Australian, U.S. Open Night Sessions Detrimental to Players


Photo Courtesy of Reuters

Andy Murray competed in a nearly six-hour match in the 2023 Australian Open.

From top-seeded players getting eliminated before the quarterfinals to complaints about the quality of tennis balls in play, the 2023 Australian Open was riddled with surprise and controversy. Among these are the negative repercussions of night sessions, once again playing a major role in conversations surrounding the Grand Slams since the 2022 US Open, when Carlos Alcaraz defeated Jannik Sinner at nearly 3 a.m. local time.

In tennis, the nighttime session is considered to be the most popular time. There are guidelines that require matches to start before midnight, but there is no time limit as to how long these matches can go. In Australia, Andy Murray ended his match against Thanasi Kokkinakis at 4 a.m. local time — nearly six hours of playing. He offered several complaints in his press conference afterward about the effect the matches have on everyone involved.

“It’s not beneficial for the umpires, the officials,” Murray said to reporters. “I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players.”

Night sessions are becoming more common for multiple reasons, including ticket sales. With this rise in popularity comes the assumption that the inclusion of women in these sessions would set a precedent for gender equality in the sport. So far, the US Open and Australian Open are the only two Grand Slams that schedule both men’s and women’s matches in both of the night sessions. In 2022, Billie Jean King advocated for more women’s matches in Roland Garros a year after they were introduced in the tournament and when Amelie Mauresmo said that women’s tennis had less appeal than men’s.

“You’ve got to put them when it’s prime time, and you have got to figure it out, and you want to give equal opportunity to both genders,” King said. “You always want to make sure you do the right thing by each person. They should have the same amount of women’s matches as they do men’s.”

The same year, Wimbledon extended its matches until 11 p.m. The Australian Open had semifinals moved up to a night session for women in 2021, and in the official announcement, promoted this move as a huge step for gender equity in tennis.

However, multiple players have spoken up about the negative physical and mental effects that have come from staying up so long and having to play less than 48 hours after, which puts them at a disadvantage against competitors in later rounds. In addition, it creates an extra hassle for fans, both international and local, who want to view the matches. This year, while attendance records were through the roof, TV viewership for the overall tournament fell by 40 percent.

“I was always last match, going on court at 10 p.m., finishing matches around 1 a.m., then doing media and treatment and eating,” Nick Kyrgios said of his experience in the 2022 U.S. Open. “I was not going to sleep before 4 a.m. every night.”

It should also be noted that wheelchair tennis has not gotten any night matches since its introduction into the Grand Slam and therefore has not been affected by the new changes for nighttime sessions. All wheelchair tennis players, regardless of whether they play for the men’s or women’s side, are still less recognized than able-bodied players, so the argument for equity will inevitably fall through until they are included in these changes.

If the Grand Slams truly wanted to promote equity for players, they would set hard regulations for nighttime matches or introduce other methods of equity, such as five-set matches for women. Otherwise, night sessions could become a significant problem for players and fans alike and decrease the quality of play.