Novak Djokovic calls for Centre Court start times to be brought forward

Novak Djokovic calls for Centre Court start times to be brought forward

Novak Djokovic has called for Wimbledon to overhaul its scheduling and start play earlier on Centre Court.

The seven-time champion fell foul of the All England Club’s insistence on beginning matches at 1.30pm when his fourth-round match against Hugo Hurkacz had to be suspended on Sunday night due to the council-imposed 11pm curfew.

Andy Murray’s match with Stefanos Tsitsipas last week also had to be carried over into a second day, while Djokovic’s third-round clash against Stan Wawrinka concluded with only 14 minutes to spare.

Wimbledon 2023 – Day Eight – All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
Novak Djokovic had to come back on Monday to finish off Hubert Hurkacz (John Walton/PA)

Wimbledon chief executive Sally Bolton said on Monday morning that there is no guarantee that an earlier start time will be considered on Centre Court for next year’s tournament.

But Djokovic, who returned to finish off Hurkacz in four sets on Monday afternoon, was unequivocal in his response when asked if matches should start earlier.

“I think so. I agree with that,” said the 23-time grand slam winner. “Obviously curfew is probably something that is much more difficult to change, I understand, because of the community and the residential area we are in.

“I think the matches could be pushed at least to start at 12pm. I think it would make a difference.”

Two years ago organisers cited Covid for the decision to stagger start times on the two main show courts, keeping Court One at 1pm and pushing Centre back to 1.30pm, while also adding breaks between the matches.

Wimbledon 2023 – Day Seven – All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club
The players were unable to complete their match on Sunday night (Zac Goodwin/PA)

This had the consequence of making the final match of the day a prime-time occasion on the BBC and it appears very much that is now the goal, with Bolton reporting record viewing figures.

She did not seem to view the issue of the late finishes as a particular problem, saying: “Historically over many, many decades we’ve always started play on our show courts around early afternoon.

“And that’s very much about ensuring that people have the opportunity to get on court so, as much as is possible the case, we have full courts for when the players walk on, and that’s still absolutely our intention.

“And the other thing we think carefully about is, when people buy a ticket to come to Wimbledon, they want to experience a day at the Championships and that involves going and seeing some play on outside courts, perhaps going to get something to eat, getting some strawberries and cream.

“We understand that our guests want that whole day. Of course every year we look at everything and we get feedback from all of our guest groups, from the player groups and all of our stakeholders.

Andy Murray's match against Stefanos Tsitsipas was suspended last week due to the curfew
Andy Murray’s match against Stefanos Tsitsipas was suspended last week due to the curfew (John Walton/PA)

“We will have a look at that beyond this year’s Championships but that’s the real background to why we have the start time when we do.

“Matches are happening at a time when they’re accessible to people. We’re seeing (TV) viewing figures that are beyond our expectations and beyond previous years so I think they probably speak for themselves.”

Bolton denied the 1.30pm start time was directly influenced by the BBC, saying: “The broadcasters are one of the stakeholders we consult as we put together all the plans for the Championships but they’re not having a direct input into start time on a court.”

The curfew is imposed by the local council to prevent late-night disruption from people leaving the grounds in what is a quiet, residential area, and Bolton said the club would not look to try to extend it.

Bolton also said there will also be no instruction to umpires to inform crowds not to expect a handshake if a Ukrainian player faces a Russian or Belarusian, despite the boos aimed at Victoria Azarenka after her match with Elina Svitolina.