At Wimbledon One Final Day of Rest, and One Last Manic Monday

by Msnbctv news staff

WIMBLEDON, England — Wimbledon paused midtournament for the last time on Sunday. The practice courts were busy, but as usual no fans were admitted to the grounds and no official matches were played despite the rare presence of sunshine.

Players walked the grounds in peace, and the Taiwanese player Hsieh Su-wei took photos on an empty Henman Hill.

Until now, Wimbledon has been the only tour-level event with a scheduled rest day, though rain has occasionally forced tournament organizers to call it off.

Wimbledon dates to 1877. The pause is a relic of the days when sport was not played on Sundays for religious reasons. Until 1982, the tournament ended on Saturday with the men’s singles final. But through the decades, the Sunday off has become, above all, a moment for the players, officials, employees and tournament neighbors to catch their collective breath.

Next year will bring change, and the traditional Sunday calm will give way to the bustle of a full day of competition as Wimbledon expands from 13 days to 14.

There are no longer concerns about the playability of Centre Court with the added day, according to Alexandra Willis, a spokeswoman for the All England Club.

“We just felt like the tradition of not playing on Sunday had served its time,” Willis said. “If we were confident in Centre Court being able to handle the extra day’s play, why wouldn’t we open it up so all those people who are available on weekends would have another chance to watch and engage with Wimbledon and come to Wimbledon?”

It is a good question, and though the tradition has its charms and allows all players at least one full day to savor the achievement of qualifying for the second week, it is doubtful that a majority of fans will miss it.

I ran two informal polls on social media: the first in April after the initial announcement of the change and the second on Sunday. In April, 74 percent of the 2,162 respondents approved of the move. On Sunday, more than 69 percent of the initial 2,000 respondents approved.

That aligns with the All England Club’s research, and one suspects that television broadcasters would all concur. Why go dark from Wimbledon on a day when viewers in most parts of the world have a day off?

“They were pleased,” Willis said of the broadcasters. “But to be very clear this was our initiative, not theirs.”

The decision will increase revenue for the tournament, but Willis said the primary motivation was to increase its reach.

“Our modeling shows it will give us roughly a 10 percent bump in audience figures,” she said.

The players, some of whom appreciate the pause, seem accepting. Tour officials and many players were upset when the French Open unilaterally tacked on a 15th day of play in 2006. But that move extended the length of the tournament and encroached on other events. Wimbledon will make its move within its existing window.

“Everybody wants more days,” said Roger Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon singles champion. “Look, more days means more revenue, more options, more this and that. I get it. I don’t think they did it only because of revenue. I think they just think it’s going with the times, as well.”

There will be a knock-on effect in that so-called Manic Monday, the day normally reserved for the entire fourth round of men’s and women’s singles matches, will become considerably less manic.

It is perhaps a better concept than a reality. With all those meaningful matches competing for attention on all those different courts, it is a bit like collecting seashells with the tide quickly rising.

Beginning next year, the fourth round will be split across Sunday and Monday, bringing Wimbledon in line with the other three Grand Slam tournaments.

“We are thinking this will help the Monday and actually deliver an increase in audiences,” Willis said. “Manic Monday, though beloved by many people, is actually incredibly difficult to follow, and if you think about the challenge of scheduling that day and of covering that day, our media partners have often said to us, ‘It’s too much tennis, and we can’t give it proper attention.’”

But there will be one more Manic Monday, and the weather forecast looked more promising than it has for much of this tournament played in soggy, overcast conditions.

That could help with players’ footing after all the slips and tumbles of the first week. Even the smooth-moving Federer had fallen multiple times, but Wimbledon officials continued to insist that they prepared the grass as usual, mowing it to a height of 8 millimeters, and expressed faith in the integrity of the surface.

“Obviously it wasn’t played on the way it would normally be last year,” Willis said, referring to Wimbledon’s cancellation in 2020. “It was played on a little bit by some of the members, but the team renovated the court in exactly the same way, so it’s all new grass.”

Of the 16 men remaining, only Federer and the world No. 1 Novak Djokovic have won a Wimbledon singles title.

Of the 16 women, only Angelique Kerber has won the tournament, and none of the other contenders has even made it past the quarterfinals.

While Djokovic remained the overwhelming favorite for the men’s title, the women’s draw appeared to be particularly open again. For the first time in the Open era, two wild cards have reached the round of 16 — Liudmila Samsonova of Russia and Emma Raducanu, a British 18-year-old ranked 338th who is making her first appearance at any tour-level event.

Five of the eight matchups on Monday are first-timers, and no matchup has been played more than twice. That is a sign of the churn in women’s tennis. But while only five of the top 16 seeds remained, that is partly because the seedings do not reflect players’ current form at this stage with the rankings partially frozen because of the pandemic.

The live season-long points race seems a better indication of reality, and the top four players — Ashleigh Barty, Barbora Krejcikova, Aryna Sabalenka and Iga Swiatek — are still in the hunt.

Two Americans are left, Madison Keys and the 17-year-old Coco Gauff, who will face Kerber on Centre Court in one of the better matchups on Monday. Others who catch the eye included Swiatek versus the 21st-seeded Ons Jabeur, Sabalenka versus the 18th-seeded Elena Rybakina, and Barty versus Krejcikova, who is on a 15-match winning streak and just won the French Open.

In the men’s event, Sebastian Korda, an unseeded American playing in his first Wimbledon, will mark his 21st birthday by facing the 25th-seeded Karen Khachanov of Russia.

Of the 16 men, only Djokovic, Federer and Roberto Bautista Agut have been past the fourth round at Wimbledon. Bautista lost to Djokovic in the 2019 semifinals before Djokovic rallied to defeat Federer in the final after saving two match points.

A rematch is not out of the question, but Federer, at age 39, will likely have to beat three seeded players to reach another final. The first of those is No. 23 Lorenzo Sonego, a dynamic and demonstrative Italian with lots of flair who will be as rested as Federer and everyone else in the field after Wimbledon’s last fallow Sunday.

Ben Rothenberg contributed reporting.

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