled last on Centre or Court One,” he said. “I think most of the players would probably agree that we would all want the start of the match on Centre Court pushed earlier.”

Wimbledon and LTA to fight $1m fine over Russia ban

Tennis' governing bodies have been warned they are “on the wrong side of history" after Wimbledon confirmed it will fight against fines which have been imposed following the ban on Russian and Belarussian players.

The Women’s Tennis Association has sanctioned the All England Club and the Lawn Tennis Association a combined $1 million as a punishment for excluding players from Wimbledon warm-up events in Eastbourne, Birmingham and Nottingham.

About three quarters of the fine (£620,000) was issued to the LTA, with the All England Club also told to pay £207,000. The Association of Tennis Professionals, the organiser of men’s professional tennis, is expected to follow with its own fines after both organisations also opted to withdraw ranking points from this year’s Wimbledon Championships.

“I think it's the wrong decision,” said Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister. “I think they're on the wrong side of history there. I completely back Wimbledon in the decision that they made.

“I would rather be on Ukraine’s side. I am really disappointed that they implemented that fine.”

The British government is now trying to secure a uniformed international response to restrict opportunities for Russia and Belarus to be represented in international sport.

“That goes for the officials as well as sportspeople,” said Huddlestoon. “That message that we've been sending - that Russia and Belarus are pariahs on the world stage - needs to be absolutely clear. There's a couple of specific policy areas we're looking at.”

Sally Bolton, the All England Club chief executive, said that the WTA fine was now the subject of a legal challenge.

“We have appealed,” she said. “We stand by the decision we made - we're deeply disappointed at the reaction of the tours. It was an incredibly difficult and challenging decision to make. But it was absolutely the right decision. For us, it was the only viable option in the context of the Government guidance.

“We have a lot of WTA and ATP staff here helping us in delivering the tournament. The relationships with those organisations endure. We've gone through some challenges.”