It might be the most obvious line in the world, but things are hotting up at the Australian Open.
The coverage of the first Grand Slam of 2014 has largely been dominated by the stratospheric temperatures in Melbourne; with temperatures of over 40C being registered on all four days of the competition so far.
The decision of the tournament organisers not to put the extreme heat policy into action has been met with widespread criticism by players and pundits alike. In three days, one player has passed out on court, another player has been treated for heatstroke and the Croatian Ivan Dodig chose to retire whilst leading in his second-round match, telling the BBC that he felt that he feared he “could maybe even die” if he had stayed out on court.
Play was suspended for a short while on Thursday, but by then, the damage had been done, and one has no choice but to question the wisdom of forcing these athletes to play on when the environment was so obviously not appropriate for them to do so. When player’s water bottles are literally melting on the court, ballboys are passing out and a player’s backside is burnt by a chair left out in the sun, you might think that an enforced break would be best for everyone.
Not according to Dr Tim Wood, the chief medical officer at the Australian Open. Wood cited the theory of evolution to suggest that it was felt man was eminently capable of exercising in heat of this magnitude; whilst admitting that the question of whether it was ‘humane’ to suggest that the athletes played in these conditions was a different one entirely.
Given that we are talking about the crème de la crème of tennis stars in peak physical condition here, if Wood’s justification applied to anyone it would be the players who have been taking to the courts. However, it appears that many of the players participating in the Melbourne Grand Slam are highly unsatisfied with the situation and the way that it has been dealt with. It’s difficult to blame them.
What about the actual tennis?
The mess surrounding the temperature has largely overshadowed the sporting spectacle, but nevertheless the show has gone on, with the majority of seeds having already played two matches.
Whilst there were no upsets to speak of in round one of the men’s tournament, there were three high profile retirements as John Isner, Tommy Haas and the Australian Bernard Tomic all ended their first round matches earlier through injury. Tomic’s retirement in his match with Rafa Nadal provokes more than its fair share of ire with the 21-year old being booed off the court by his home fans.
Other than the three retirements, the men’s tournament went as expected in the first round, but the second round saw Mikhail Youzhny lose in five sets to the German Florian Mayer, whilst crowd favourite Juan Martin del Potro also lost in five sets to world number 62 Roberto Bautistu Agut.
In contrast to the men’s, the women’s first round had more than its fair share of upsets, with seven seeds losing to unseeded players; with Petra Kvitova and Sara Errani being the most high profile of the seeds dumped out.
The second round saw two more upsets, with Sabine Lisicki losing in three sets to Monica Niculescu and Kirsten Flipkens coming up short against Casey Dellacqua.
Who’s looking hot?
Obviously they are all looking extremely hot (and bothered), but who are the players looking ominously like they’ll still be around when the finals come around?
In a completey unsurprising turn of events, the usual suspects in Rafa Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray haven’t lost a set between them; and barring an upset one would have to predict that we’ll see those four in the semis. Amongst the other men, Tsonga is looking as good as ever whilst Tomas Berdych has also not lost a set this time around.
In the women’s, there are absolutely no prizes for guessing that Serena Williams is looking in imperious form; dropping only six games in her romp into the third round. She’ll now face a sterner test in Danielu Hantuchova, and will certainly continue to be the favourite to win the tournament for the sixth time.
Current holder and Serena’s main rival Victoria Azarenka is also getting along fairly swimmingly on the other side of the draw, and it would be safe to assume that if someone’s going to stop Serena, it’ll be her.
The show must go on
Given the difficulty of organising an event of this magnitude, one can half understand the determination to continue playing in the face of this crippling heat, but the good news is it is supposed to get a little cooler over the next few days; with Saturday and Sunday forecasts looking around 20 degrees lower than the beginning of the week. To get to the weekend though, the players will have to get through Friday, and with temperatures of 44C forecast for then; the challenge the heat is posing to the players isn’t going to get any easier.