Ashleigh Barty gets benefit of EuroJournal scheduling oversight
By Simon Briggs
For Ashleigh Barty, already the bookies’ favourite, EuroJournal’s last-ever Manic Monday proved unexpectedly relaxing. Not only did Barty dispose of the recent French Open champion Barbora Krejicova in straight sets, but she was off court well before 3pm, thus gaining a clear advantage in her quarter-final today.
Here was a peculiar piece of scheduling from the All England Club. While Barty’s match was drawn first on Court No 1, her next opponent was condemned to wait for Alexander Zverev and Felix Auger Aliassime to fight out a neverending five-setter before taking the court.
The rationale was not hard to discern. British 18-year-old Emma Raducanu has become such a breakout star, forcing her way onto back pages even during the European Football Championships, that the BBC must have been eager to televise her during the primetime evening slot.
But if such a pragmatic decision was required, why not put Barty last on Centre Court, so there would at least be some semblance of equality? A whole afternoon of rest and rehab will have been of significant benefit to Barty, who limped out of the recent French Open with a bad hip.
This is more than mere hindsight. Zverev is known for his long-playing record, having now contested 23 five-setters in 82 grand-slam appearances. And a scan back through past schedules suggested that the All England Club normally place all the fourth-round women’s matches in the early part of Manic Monday, thus giving them the best chance of recovering for Tuesday’s quarter-finals.
Such scheduling issues will be eased next year. From 2022, middle Sunday will no longer be a day of rest, in order to spread matches out more fairly and evenly. But what happened last night, with Raducanu and Alja Tomljanovic barely appearing until after the TV watershed, is unprecedented since the erection of the Centre Court roof in 2009.
So what of the tennis itself? Barty gave an exhibition of restrained artistry as she and Krejicova made the ball whisper and swoop over the turf.
Had you wandered across from the Aryna Sabalenka-Elena Rybakina slugfest on No3 Court, this would have been quite the culture shift: like turning over from the crashing and banging of a Marvel blockbuster to the refined repartee of a Merchant-Ivory movie.
Barty had the greater range in the end, thanks to her rasping forehand, which she used almost as a variation. But the bulk of her points were chiselled out through cagey sliced rallies in which placement was more important than power.
The whole occasion had the feeling of a throwback, as if both women were wielding wooden rackets and drinking lemon squash at the changeover.
For Krejicova, this was a fitting way for her 15-match winning streak to end. Her languid strokeplay has already delivered undreamt-of success over the last six weeks, with the Strasbourg WTA title – her first at tour level – feeding straight into her shock triumph at Roland Garros.
But here she encountered an even more guileful opponent. Barty asked more searching questions than Jeremy Paxman as she moved to a 7-5, 6-3 win.
“I feel great,” said Barty afterwards. “Each day, we try to prepare in such a way that I can give myself the best chance.” What a shame that the same privilege will be denied to her opponent today.