Wimbledon has denied being dictated to by the BBC over their controversial Centre Court start time but highlighted booming viewing figures in defence of their scheduling.
Andy Murray would arguably have stayed in the tournament had his match against Stefanos Tsitsipas not run into the 11pm curfew and so been spread over two days and he pointedly retweeted an article on Sunday that was headlined: “Wimbledon losing integrity with pandering to BBC over schedule.”
The article argued that it was time to scrap the “misguided” decision to start matches on Centre Court at 1.30pm.
The start time was pushed back from 1pm in 2021 and, with matches also lasting longer than ever and on-court television interviews sandwiched between games, the roof is now frequently used even on dry days and there is near constant doubt over whether the scheduled matches will finish.
During the opening week of the Championships, matches have only twice finished before 9pm on Centre Court and have twice run into another day. Friday and Saturday night’s schedules were also only completed in time thanks to rapid straight set demolitions jobs inflicted by defending champion Novak Djokovic and current world No 2 Aryna Sabalenka.
Sally Bolton, the All England Club chief executive, said that start times were constantly reviewed but put forward the case for the status quo despite the frustrations that have been openly expressed by players like Murray and Djokovic.
“Over many, many decades, we’ve always started play on our show courts at around early afternoon,” she said. “That’s very much about ensuring that people have the opportunity to get on court so, as much as is possibly the case, we have full courts for when the players walk on. That’s still absolutely our intention. And of course, the other thing that we think carefully about is the fact that 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.
“When we get the feedback from our fans on the grounds who come here, having bought a ticket, they want a very full day. There are a whole range of things that go into the decision to start when we do. It’ll be part of our review as we get into the end of the Championships. We always take account of player feedback alongside feedback from all of the other stakeholders and our guests.”
Bolton stressed that Wimbledon still viewed itself as “an outdoor tournament” and said that the BBC were not applying pressure to move the start times back amid the strong live evening viewing figures.
“The broadcasters are one of the stakeholders that we consult as we put together all of the plans for the Championships but no, they’re not having a direct input into start time on court,” she said. “As far as the TV audience is concerned, matches are happening at a time when they’re accessible to people. We’re seeing viewing figures that are beyond our expectations and beyond previous years. I think they probably speak for themselves. I don’t think we’d be looking to reduce the [on-court television] interviews because I think they’ve been hugely well received.
“As we think about how we all work hard to grow the sport of tennis, actually people seeing and understanding the characters that they’re watching on courts is really important.
“[Longer matches] are definitely a trend. Whether it’s a negative thing or not, I think the jury’s out on that. [We’re] very happy with how the Championships is running. We’ve had an unprecedented demand for tickets. So really, really happy that the Championships is very much back beyond Covid. I think it’s taken sport a number of years to properly recover and so we’re really pleased with how it’s gone.”
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