Wimbledon has denied trying to introduce night matches in an attempt to boost primetime TV ratings after Novak Djokovic became the latest player to complain about the late finishes on Centre Court.
Some of the world’s top tennis players have criticised the later starts on Wimbledon’s show courts during this year’s tournament, saying matches are being disrupted by bad light.
Djokovic, the men’s top seed, said the late finishes were effectively turning Wimbledon into an indoor tournament, with the last matches interrupted by the roof closing in order to turn on the floodlights.
The reigning champion’s fourth-round four-set triumph over wildcard Tim van Rijthoven finished on Sunday with just 21 minutes to spare before the All England Club (AELTC) 11pm curfew.
Players have been hitting out at scheduling changes after matches on Centre Court were pushed back from 1pm to 1.30pm last year. Wimbledon also introduced a 20-minute break and on-court interviews between matches.
“I don’t see a reason why there wouldn’t be an earlier start, to be honest, particularly now that there are on-court interviews that we didn’t have up to a few years ago,” Djokovic said.
“Also, the time between the matches, you almost certainly – if you’re scheduled last on the Centre – you’re going to end up a match under the roof, which changes the conditions, the style of play, the way you move on the court. It’s more slippery. The lights. It’s really an indoor tournament in most of the cases when you’re scheduled last on Centre or Court 1.”
The changes are believed to have been implemented after discussions between the AELTC and the BBC, which has exclusive rights to broadcast the championships. The BBC has previously been reported to have paid £60m a year for the rights.
Sally Bolton, the AELTC chief executive, on Monday defended Wimbledon’s scheduling, saying there were no plans to bring start times forward or to introduce night matches.
When asked about balancing the desire to get matches in the primetime TV slot against the wishes of the players, she said: “The reality of running a tennis event is that once you start the day, you have no idea when the day is going to finish. It is pretty unpredictable.
“I think it’s understandable that players are providing feedback on the experience that they’re having at the championships and of course we take account of all of that as we think about the way in which we plan our days.
“There haven’t been significant changes to the schedule, we will always take account of the feedback we receive and look at what we do.”
She also defended the breaks in matches, saying it allowed spectators “to have fun, to eat, to visit the loo”.
The TV audience peaked at 4.5 million during two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray’s match on Monday and at 5.3 million during his clash against the American John Isner on Wednesday.
Murray has also complained about the scheduling after his match against Australia’s James Duckworth was interrupted for 10 minutes as the roof closed. Duckworth twice complained about the quality of light as the sun began to set.
“It’s not that easy, changing conditions like that, and also having breaks like that, potentially key points in matches. I would much rather play outdoors. I prefer playing outdoors when we can,” Murray said after his four-set victory.
“I wish there was a way of finishing the matches outdoors more often because it’s tricky stopping for 10, 12 minutes in the middle of a match at important stages. It kills the momentum a little bit. You cool off a little bit, as well. Again, it’s a change in conditions.”