By James Steel
I, like many of you reading this, have read and listened to TV pundits, journalists and podcasters bemoan the fact that tennis matches dare attempt to be played past 7 p.m. during the work week. They insist that these matches should be played during the daytime, no discussion. In my opinion, this is a very short-sighted and narrow viewpoint for the functioning of the sport and one that looks to denigrate the working class and working people from the sport.
A fundamental goal of all who play, operate, and follow the sport of tennis is the increased accessibility of the sport and increased viewership. This aim should be a constant part of the way tennis structures itself. It’s also why I’m hugely supportive of night matches to further this goal.
Watching tennis matches is a leisure. It’s a pastime people do outside of their working lives to destress (well, to try to. We all know how dramatic tennis can be) and enjoy themselves before getting back to work. Many people around the world work during the daytime and any leisure time they have comes in the evening and during the weekends. This, ideally, is when sports and other popular activities or programs would schedule themselves, so as to secure the widest audience possible.
Sports such as football and rugby understand this. They make sure that all matches being played are during the evening in the week and on at the weekend. Because of this, they have very large fanbases with millions tuning in even to watch the most normal of league matches. By making their sport accessible to the biggest group possible, they provide enjoyment and access for many.
Tennis has started to move in a similar vein. Three out of the four Grand Slam events have introduced night sessions (Wimbledon doesn’t have official night sessions but has a later show court start time), the majority of ATP Masters 1000s and WTA 1000s have night sessions, and a range of 250 and 500 tournaments have night sessions. These timings allow those in their time zones the ability to watch live tennis after work and experience some of the biggest names in our sport. From a working class perspective, this sounds like a win-win to me.
I understand the argument about night sessions’ impact on players; there are sometimes bizarre situations when a match goes late one night and the victor has to return to play a match the following day, forced to take the court again with less than 24 hours of rest. It’s also possible to go too late. Roland-Garros’s notorious night sessions this year didn’t kick off until 9 p.m., with many going to sleep before matches had ended. (Even Roger Federer didn’t watch the entire Djokovic-Nadal quarterfinal, which didn’t end until past one in the morning Paris time.) But these examples should be used to help discuss how to tinker with night sessions to improve the overall experience, not to advocate for their removal.
This then brings me back to my original statement, those who present, pundit, write articles and talk about tennis through podcasts tend to be in a privileged position, they can spend a tournament watching the tennis all day, every day, then talking about it afterwards.. But their experience isn’t the same to working-class people who are looking forward to watching Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray, Iga Świątek and Emma Raducanu when they get home. Before complaining about night sessions, journalists, pundits, and podcasters should think about the working-class people who want to watch live tennis and become invested in the sport, but are denied the opportunity.