Australian Open 2014: Andy Murray and co prepare for 'inhuman' heatwave of 40C in Melbourne

The tournament has an “extreme heat policy” under which the referee can suspend play on outside courts and close the roofs

Melbourne

With a heatwave forecast to begin here tomorrow, local media have been advising Melburnians on how to cope with the 40C-plus temperatures that are expected to prevail through to next weekend.

Among the tips in yesterday’s Herald Sun newspaper were recommendations to “leave a paddling pool in a shady spot for your dog” and to “wear a wide-brimmed hat”. Competitors at the Australian Open, which began here today, might have been amused by the advice to “exercise in the early morning and late evening”.

Andy Murray, who is due to play his first-round match against Japan’s Go Soeda tomorrow, will be among those who will have to cope with the challenging conditions, which can often be a feature of the year’s opening Grand Slam event. Particularly for those who have come from the cold of a European winter, it will be a brutal test.

It has been comparatively cool here for most of the last week – the temperature yesterday did not rise above 23C – but the weather is notoriously volatile in a city where it is said you can experience all four seasons in one day. A maximum of 33C was expected today and 42C is forecast for tomorrow, when ice-packs and ice-vests are sure to be in demand.

The tournament has an “extreme heat policy” under which the referee can suspend play on outside courts and close the roofs over the Rod Laver and Hisense Arenas, which both have retractable covers. In women’s singles and junior singles matches, there is also provision for a  10-minute break between the second and third sets. When Melbourne endured its most severe heatwave for more than a century during the tournament five years ago it was so hot that play was halted early in the day and did not resume until the middle of the evening.

However, matches are not stopped and the roofs are not closed until the conclusion of any sets which have already started. Maria Sharapova suffered under that rule seven years ago when she beat France’s Camille Pin 9-7 in the final set in the Rod Laver Arena. The heat rule was not applied until after the start of the deciding set, during which an over-heating and distressed Sharapova had to seek medical treatment. She later called the conditions “inhuman”.

 

The decision on whether to implement the heat rule is made on the basis of the “wet bulb globe temperature”, which takes into account temperature and other comfort factors, such as humidity and wind. Despite the high temperatures expected tomorrow, the rule may not be applied because the humidity is expected to be low.

Murray said that having a training base in Miami helped prepare for such extreme conditions, but added: “The difference between 32 degrees or whatever in Florida and 40 degrees is huge.

“It feels very different on the court. The court just gets so hot. The air is extremely, extremely hot as well. In Miami there tends to be a breeze; here when it’s 40 degrees it can be calm. The air feels warm in your face. Your legs and your feet burn. It’s very tough.”

At least Murray should not have to spend too long on court. Soeda, a 29-year-old Japanese ranked No 112 in the world, has won only three matches in 12 appearances in the main draw at Grand Slam tournaments.

Sharapova said she thought it was impossible to prepare fully for the heat expected this week. “You’re not really thinking so much about tennis as trying to really keep your mind focused on maybe keeping the points a little bit shorter,” she added. “ Obviously the longer they go, the worse it is for both of you out there.”

Novak Djokovic, who is seeking to win the Australian Open title for the fourth year in a row, has suffered in the Melbourne heat in the past. The Serb, who often had trouble lasting the pace in matches until he went on to a gluten-free diet, retired with heat exhaustion in the fourth set of his quarter-final against Andy Roddick five years ago.

“In the last couple of years, everything has been very good with my health and my physical state,” Djokovic said yesterday. “I’ve been working a lot, of course, with my team, making sure I’m fit and ready to play best-of-five in extreme conditions.”

Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology reported recently that 2013 was the hottest year on record Down Under. There has been more of the same in the first two weeks of the new year. Last week record temperatures approaching 50C were registered in Central Australia, New South Wales and Queensland. South-east Australia is expected to be the next region to suffer.

Serena Williams, who has trained throughout her life in the heat of Florida and California, bemoaned the cool weather last week, saying it had put her “in a really bad mood”. Asked about the hot weather which is now forecast, the world No 1 smiled. “I’m not going to complain any more,” she said. “I should have kept my mouth quiet and dealt with the cold weather.”

 

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