‘Not beneficial’: Andy Murray takes swing at Australian Open over early-morning finish

Andy Murray says he would be "snapping" if he was the parent of a ballkid working in his Thursday night match.

Andy Murray says he would be "snapping" if he was the parent of a ballkid working in his Thursday night match. Photo: Getty/Linkedin

Tennis star Andy Murray has taken aim at Tennis Australia after his five-set epic with Thanasi Kokkinakis finished in the early hours of Friday morning.

It was a tough battle between Murray and Kokkinakis – one which took a gruelling five hours and forty five minutes to finish.

The match, which was the longest of Murray’s career by a long way, began at 10:20pm on Thursday night, and finished at an eye-watering 4:05am.

In his Friday morning press conference, the Scotsman blasted the tournament’s organisation, saying the finish time disadvantaged everyone involved – particularly the ballkids.

“Finishing at 4am isn’t ideal. Because I don’t know who it’s beneficial for,” said Murray.

“Some people need to work the following day and everything. If my child was a ballkid for a tournament, they’re coming home at 5 in the morning, as a parent, I’m snapping at that,” he added.

“It’s not beneficial for them. It’s not beneficial for the umpires, the officials. I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players.

“We talk about it all the time. It has been talked about for years. When you start late night games and have conditions like that, these things are going to happen.”

Having a ball?

Murray’s words have added to the conversation around the role that ballkids play in the Australian Open – and whether there should be any rules and guidelines around match starting times.

As Murray said, a lot of the workers at the tennis wouldn’t have made it home until the early hours of the morning.

That includes the ballkids, of which there are 394 working without pay at the 2023 Australian Open, all aged between 12 and 15.

The system of not paying ballkids is not universal.

At the US Open, ballkids are paid $15 per hour, while they’re given a flat rate of $351 a week at Wimbledon.

However, at the French Open, they receive no payment.

And ball kids at the Australian Open haven’t been paid for their work since 2008, when the position was reclassified as a volunteer role.

They do, however, receive a gift bag and food allowance while working at the event.

The New Daily has contacted Tennis Australia and the National Ballkid Program to inquire whether they would ever consider changing the role back to a paid position, but did not receive a response prior to publishing.

There are 394 ball kids working at the 2023 Australian Open. Photo: Getty

In the clear

Technically, Tennis Australia isn’t breaking any of the child labour laws outlined by the Victorian state government.

They’re not working during school hours, given the Australian Open runs during the school holidays.

And as long as TA is keeping each child’s work load under six hours per day and 30 hours a week, they’re legally in the clear.

But it does raise the issue of whether it is appropriate to be sending young children home at such a time.

There is extra public transport running all through the night, with trains departing from nearby Richmond station each hour on most platforms.

But whether parents are comfortable with sending their kids home in the middle of the night is a different question.

‘Deserve more’

A GoFundMe page was set up by one outraged fan during the match, with the goal of raising $25,000 for Tennis Australia to distribute to the ball kids.

“Working for the love of the game and the experience that comes with it might sound great for some but for any workforce ANYWHERE those ballkids deserve more,” organiser Jose Pereda wrote in the fundraiser’s description.

Others on social media shared their dismay at the late finish.

“Imagine your kid being a ball kid until 4 in the morning. Ridiculous scheduling,” one user said on Twitter after the match.

“4 am finishes? For ball kids and support staff? Something needs to be done to start and finish matches at reasonable time,” said another.

“Maybe build new courts if the existing ones are not sufficient.”

Others, however, thought it wasn’t a big deal.

“Also as a parent would you want your kid up all night playing Warzone (a video game) or being a ball kid for one of the most amazing tennis matches ever”

Another former ball kid tweeted that she had no issue with a late finish time.

“Being a ball kid for a game that went until 1:30am my year was one of the best experiences ever like… i had so much fun.”

Andy Murray

A GoFundMe fundraising page was set up during the lengthy match. Photo: TND

Tennis legends weigh in

Tournament director Craig Tiley didn’t leave Melbourne Park overnight and presumedly didn’t get much more than a wink of sleep.

He appeared on Today early on Friday morning to defend the late finish.

“We’ve had years where finish every night at 12 or before, but you’ve also got to protect the matches,” he told hosts Karl Stefanovic and Sarah Abo.

“If you’ve just got one match at night and there’s an injury, you don’t have anything for the fans.”

But Tiley was strongly opposed by a chorus of tennis greats, who questioned the 4:05am finish.

Former player and Eurosport expert John McEnroe didn’t hold back, calling it “insane”, “crazy” and “absurd”.

“I am stunned in disbelief that they were still playing at that hour. For starters, it was insane that matches at that level are played 4am-4:30am in the morning,” he said.

“This happens rarely, but to me they should ensure that this doesn’t happen. This is crazy to have players play to this hour at this level with so much at stake.

“To me it’s just absurd that the players are playing, it’s going to be a match people talk about, but it’s also a match that greatly affects Andy’s chances of going deeper in the tournament.”

Three-time AO champ Martina Navratilova called for regulation around finish times.

“It is essential we create better rules in tennis regarding the weather(light and wind) and starting times or cutoff times for matches. Murray and Kokkinakis will finish around 4am,” she tweeted.

“Crazy- no other sport does this.”

Former world No.1 Andy Roddick addressed the matter on Twitter, calling the finish time “so dumb”.

Former player and Nine commentator Jelena Dokic said it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

“This happens in tennis more often than not – I just don’t think we sometimes hear about it,” she said.

“At the US Open we always have matches that go to 3 or 4am – it is normal in tennis. Not lot of other sports have that.

“Yes it’s tough, but I don’t think anybody thought this was going to go on for six hours.”

Despite not leaving Melbourne Park until around 7am on Friday morning, Murray was back in the bowels of the centre by midday.

And Darren Cahill, who was commentating last night’s match, was back on site around 9am to watch Jannik Sinner, who he coaches, warm up before his 11am match.

Friday night fever

With much of today’s focus turned towards Thursday night, it could be easy to forget there’s a great night of tennis ahead.

Two-time Australian Open women’s champion Victoria Azarenka will take on American tenth seed Madison Keys at Rod Laver Arena tonight.

They will be followed by Daniil Medvedev and Sebastian Korda, who are both keenly eyeing a spot in the fourth round.

Canadian ace Denis Shapovalov will appear on Margaret Court Arena against Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, followed by Greek sixth seed Maria Sakkari and China’s Lin Zhu.

And on John Cain Arena, Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime will take on Argentinian Francisco Cerundolo, before American Frances Tiafoe faces eighteenth seed Karen Khachanov.

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