Wimbledon: 'Sexist' scheduling leaves new mum Azarenka away from baby all day
With dozens of matches to pack in during the first few days of Wimbledon the order of play is always a headache for officials, players and fans.
But the crowded schedule has caused particular problems for one player this week - new mum Victoria Azarenka.
The 27-year-old has complained that she was forced to spend long hours hanging around the All England Lawn Tennis Club - away from her six-month-old baby Leo - while waiting to be told what time her first round match was due to start.
With seven-times Wimbledon winner Serena Williams due to give birth in a few months Azarenka’s comments will add pressure on the organisers to do more to accommodate new mothers returning to the game.
Azarenka said: "I had to be here the whole day, which is, for a new mom, is a little tough. Hopefully I won't play like this again."
The Belarus-born player, who reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals in 2015, was one of four players on Monday whose matches were not included in the scheduled order of play and had to wait until court space became available.
That meant her match against Catherine Bellis did not start until 7.13pm, and only ended after 9pm, with Azarenka coming back to win 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, after going one set down.
With media and sponsorship obligations to fulfill the player did not get home until late.
She said the late scheduling had meant leaving Leo at home rather than keeping him near her at the grounds, where there is a creche for the players’ children.
"It's tough to know what time I was going to play, and this is way past his bedtime. So I wouldn't do that to him," said Azarenka.
Having come back from pregnancy and childbirth to play at the highest level, Azarenka is setting the sort of example that is likely to encourage other young women players.
She said she has already spoken to Serena Williams about the difficulties of returning to the game after giving birth.
Asked what advice she would give her Azarenka said: "It think especially in pregnancy, it's so hard to give someone advice, because it's so individual.
"But I always say that whenever she asks me for my opinion, I give it to her in person, and in private. She has a little bit before, so I will just keep it private."
Last week, Azarenka posted on Instagram a photograph of Leo lying on the grass, chewing her accreditation badge, whilst she practised on court.
She added: "The guys have the luxury to never stop their career and for girls it's tougher.
"One of my biggest inspirations was Kerri Walsh that came back after three kids and still playing for a gold medal. Nothing is impossible. For women, that's definitely true."
There have already been mutterings this week about what some regard as the ‘sexist’ scheduling of the women’s matches at Wimbledon, with claims that the men are more frequently allocated the favoured show courts.
An analysis of matches scheduled on Centre and No 1 courts during the last two championships showed a bias in favour of male players.
Mark Leyland, a tennis fan and sci-fi novelist, said his analysis showed that unlike other Grand Slam tournaments the All England Club placed more male than women’s games on show courts.
In 2011 Serena Williams, the defending champion, complained when she and her sister Venus were asked to play on Court 2.
And last year Venus Williams accused Wimbledon officials of discrimination when she found herself on Court 18 after two days of rain caused a backlog.
In 2007 the former No 1 Jelena Jankovic complained that she "needed a helicopter" to reach the smallest of Wimbledon’s six show courts.
Mr Leyland said: "Tennis is one of the few sports where women get equal prize money and should, ideally, get equal prominence. For Wimbledon, still the biggest tournament in the world, to neglect the women’s tournament, whether it be the broadcaster or the organisers, is to go against that."
A Wimbledon spokesperson said scheduling and court allocation was a "complex operation and there will inevitably be variations from year to year depending on the way the draw falls".
The AELTC said that across Centre Court and No 1 Court, the split of male to female singles matches was 50/50, including the ‘to be announced’ matches, which being later in the day are played in front of higher television audiences.