Evening Sessions Become Late Night Sessions At The O2 Arena

The day started well enough. In fact, the whole tournament started splendidly.

A highly successful first Sunday with plenty of top players in action (Andy Murray’s and Roger Federer’s wins being the notable highlights).

On Monday, a day session with enough upset (Soderling beating Nadal in straight sets in a repeat of this year’s French Open fourth round) satisfied tennis fans, neutrals and journalists. A session that ended with time aplenty to grab a bite to eat and settle down for a doubles-singles match duo in the evening.

But then the trouble started to mount. We heard rumblings from the Media Centre about the previous evening’s exploits and the horror that Roger Federer’s press conference would commence at midnight. Oh well, fans thought. Journalists have to do their (very privileged) job. What does it matter to them that they have to share taxis, instead of ride the tube, to get home?

However, on Monday night, journalists’ worries extended to the mass crowd. After a slightly late-running doubles match, the hotly anticipated singles match between Novak Djokovic and Nikolay Davydenko (a rematch of last year’s final) started at around 9pm. Both counter-punchers clearly wanted to win, and how; in 30 minutes, a period in which a set can often be complete, the Serb and Russian had only played four games.

For many spectators, their travel arrangements only extended until midnight—and, given the tenacity and endurance of the two players, a long night was predicted.

In fact, many spectators had to leave at 11:30pm in order to secure transport home. Some were even forced to leave at 9:45pm to ensure getting home safely. Many ended up being stranded in East London after staying on to applaud Djokovic’s victory over Davydenko, with tubes into Central London stopping at midnight.

Not good, especially when a session only comprises one doubles and one singles match, the latter being the most favoured for the majority.

Clearly, this isn’t good for the audience—and nor for the players, who must dislike playing in front of a half-capacity crowd at such an important event.

Can anything be done? Well, somehow, London transport authorities must know that such events, with effectively late-night conclusion certainty, are due to take place. Can connections from the O2 Arena and North Greenwich be improved for such occasions?

Television schedules, too, could bring some common sense to proceedings.  Tennis approaching midnight in the UK, while being advantageous for those in North America, is not necessarily what the public wants to watch on a weekday night when they have to get up for work early the next morning.

Of course, the obvious answer is to commence the evening session a little earlier. Even a 30 minute advance in scheduling could make the difference between worry and enjoyment for the crowd, players and even sponsors.

For this event to continue in the utterly successful manner in which it started, surely such an improvement must be made for future years.

(Published on Bleacher Report; November 24th, 2009)

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