Concussion check … Li Na is treated after falling following the fireworks break. Photo: AP
TENNIS AUSTRALIA officials are negotiating with the state government in an attempt to avoid the annual disruption to play caused by the Australia Day fireworks display. This year, the extended break came during the women's final. Next year: the men.
Often, the best-of-three set women's decider is finished by the scheduled fireworks time of 9.40pm, but instead the interruption came after the third game of the third set between Li Na and Victoria Azarenka. Li fell immediately after the resumption, twisting the ankle she had hurt earlier in the match and then getting assessed for possible concussion after banging her head on the court.
More frequently the fireworks coincide with the Thursday or Friday night men's semi-final and, last year, the moment came with Rafael Nadal leading Roger Federer 5-2 in the second set. Federer dropped 11 straight points after play resumed.
The decision to stop, or not, is left to the players, with the match suspended at either participant's request, and only continuing if both acquiesce. On Saturday night, a mutually agreed break that typically lasts for nine minutes went for closer to 10.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said talks had begun with the state government to try to find a solution acceptable to both parties ahead of next year's event, with the next men's final scheduled for January 26. He said the interruption was particularly perplexing for the global TV audience, but also had the potential to affect the momentum of a match.
''We are working with the state government to see what possibilities exist,'' Tiley told Fairfax Media. ''We've been talking about what's best, because we do want continuous play, but at the same time we want to recognise and celebrate Australia Day, so [we're] a bit between a rock and a hard place. If we can make both things work, and have a win-win for both, it would be great. Our preference would be that [the fireworks] don't disrupt the match.
''There's no rush, but we've just got to work through and see what the best options are. Our operations team is talking to the government, because we want Victorians and Australians to have the fireworks, and we want play to be continuous, so what that involves, I don't know.''
Another issue to be addressed in the coming months is the lack of space on the men's trophy, the historic Norman Brookes Challenge Cup. If there is room to add another name below that of 2013 champion Novak Djokovic, it will only be one. First won by Fred Perry in 1934, the cup stands on a 15.5-centimetre plinth that carries the names of the men's singles winners, each of whom receive a replica of the original.
So, what to do now?
''It's an interesting question. Our engraver tells us we can possibly squeeze in one more name next year, but that would be tight,'' Tiley said. ''We've been expecting for the last few years it would get to this point, but we are in the process of discussing it and talking to a couple of curators as well … but obviously we are committed to not changing the trophy. We've got to find more space, that's the bottom line.''
Due to design differences, there is not such a pressing need with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Trophy awarded to the women's singles champion, but Tiley admitted that ''eventually it will run out''.
The total attendance for this year's Australian Open was 684,457, just short of the 2012 record of 686,006.