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Wimbledon defends late-night schedule despite delays: ‘TV figures speak for themselves’

Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have both found themselves impacted by scheduling that has seen Centre Court go well past daylight hours on multiple occasions

Wimbledon chief executive Sally Bolton has defended the scheduling at this year’s championships just hours after defending champion Novak Djokovic’s match was suspended due to Centre Court overrunning.

Play was suspended at 10.35pm on Sunday night with no realistic prospect of Djokovic and opponent Hubert Hurkacz playing to a finish before the 11pm curfew.

The fourth-round match did not even start until 8.49pm despite the fact there were no delays to the two previous matches scheduled.

“As far as the TV audience is concerned, matches are happening at a time when they’re accessible to people,” said All England Club (AELTC) chief executive Sally Bolton.

“We’re seeing viewing figures that are beyond our expectations and beyond previous years, so I think they probably speak for themselves.”

She added: “[Fans] get a very, very full day in centre court and as I walked out last night, as they were all leaving, what I saw and felt was a real buzz of excitement from people who’d had a fantastic full day on Centre Court.”

Play on Centre Court previously started at 1pm but that was moved to 1.30pm after the Covid-19 pandemic, a move understood to have been made to ease foot traffic around the site but also allow hospitality guests to eat lunch before taking their seats.

“That’s very much about ensuring that we 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,” Bolton added.

“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.”

The Wimbledon crowd were criticised on Sunday night by Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who was jeered off the court after not shaking hands with Elina Svitolina – though it was at the Ukrainian’s request.

Azarenka angrily claimed afterwards that spectators had consumed “a lot of Pimm’s” and were “quite drunk”.

But Bolton denied that increasingly late finishes were leading to a rowdier SW19 crowd.

“That’s not an issue that we recognise,” the AELTC chief said.

“What I would what I would say is what we all saw in that match was an extremely high intensity well-matched contest that had the crowd absolutely on the edge of their seats.

“So the atmosphere in there was incredible. And that was driven by the quality of what they were seeing on the court.”

She added: “We aren’t in a position where we can control the crowds here at Wimbledon. We traditionally have a hugely respectful crowd here and I expect that we will continue to see that as we head into the rest of the tournament.

“I think we have an incredibly knowledgeable audience at Wimbledon.”

And she said the AELTC has “no intention” of heeding Svitolina’s pleas for tennis authorities to make it clearer to fans that Ukrainians will not shake hands with Russian or Belarusian players.

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