WTA, ATP exclude fans from highlights of Aussie Open

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

At the conclusion of an exciting Australian Open, which saw top seeds Roger Federer and Justine Henin upset by eventual champions Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova, tennis fans witnessed a changing of the guard.

Well, at least that’s true for tennis fans in Australia, Asia and Europe. North Americans missed many of the most important matches of the tournament, which took place at 3:30 a.m. EDT.

That’s because organizers opted to schedule matches such as Djokovic’s semi-final upset for 7:30 p.m. Melbourne time, allowing Europeans to watch but forcing North Americans to stay up all night or miss the match.

Same for Europeans during top women’s matches. For example, Sharapova’s championship match versus Ana Ivanovic took place at 1:30 p.m. in Melbourne. That meant Serbs hoping to catch Ivanovic were left with a 3:30 a.m. start and Sharapova’s Russian fans had to wake up at 5:30 a.m.

Tennis’ widespread popularity makes it tough to find ideal times, but something is clearly wrong when neither North America or Russia " two of the strongest tennis markets in the world " can’t tune in for a Grand Slam final.

The obvious solution is to schedule the most important matches " semi-finals and finals " at a time that is reasonable in each time zone.

That means scheduling matches for 8:30 a.m. Melbourne time, allowing them to start at 4:30 p.m. in Toronto and New York, 10:30 p.m. in Paris and 12:30 a.m. in Moscow (not ideal but certainly reasonable).

This places that unbearable 3:30 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. start time squarely over vacant portions of Russia’s tundra and over the Middle East. New Delhi and Beijing both miss out, but they are not exactly the centres of the tennis universe.

The time zone issue wasn’t the greatest frustration of this year’s Aussie Open. That’s because even viewers who did see Djokovic’s semi-final upset over Federer didn’t get to do so under proper circumstances. That matchup " likely the best of the tournament " should have been in the finals.

The reason Djokovic and Federer met in the semis is that tennis’ current seeding system has the third seed matching up against the first, with the fourth seed meeting the second. That pitted third-ranked Djokovic against first-seeded Federer, with fourth seed Nikolai Davydenko set to face Rafael Nadal.

In what other sport does the third seed get a tougher matchup than the fourth? Common sense and sporting convention dictate Djokovic should have been lined up on Nadal’s side of the bracket, waiting until the finals to face Federer.

This is especially relevant in this case, since Djokovic has been the de facto number two hard-court seed for the past year. Nadal’s ranking points are mostly accumulated in the clay and grass portions of the year, and Djokovic " by far the superior hard-court player " has for some time been the heir apparent to Federer’s hard-court dynasty.

It was inevitable for Djokovic to beat Federer eventually " he’s simply been too good on hard court over the past year. This past weekend was earlier than most expected, but you’ll see tennis fans watching closely if Federer and Djokovic meet at the US Open.

Hopefully then it will be under better circumstances " during the day and in the finals.

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