Australians woke up this morning to the news that one of the greatest matches in Australian Open history concluded in the small hours of the morning in front of an audience of practically no one.
The legendary Scotsman, Sir Andy Murray, eventually defeated Thanasi Kokkinakis after coming back from two sets down in a gruelling second-round match that lasted for nearly six hours. The match, which began at 10pm last night, eventually wrapped up in front of a nearly empty stadium, with die-hard fans cheering the final set at 4:05am.
Murray himself was coming off the back of a five-set win over Matteo Berrettini, which lasted for nearly five hours. The former world number one has hit out at Tennis Australia for denying him an additional toilet break after the fourth set and for staging the game so late in the night.
“It’s so disrespectful that the tournament has us out here until 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning and we’re not allowed to go and take a piss. It’s a joke. You know it’s a joke. It’s disrespectful,” he was overheard telling the chair umpire.
Following the match, an exhausted Murray called for change to the tournament rules, saying that it’s not “beneficial” for anyone to be playing that late.
“Rather than it being like epic Murray-Kokkinakis match, it ends in a bit of a farce,” he told reporters.
“Amazingly people stayed until the end. I really appreciate people doing that, creating an atmosphere for us at the end. I really appreciate that. Some people need to work the following day and everything.
“If my child was a ball kid for a tournament, they’re coming home at 5 in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that. 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. So, yeah, 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.”
His opponent was clearly of a similar view, tweeting after the game: “This f**king sport man.”
Murray only made it past the second round of a grand slam once last year in arguably his best performance in years. Fans now have high hopes for the rest of his Australian Open tournament where he is set to play Roberto Bautista Agut, likely late again on Saturday night.
Why Did the Match Start So Late?
This year, the Australian Open has been more chaotic than usual, with players complaining about the late start times and lack of information.
In the early stage of the tournament, there are dozens of games to get through each day, with typically five in both the Rod Laver and the Margaret Court Arena. Match schedules are not released until the day beforehand, owing to the weather and the progression of the players.
However, complaints have been made about Tennis Australia’s apparent lack of organisation, with some players going to sleep past midnight not knowing whether they will be playing the next day or not.
On Tuesday, play was stopped for three hours after the Heat Stress Scale hit its maximum. When play resumed, it was again stopped by heavy rain just two hours later, leading play to continue past 1:30 in the morning as the Open tries to get through as many matches as possible.
Delays like this mean that night matches, normally scheduled to be played at 7pm, get pushed back and you end up with games like Murray and Kokkinakis’ starting at 10pm.
Is This the Longest Australian Open Match Ever Played?
It’s not, but it does make it into the history books as the second-longest AO match, although you do have to go quite far back over a decade to find something rivalling it.
The game last night came in at 5 hours and 45 minutes, beaten in length only by Novak Djokovic’s triumph over Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open final in 2012. That game went on for an epic 5 hours and 53 minutes, making it the longest Grand Slam final of all time. Both players had to be given chairs during the prize presentation as neither of them could stand afterward.
Last night’s game is also the second-latest game to be played at the Australian Open. Lleyton Hewitt’s five-set win over Marcos Baghdatis ran for an epic 4 hours and 45 minutes and ended at 4:34am in 2008.
Tennis is renowned for having some incredibly long and brutal games, owing to the scoring system which requires a player to go two sets up to finish their opponent.
The longest game of tennis ever played in an international tournament was the insane 2010 first-round game between John Isner and Nicholas Mahut. That game went on for a staggering 11 hours and 5 minutes, concluding 70-68. Thankfully, the game was played over three days at Wimbledon and the players did not have to compete for half a day.
Women’s matches typically last less time, owing to the fact that they only play best of three, rather than best of five. Still, in 1984, Viki Nelson and Jean Hepner went back to back for 6 hours and 31 minutes, a record still unbroken in women’s tennis. This game was so evenly matched that, at one point, the pair rallied for almost half an hour.
While it’s not uncommon for matches to last many hours, Murray and Kokkinakis will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the greatest games in the history of tennis.