Finals time change first for Grand Slams

Updated: January 31, 2004, 11:57 PM ET

MELBOURNE, Australia -- The men's singles final at next year's Australian Open will be played at night -- a first for men's Grand Slam tennis -- organizers said on Sunday.

The decision to play the showpiece match in a "twilight session" mirrors the U.S. Open's policy of playing the women's singles final in the evening.

"Next year, 2005, is the centenary year of the Australian Open," tournament chief Paul McNamee said.

"To think that in the centenary year, (it is a) historic first for a Grand Slam to have the men's singles final in primetime, it is a historic moment for the tournament.

"We've done a few breaks with tradition over the years, haven't we? Including the roof, which was criticized originally.

"Now, of course, it's being used by other Grand Slams ... such as Wimbledon."

McNamee said that playing the final at the same time as the semis was a step forward.

"The key is to repeat the conditions of the semifinals for the final. ... We think it is actually a step forward for the tournament.

"You've got to remember, it's 7.30. It's not exactly pitch black here in Melbourne. The conditions are beautiful at 7:30."

The decision to play the men's final at night was part of a new deal with Seven Network, broadcasters of the Open since 1969.

The new deal was for a further five years.

McNamee said the decision had been a joint one.

"Well, (Channel) 7 has always had an interest in it, and we've always had an interest in it," he said.

"The question for tennis was whether it was going to be strong enough to carry primetime. And I think what we've demonstrated over the last five years, with the possible exception of two years ago, when we struggled, was that the tennis product has been able to hold itself in primetime.

"If we hadn't been able to get the ratings we've had the last few years, to be honest, this wouldn't have been an option. Business is business.

"So the fact that we've been able to have these big matches and rate very well, look, it's a dream for any sport to have their product in primetime, and tennis is no exception.

"That's why it is big news for us. No other Grand Slam has done it so far on the men's side. It's a big step forward for us."

McNamee said there were no plans to play the women's semifinals or final at night.