MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australian Open organisers have attempted to defend their controversial decision to allow the third-round match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis to start at 11.47pm on Saturday night.
After the day session over-ran by two hours, organisers stuck by their schedule, putting Venus Williams and Sania Mirza on court before Hewitt’s encounter with Baghdatis, a match that ended at 4.33am, the latest ever finish at a grand-slam event.
Hewitt said he and Baghdatis were told at 8.15pm that the women’s contest would be moved or postponed and that they would be go on court after the conclusion of the match between Roger Federer and Janko Tipsarevic.
That went to 10-8 in the final set, after which Hewitt and Baghdatis, who had begun their warm-ups, were told that they would have to wait until after the women’s match.
Neither man was given a choice and though tournament director Craig Tiley admitted the players had been concerned about the late start, he blamed miscommunication for the confusion.
“There was a miscommunication that went to both Lleyton and to Marcos,” Tiley told reporters at a hastily arranged news conference, saying that conversations were held simultaneously with the men and the women.
”We did consult with both Sania Mirza and Venus Williams (if they) would be prepared to play on Vodafone or come back today, to give them an option.
”I personally approached them, together with the tour manager, and gave them that option. They decided that they wanted to play, and they were willing to wait and play.
”At that time Hewitt and Baghdatis were under the impression that there was a possibility their match would move up to the earlier time and that the women’s match would move to later on today.
“It was not confirmed, because ultimately I am the final decision-maker here, and I was still consulting with the women. I think everyone jumped the gun.”
Tournament referee Wayne McKewen, who was also at the news conference, admitted he had the power to force Williams and Mirza to move courts or postpone their match.
But Tiley said the decision had eventually been made because the pair did not want to move.
“Collectively, the tournament, Wayne, the two of us together made a decision to remain with the schedule because the players, that was their desire,” he said.
For the first time this year, the tournament has introduced a curfew, preventing any match from starting after 11pm.
But Tiley said the rule was at the referee’s discretion and only applied to the outside courts.
Had the Williams-Mirza match gone to three sets, McKewen said, Hewitt and Baghdatis would not have played.
Tiley said that they had taken into consideration the concerns of the players, security, ticket-holders and broadcasters before making their final decision.
Editing by Ed Osmond