WIMBLEDON – It wouldn’t be a Grand Slam without a good, old-fashioned debate about court assignments and scheduling and who’s being snubbed and who’s being given preferential treatment.
And so, as we arrive at the second Wednesday of Wimbledon and the men’s quarterfinals, we see three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Centre Court.
With that, we also see seven-time champion Roger Federer “relegated” to No. 1 Court for the first time in the tournament.
Actually, for the first time in three years.
(Relegated is such a relative term here, as it is at Roland Garros where Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen are considered virtual co-equals. Still, it’s a status thing that seems to mean a lot to some people).
Second trip to Centre Court for Djokovic
The way people have been whinging, you’d think Djokovic had been turned away at the door to the celebrated Wimbledon Centre Court for failing to bring a jacket and tie.
That said, it’s fairly evident over the last few years that despite his sterling resumé, he’s rarely gotten the top-two treatment accorded here to Federer and, less defendably, to Nadal.
The Serb was on Centre Court on Saturday for his third-round match against Brit Kyle Edmund, after being relegated to No. 2 Court for his second round.
Until Manic Monday, there was never a choice to be made between Federer and Djokovic in terms of courts assignments. In opposite sections of the draw, they were playing on different days.
The choice, then, has been between Djokovic and Nadal – currently the No. 1 ranked player in the world, even if he is the No. 2 seed here because of the weighted grass-court seedings.
Djokovic is currently ranked No. 21 and seeded No. 12.
Nadal on Centre every match
Nadal has won out each time there was a choice to be made between the two. The Spaniard’s match against Juan Martin del Potro will be the fifth straight time he has been on Centre Court.
And the quarterfinals are the last opportunity to play anywhere else but Centre Court.
Djokovic said, after he squeezed his Monday victory over Khachanov in under the wire, that he had heard his last-on match was likely to be cancelled had the prior match between Kevin Anderson and Gaël Monfils had gone to a fifth set.
Meanwhile, a mixed doubles match involving Brit Jamie Murray and his partner Victoria Azarenka was played on Centre Court, with the roof closed and the lights switched to finish the third set.
It could all have been even worse. The absence of Andy Murray, who is pretty much an automatic (perhaps even more than Federer) to get a Centre Court slot made life a little easier this year for a lot of people.
Mid-match relocation rare
Djokovic dealt with that last year as well. The tournament wouldn’t move his Monday match, delayed by rain under the Centre Court roof to finish it.
(Tournaments rarely relocate a match that’s already in progress to another court. But it does happen. Notably in 2014 here, Genie Bouchard’s first-round match against Magdalena Rybarikova on Court 12 was moved to Centre Court, under the roof, on a day where just about everything was wiped out by rain.
There was a specific scenario involved there. The winner was to play Brit Johanna Konta. And they needed a Centre Court slot for her. And that was going to be difficult to manage had the second-round match been delayed a day, because of the other high-profile matches that needed to be scheduled. So yes, it’s pretty much all about television).
Last year’s stubbornness about not moving Djokovic’s match meant he had to finish up Tuesday. And on Wednesday, he had to retire in his quarterfinal match against Tomas Berdych. He didn’t play the rest of the season because of his elbow injury.
Luckily, that repeat scenario was avoided. Because Djokovic would have been right to raise a huge stink if it did.
Federer to No. 1 Court, TV follows
So the seven-time champion Federer therefore led things off on No. 1 Court Wednesday for the first time in the tournament, facing No. 8 seed Anderson of South Africa.
Generally, the BBC’s main station is the spot for Centre Court action, while BBC2 has No. 1 Court.
Except … as Wednesday’s coverage began, Djokovic and Nishikori were nowhere to be seen on BBC1. The BBC lunchtime news was all over its coverage of U.S. president Donald Trump and other world leaders in Brussels, and didn’t switch back to the tennis until about 1:50 p.m., when they showed the two players walking onto court (50 minutes earlier)
After that, Federer’s match was switched to BBC1, while Nishikori and Djokovic was being shown on BBC2.
It was all a very delicate dance.
The last time Federer played on No. 1 Court was against Gilles Simon of France the same round – the quarterfinals – three years ago. Djokovic beat Federer in that 2015 final.
Switching the matchups
Nadal vs. del Potro is the “fan favorite” match of the day, with both players having huge followings. So Federer was moved, risking the wrath of the all-powerful Centre Court debenture holders.
It also led to some scrambling as Federer fans who had tickets for Centre Court assuming their favorite would be there, trying to swap them out for No. 1 Court.
Meanwhile, the generally accepted scheduling plan that the two players who meet in the next round should play at approximately the same time wherever possible, was turned upside down to make this change.
The winner of Federer-Anderson will play the winner of the match between Milos Raonic and John Isner. But they play one after the other on Court 1.
Same scenario on Centre Court, where the winner of Djokovic-Nishikori will play the winner of Nadal-del Potro. And yet, they follow each other.
In this configuration, Federer or Anderson, and Djokovic or Nishikori will both benefit from some extra down time before Friday’s semifinals.
The later the better for the Americas
The later time slots are more coveted by television in North and South America – which applies to Raonic, Isner and del Potro.
1 p.m. is 8 a.m. in New York and Toronto, 9 a.m. in Buenos Aires and 5 a.m. in Los Angeles. So the later the better, as far as the television rights holders in those countries. But the same is somewhat true in Europe, where the early evening match can spill over into prime-time blocks.
So there are no correct answers to this puzzle. Even though it’s typically not about the “best tennis matchup” or about fairness to all players.
But in the end, everyone will play and win, somewhere. Someone’s nose will always be put out of joint. and Isner and Raonic are probably happy just to still be playing on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon.
They’d probably play on the Centre Court roof, if they were asked to.