Playing tennis at night, players don’t like it, but the TV money is pouring in

Night falls over Philippe Chatrier’s track during the match between Rafael Nadal and Frenchman Corentin Moutet in the first week of Roland Garros.Image AP

The restaurants had long since been closed and the Paris metro stopped running when half of the men’s quarterfinals ended at Roland Garros. Just like Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Norwegian Casper Ruud and Holger Rune, the 19-year-old talent from Denmark, shook hands well after midnight on Thursday.

‘It is now a quarter to one. What time do you go to bed tonight?’, the presenter asked Ruud after his victory in four sets over Rune. ‘I still have a lot to do: a cool-down, shower, eat, press conference and massage. And it will probably take a while before the adrenaline is out of my body. I don’t think I sleep before four hours.’

While the evening parties (from 9 p.m.) caused the tennis players and supporters the necessary inconveniences, the management of Roland Garros has been rubbing their hands in recent days. Last year, the tournament signed a contract worth tens of millions with Amazon. In return, the American streaming service received the broadcasting rights of ten parties late at night.

25 percent more income

The evening games would bring Roland Garros about 25 percent more income. In addition to the contract with Amazon, the organization was able to sell additional tickets to the French public who wanted to see top players in action after work. There were hardly any empty seats on the Center Court in both Ruud’s quarterfinal match against Rune and Djokovic against Nadal.

“Only a handful of people left earlier,” said tournament director Amélie Mauresmo. Last year, when the evening games were held for the first time, fans were not allowed to be present at nine out of ten parties due to the corona measures.

‘I think we’re starting too late. But it’s the television that decides. That’s the world we live in,” Djokovic said after his loss to Nadal. And Nadal, who is celebrating his 36th birthday on Friday, also agreed with his rival. “I understand that TV pays a lot of money and that we as players also benefit from that, but we will have to find the right balance.”

Tennis as a night sport is more common. With a new roof and artificial lighting on Court Philippe-Chatrier, Roland Garros followed the example of the other grand slam tournaments two years ago. The US Open and Australian Open have been playing tennis late into the night for decades. In 2008, Lleyton Hewitt scored the winning run in Melbourne against Marcos Baghdatis at 4:34 AM, when it was already getting dark outside.

In May, Alexander Zverev, who will play against Nadal in the semifinals on Friday, set a record. At the masters tournament in Madrid, his match against American Jenson Brooksby ended at 04:55. A day later he lost the final to Carlos Alcaraz without a chance. “The ATP has done a terrible job,” said the world’s number three. “I had no coordination in my shots and missed easy shots. That was because everything moved in my eyes.’

At Wimbledon, you can play tennis until eleven o’clock in the evening to limit nuisance for local residents. Plus, the fast grass gets even smoother after sunset. Conditions are also changing on the gravel in Paris. As night falls, the temperature drops and the humidity rises, making the balls heavier. “It’s much more difficult to play,” said Nadal, who said he prefers to play against Djokovic during the day because his topspin balls bounce much higher.

Pure playtime

The thirteen-time winner in Paris needed 4 hours and 12 minutes in the quarterfinals before scoring the winning point against the 35-year-old Serb at 1.15 am. In addition to the late starting time, tennis players themselves are partly to blame for the late ending of their matches, according to a study by The Wall Street Journal

The American newspaper calculated that the pure playing time of a tennis match is only 17.5 percent of the official time of a game. It would mean that the ball was in play for just 44 minutes in the quarter-final between Nadal and Djokovic. Tennis players lose the most time when changing ends and between rallies. According to the rules, after a point played, the serving player has 25 seconds to serve again.

Nadal, who has a ritual for every serve, and Djokovic are known to make the most of the time after a point. Both tennis players prefer to play from defense and enjoy playing long rallies. It could be a reason that they take it easy between points. A so-called service clock is running in the stadium that counts down from 25 to zero.

Despite the criticism, tournament director Mauresmo announced that the evening games at Roland Garros will continue. ‘But we will see if we can change the start times.’ The former world number one admitted that the late times could raise questions about players’ comfort.

Title Koolhof in mixed doubles

Wesley Koolhof has won the final of the mixed doubles with his Japanese doubles partner Ena Shibahara. They were too strong for Ulrikke Eikeri (Noo) and Joran Vliegen (Bel) in the final battle: 7-6 (5) 6-2. In mixed doubles, no points can be earned for the world ranking. The event is only played at the grand slams and the Olympics.

American Coco Gauff has reached the final of a grand slam tournament for the first time in her career. The 18-year-old defeated the Italian Martina Trevisan in two sets in the semifinals of Roland Garros: 6-3, 6-1. She will play the final of the clay tournament in Paris against Iga Swiatek on Saturday. The Polish top favorite simply dealt with Russian Daria Kasatkina: 6-2, 6-1.

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