Here’s a list of fun things that should end at 3 in the morning:
The only thing that happens that late that can’t be put off until daylight is getting bailed out of jail. But the organizers of the U.S. Open think going that deep into the next morning is an amusing curveball to throw at viewers.
The classic match of this tournament was played on Wednesday, but mostly on Thursday. The two most electric young talents in the men’s game – Carlos Alcaraz and Jannik Sinner – went five seesawing quarter-final sets.
Alcaraz was up early, down in the middle section and then pulled it out at the end. Unless they are insomniacs who set their own hours, most fans in the same time zone as this tournament didn’t see that. The match ended at 2:50 a.m. ET. After 5 hours 15 minutes, Alcaraz won 6-3, 6-7 (7), 6-7 (0), 7-5, 6-3.
As he won it, Alcaraz lay down on the court. Possibly because he was overwhelmed. More likely because he was wondering if he could spend the night there.
Alcaraz didn’t get into his news conference until an hour after that. You figure it’s another hour to get everything organized and drive back to the hotel. That puts him in bed around 5 a.m. or 6 a.m., at which time it’s impossible to sleep because you’re all keyed up.
“Tomorrow I wake up …” – Sinner said afterward, but stopped himself – “or today I wake up, trying to somehow take only the positives.”
One positive would be that he gets to go home with his body clock already back on Central European Time.
This was the second time an Alcaraz match at this tournament has gone into the microscopic hours. So far, he seems unfazed by the disruption. I’m sure he’ll remain that way right up until he loses a match. That’s when he’ll start wondering why he’s the only pro athlete in the world working an overnight shift.
Everything at this tournament starts too late. The day sessions don’t really get off the ground until 1 p.m. Who does this convenience? The boozy lunch crowd? If you’re coming to the tennis, you’ve already taken the day off work. If you’re watching from anywhere in the United States, you’ve been out of bed for hours. Who wants to wait until mid-afternoon to get going? On anything?
The night session makes even less sense.
It starts at 7 p.m., which would be fine if it were just the one match, but until the past few days, it’s two. And when I say starts, that word should be air quoted. The players start trickling onto the court at 7, but the match can start as much as a half-hour after that.
The second contest of the night session is scheduled at 9, which would work if tennis matches had only one set. Because they don’t, that makes 9 a horological pipe dream.
Knowing they are potentially in for two days worth of watching, many attendees don’t roll into Arthur Ashe Stadium until 8 or later. That’s right in the thick of the first match. They are thronging the aisles while someone’s serving for the second set. If the goal here is making the best women’s players in the world feel as if they are the opening act to the real rockstars, then bravo.
On Wednesday, Iga Swiatek-Jessica Pegula preceded the men’s match. Swiatek wobbled, but pulled it out in two sets. If she’d been stretched to three, Alcaraz-Sinner would have ended around 4 in the morning. As it was, the two men didn’t start until after 9:30.
There are a few things I would go to see if they started at 9:30 at night – a show by the resurrected Beatles, splashdown of the comet that will destroy the planet, the Second Coming. For everything else, I’ll watch the replay tomorrow.
This sort of somnambulant scheduling is a product of 20th-century thinking: ‘Everybody needs a couple of hours to get here after work.’
It’s 2022. The sort of people who can afford to blow 500 bucks to watch tennis are not chained to a desk until quitting time. They can clear an afternoon. Also, the sort of people who pay 500 bucks to watch tennis no longer want to be on the streets in Manhattan at 4 in the morning. This city is time-warping back to the 1970s, and not in a cool, Andy-Warhol-and-the-Factory sort of way.
What about the West Coast viewers?
What about them? How do they watch Wimbledon or the French Open? Do you think someone in Paris is going, ‘Sacre bleu, what if people in San Jose can’t watch a guy from Italy play a guy from Spain? Will there be riots?’ The same rule applies – people who want to watch will find a way.
It wouldn’t be as annoying if the ridiculously late matches didn’t also tend to be the ridiculously good ones.
More spectators than you’d have imagined hung in for the end of Alcaraz-Sinner. No doubt, they got a great sports memory for their trouble.
But they were working with a sunk viewership cost. Flushing Meadows is way out there. Having come that far, what’s the point in leaving? It’s the middle of the night in either case.
The same logic does not apply to TV viewers. Bed is seconds away. How many people who would have devoured that whole match in the early evening abandoned it after two sets because they have, you know, lives to live?
The U.S. Open isn’t the only offender – baseball loves a 9 o’clock first pitch in the postseason – but it’s the worst. By its nature, tennis is a daytime game.
But tennis is also an intimate game. It’s a game whose best soundtrack is the ‘thwock’ of the ball. It’s a gentle affair. You may cheer your favourite, but you don’t jeer their opponent.
The U.S. Open has already thrown all that out the window in its mission to turn tennis into roller derby for urban aristocrats. Who cares if a few working stiffs are timed out of the fun?