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Why All England Club is ready to put Middle Sunday in the rearview in 2022

LONDON — It is one of the oldest traditions in sport: “Middle Sunday” at Wimbledon, a day when competition stops and the tennis world slows down for a moment, a chance to rest and reset before the hustle and bustle of Week 2.

But from 2022 on, Middle Sunday will be a day of play like all the others as the Championships becomes a regular, 14-day tournament.

And it seems the players are going to miss it.

“It’s a tradition that we have the Sunday off,” former champion Angelique Kerber said. “Nothing is open. You come here, you are practicing. Everything is really calm. You know you reached the second week. Over the years I played here, I really enjoyed the Sunday because you really recover from the first week. You know, OK, now the second week starts. You have to get ready from Monday already. I think I will miss it, to be honest.”

Australian Nick Kyrgios said he was quite surprised things were changing.

“It’s tradition, isn’t it?” he said. “Wimbledon is full of those. I kind of like how they don’t take any stick from anyone. They don’t really care. They do it their own way. That’s what makes it special. I’m actually surprised they’re going to do that. I kind of like the middle Sunday off. Everyone just kind of has a break, then they’re back on again. It’s cool. Obviously they’re doing it because the weather is a bit unpredictable here, right?”

Wimbledon is the only Grand Slam of the four events not to play on the middle Sunday, a tradition that for years was fiercely protected by the All England Club, which always maintained that the grass needed a day of rest as much as the players. But after the cancellation of the Championships in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, even though some of their revenue was protected by its pandemic insurance, the club is looking for more ways to make money and the extra day will fulfil that need.

Wimbledon says the move is about more than just money.

“This provides us with the opportunity, at an important time, to enhance the accessibility, reach and fanbase of Wimbledon, and tennis, both in the UK and globally,” Wimbledon said when it announced the news in April. “It will also ensure greater resilience and fairness of the tournament program for our competitors and enable us to create a different kind of atmosphere on the Middle Sunday, with a strong focus on the local community in particular.”

The lack of Sunday play harks back to a time when very little sport of any kind in England was played, partly for religious reasons. International cricket matches used to break for Sunday. The first professional football match on a Sunday was in 1974 but it was not until 1983 that Sunday football became a regular event.

Wimbledon has sometimes been slow to catch up but it is worth remembering that until 1981, the men’s final at Wimbledon was played on the second Saturday (the women’s final was on the Friday).

“Look, you’ve got to love traditions, but the French Open also went to a 15-day event,” Roger Federer said of the schedule change. “Everybody wants more days. 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. They just think it’s going with the times, as well. I think in some ways you liked it because it resets the entire draw for Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday. At the same time, every other tournament does it differently, as well. Maybe it’s going with the times. I get that.”

While the loss of Middle Sunday as a day of rest may be mourned by the world’s media, who generally appreciated the chance to have a relatively quiet day, it makes a lot of sense from a fairness perspective.

For players, it means, barring lengthy rain delays, they will be assured a set pattern of play: day on, day off. It also means the end of “Manic Monday,” that frantic day to open week two when all of the “last-16” matches, in men’s and women’s singles, are played on the same day.

The spill over effect of Manic Monday was the women who won their last-16 matches would all have to play two days in a row, with their quarterfinals scheduled for Tuesday. Starting in 2022, the men and women will have the same day on and day off.

Though it has guarded tradition carefully over the years — the predominantly all-white clothing rule is still strongly enforced — Wimbledon has never been afraid to innovate and so Middle Sunday is also an opportunity beginning in 2022.

Just as in 1991, 1997, 2004 and 2016 — the only four years when play was held on Middle Sunday due to rain and a backed-up schedule — the All England Club is understood to be considering opening up that day to more people.

In the years when they did play on Middle Sunday, it was nicknamed “People’s Sunday,” and Wimbledon is looking into creating that kind of atmosphere on a regular basis, most likely by making the majority of tickets available to anyone on a first-come, first served basis.

Kyrgios did reflect on playing on Middle Sunday and how it ended up as one of his best Wimbledon memories, actually.

“I played on the Middle Sunday once,” Kyrgios said. “I had to finish my match against (Feliciano) Lopez. That was awesome. That was actually incredible. That was a very special match for me, one of my best matches I’ve played here. It was cool.”

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