Wimbledon chiefs set to resist call for matches to start earlier amid fears move could hit TV deals

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Wimbledon chiefs set to resist calls from Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray for matches to start earlier in a bid to beat the 11pm curfew amid fears the move could hit lucrative TV deals

Wimbledon are set to resist Novak Djokovic’s call for an early start on Centre Court at next year’s Championships amidst concerns of being hit with demands for multi-million pound rebates from their broadcast partners. 

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Whilst the All England Club have ultimate control over scheduling Mail Sport has learned that the current start times are enshrined in several of their most lucrative TV contracts, including that with the BBC, which would require renegotiation if play was to begin earlier.

Wimbledon introduced the current 1:30pm start on Centre Court two years ago part of their Covid-19 mitigations, with play on Number One Court beginning at 1pm, a move which has proved popular with broadcasters as it gives them more matches at prime-time. 

Since introducing the later start, the All England Club have agreed a new £60milllion-a-year deal with the BBC until 2027, and a £400m contract covering north America with ESPN, both of whom could demand rebates if the playing times were significantly altered.

BBC sources have indicated they may be willing to accept a 1pm start time without demanding compensation, but anything earlier is regarded as a non-starter and would require a major renegotiation.

Novak Djokovic has called for future Centre Court games at Wimbledon to start at noon

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Novak Djokovic has called for future Centre Court games at Wimbledon to start at noon 

The Serb is one of several players who are keen to finish their games on the day they start

The Serb is one of several players who are keen to finish their games on the day they start

Djokovic has led the calls to bring matches forward, with the world number two calling for a 12pm start time on Centre Court after his fourth-round match against Hugo Hurkacz was suspended on Sunday evening due to Merton Council’s 11pm curfew, which required him to return on Monday with the result that he played on three successive days at the start of the week. 

Andy Murray’s second-round clash with Stefanos Tsitsipas last week also had to be carried over into a second day, while Djokovic’s third-round match against Stan Wawrinka concluded just 14 minutes before the curfew.

Wimbledon are also resigned to maintaining the 11pm curfew as they are wary of antagonising local residents, whose support is crucial to their plans for building a 38-court expansion of their premises at the adjacent Wimbledon Park, a project which would enable the All England Club to host their own qualifying tournament.

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All England Club chief executive Sally Bolton defended the current schedule earlier this week and is understood to be relatively relaxed about two matches suspended to date, a far lower figure than in previous years at the Championships before roofs were constructed on both show courts. 

The later start is also popular with Wimbledon debenture holders, companies and corporate clients, who provide the club with a significant source of revenue, as it enables them to enjoy a leisurely lunch before watching the tennis.

Andy Murray also commented on the scheduling, sharing a post calling for an earlier start time

Andy Murray also commented on the scheduling, sharing a post calling for an earlier start time

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