The last match of Day 4 became the first of Day 5 when Britain’s Johanna Konta and Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza stepped onto Margaret Court Arena at half past midnight in Melbourne, the latest-ever start for an Australian Open match.
I can't believe there are people still watching. Jo played very good, serving big and I just tried to fight. I will go for breakfast now. Garbine Muguruza
The delayed start was due to the men’s match between Alexander Zverev and Jeremy Chardy stretching to five sets and at one point the Referees’ office started preparing outside Court 3 to host the match, but bird droppings on it, among the hazards that needed cleaning up, proved a step too far.
That Konta and Muguruza were expected to put on a show after such a long wait and at such a late time at night is unreasonable, but they produced a high quality match that many spectators, long gone, would have enjoyed.
The match ended at 3.12am with a victory for the Spaniard, but it so could so easily have gone the other way.
The former World No 1 enjoyed the only break of serve in the first set, as the Brit made a slow start, but the second set proved more competitive when Konta stepped up her striking power.
The rain began to fall as the second set moved into a tiebreak, and the roof on Margaret Court Arena was closed to allow play to continue.
Konta’s challenging had been in some disarray, but she made an excellent call to ask for a review on her first set point when she was leading the Spaniard 6-3.
Her shot was shown to be in, overturning the line judge’s original decision, and sending the match into a decider.
The two stayed close in that third set too, but Konta’s increased number of unforced errors began to tell, and Muguruza finally broke her serve to take the epic encounter, 6-4 6-7(3) 7-5, after 2 hours 42 minutes of enthralling play.
“I can’t believe there are people still watching,” said Muguruza. “Jo played very good, serving big and I just tried to fight. I will go for breakfast now.”
Around 1,000 dedicated souls were dotted around the arena, including a couple who had clearly been imbibing most of the evening and were eventually led out.
Muguruza set out striking the ball as hard as she could, using her depth and power to dominate the first set.
She broke in the first game and although Konta responded in fashion, the Spaniard held on, saving a break back point at 3-4.
With both players continuing to crunch the ball, Konta began to look the more threatening, but she hit a forehand marginally wide on the break point she created at 2-1 in the second set.
She looked the more certain going into breaker, which was interrupted at 1-1 for the roof to be entirely closed to keep out a rain shower.
She kept her stride, lifting her game to take the tiebreak 7-3 as the time hit 2.20am.
The clock struck three as they duelled their way to 4-4, both players unyielding.
Konta was playing better than she has done since reaching the semi-finals of Wimbledon eighteen months ago, but Muguruza found some big returns at 5-6 and snagged her first match point, a rare break point on the Brit’s serve, to win a match that neither deserved to lose.
No doubt there will be some debate as to the hour this match was called.
After Muguruza cooled down, met the press and got to bed she would have little time for sleep in the early hours of Friday morning before preparing for her next match, distinctly out of sync with her normal routine.
Ahead for her lies the tricky Timea Bacsinszky from Switzerland, a much earlier winner over Natalia Vikhlyantseva, a qualifier from Russia.
While it was the latest ever start for a match at a Grand Slam, it was not the latest finish, with the Melbourne record going to the match between Lleyton Hewitt and Marcos Baghdatis that ended at 4:38am in 2008.
Konta became the last British singles player to depart out of eight starters, a fourth straight Grand Slam when no GB player has gone solo beyond the middle Saturday.
Although Konta did not come out on top on this occasion, this was a performance from the British No 1 that harked back to her form of two years ago, when she appeared a legitimate Grand Slam challenger, and should give her plenty of confidence for the season ahead.
“It’s not ideal,” Konta said of the late start. “I don’t think it’s ideal for anyone to do any physical activity when it’s bedtime, but it is what it is and both of us were in the same boat. Both of us had to deal with the same challenge.
“We were going to go out to Court 3 to start, but there were basically seagulls and poo everywhere so they had to clean the court,” Konta added.
“By the time they would have cleaned the court it would have taken 10 or 15 minutes and we would have been in the same boat anyway.”
Asked if she wished the match had been moved to a different court earlier, Konta added: “I mean, I think ideally both of us would have liked to play earlier.
“This is no one’s ideal schedule to play in the wee hours of the morning.
“Again, we don’t make the schedule, unfortunately, and we both dealt with the same challenge.
“I think it’s more important to focus on the level of the match we had because it was actually a very good match. It is a shame more people couldn’t enjoy it.”