We will talk about the stupidity of the Australian Open’s “Heat Stress Rule” and the use of a roof in a separate piece. For now, let’s take a short time to nail down, with absolute clarity and certainty, a different point: The Australian Open’s choice to play two daytime women’s singles semifinals, all while the men play night semifinals on separate nights, is the single worst scheduling format in tennis.
Sure, the U.S. Open and Roland Garros playing two of the four women’s quarterfinals the day before the two women’s semifinals is bad. Wimbledon doesn’t have that problem, and all four majors should seek to follow Wimbledon in that regard.
(Side note: Every tournament will likely have to play back-to-back matches at some point, but the key is to play those back-to-back matches earlier rather than later. Fourth rounds affect more of the tour. Semifinals are massive moments in tennis careers. Accordingly, they should be played with the day of rest one normally gets between matches at a major tournament. Have the back-to-back matches between rounds 3 and 4, or between round 4 and the quarters, as we see at Wimbledon.)
Yes, the lack of a day off for two women’s semifinalists is a problem at three majors, not just one. However, only at the Australian Open do we have a situation in which:
A) the weather can be uncommonly oppressive — it is rarely oppressive in Paris on the same scale as either Melbourne or New York;
B) there are roofed stadiums — obviously, Roland Garros doesn’t have one;
C) there is an ability to not only play roofed tennis, but also night tennis;
D) despite the realities of A, B and C, tournament organizers nevertheless put the women’s semifinals in daytime hours, subjecting them to the brutal heat if the weather lottery happens to be bad.
This is exactly why we even had a roof-oriented controversy in the first place for the women’s semifinal between Danielle Collins and Petra Kvitova. To be clear, we might still have had the same controversy if this match had been played at night, much as there was a controversy surrounding the playing of the 2018 women’s final (at night) between Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki. However, if the women’s semis had been scheduled for the evening and night on Thursday, as they should be, Collins and Kvitova would have been spared from — at the very least — playing in the sun for any length of time. As it was, they had to play in the sun for eight games before the roof closure.
This was no accident or an innocent mistake. This is a preventable error — and a longstanding one on the part of Tennis Australia. There has never been a legitimate (enough) reason for doing this. It’s about money, whether from creating an extra session of play or getting TV ratings for the Thursday night men’s semifinal. This does NOT serve the players or the interests of fairness.
It is long past time to very simply do away with the daytime women’s semifinals, put them Thursday evening (for the first semifinal) and night (for the second), such that the first semifinal doesn’t start until the playing surface is covered in shade. The two men’s semifinals should be moved to Friday. The first semifinal shouldn’t start any earlier than 4 p.m., ideally not before 4:30 or 5, so that only one set — maybe a set and a half — is played with the players potentially subjected to a baking sun.
You could find flaws with this setup — why make the men have to play an hour or even 45 minutes of tennis in the sun, after all? — but that’s one set and not a whole match. Moreover, it’s one set out of five potential sets, not three.
If you wanted to find flaws with that schedule, you could also point out that a 5 p.m. first semifinal for the men means the second semi could end very late. It could… but would a 9 p.m. or 9:30 p.m. start time for a match be well out of the ordinary for Rod Laver Arena night sessions? Hardly. That is not too far from the normal start time for a night match in a two-match night session, often when the women’s match is first up at 7 p.m.
The other obvious solution here: If you want to start the first men’s semifinal on Friday at, say, 3 p.m., you can just close the roof to eliminate the possibility of any men’s player having the unique disadvantage of having to play a semifinal in the sun, relative to the second semifinalists at night.
In 2020 and beyond, common sense has to prevail at the Australian Open.
Thursday evening and night women’s semis. Two men’s semis on Friday, so that there are never again any complaints about one men’s finalist getting an extra day of rest compared to the other.
It’s time. Actually, it’s long past time. This needs to be changed. Surely we can get this right once and for all.
If not, the players of both tours — especially the WTA — need to raise hell.