MELBOURNE, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Former world number one Maria Sharapova has urged Australian Open organisers to be more flexible with match scheduling after Garbine Muguruza and Johanna Konta played out their second round clash after midnight to a near-empty stadium.
With two men’s five-set matches having caused a log-jam, Muguruza and Konta did not begin their match until 12:30 a.m. local time (1330 GMT) on Friday at Margaret Court Arena, a record late start at the Grand Slam.
Organisers were pilloried by pundits and fans on social media after twice Grand Slam champion Muguruza finally closed out a 6-4 7-6(3) 7-5 win over former Melbourne semi-finalist Konta at 3:12 a.m.
“I think obviously the reason why they (did that) ... because of the ticket sales,” five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova told reporters after reaching the fourth round on Friday.
“So there is a business component which we have to understand, but from a tournament perspective, I think there needs to be flexibility, because no one is interested, you know, in seeing two top-notch athletes going out on the court after midnight.”
Organisers offered Konta and former Wimbledon champion Muguruza a court switch but not until men’s fourth seed Alexander Zverev had taken a 4-0 lead in the fifth set of his second round win over Jeremy Chardy in the previous match at the stadium.
The players rejected the offer because Court Three, the proposed alternative, had been fouled by seagull droppings and needed to be cleaned, making the difference in start time negligible.
“Ideally, both of us would have wanted to play earlier, but we don’t make the schedule and we both dealt with the same challenge,” Konta told the BBC.
Organisers declined to issue a statement on the scheduling but a spokesperson said it was Muguruza and Konta’s decision to proceed with their match despite the late hour.
Men’s former world number one Roger Federer took the side of the tournament, saying players needed to be flexible.
“Is it ideal? No, it’s not. But sometimes, what can you do if you schedule a match, especially a men’s match before, and that thing goes, you know, four, five hours?
“So I think it is what it is ... You just deal with it.”
Sharapova added that there was no way to prepare for midnight matches, saying players that trained that late would either be “jet lagged or just crazy.”
“That’s kind of like a survival thing, right? Like, you just have to get it done,” she said of late matches. “It’s a Grand Slam, and that’s unfortunate.” (Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)