Australian Open 2014: Dizziness, cramp and fatigue as heat stops play at last - with Jamie Murray among the worst affected
The hottest day of the Australian Open so far finally saw play suspended but only after a succession of players suffered in the 43C heat. One of the worst affected was Jamie Murray, who experienced painful body cramps for several hours after winning his doubles match.
Officials halted play just before 2pm, but under the “extreme heat policy” sets in progress had to be completed. Thereafter the retractable roofs over the two main courts were closed and play on other courts was suspended for the next four hours.
Murray’s problems began in the locker room following a 7-6, 7-6 victory in partnership with John Peers against Matt Reid and Luke Saville. “I had a lot of ice treatment,” he said. “I was getting big cramps in my legs. I don’t know what would have happened if we had gone into a third set, but luckily that wasn’t necessary. It wasn’t too pleasant.”
Brother Andy was concerned. “He was a bit tired and sore at first, but then it just hit him an hour and a half later,” Andy said. “He was struggling for a good three or four hours after the match.
“It’s never happened to him before. He’s never had real cramps like that. I don’t know how dangerous the cramps are, but they’re very, very uncomfortable. When one part of your body goes and then you move, the opposite muscle goes.
“When it happens the first time, it’s pretty scary. I just tried to make sure someone was with him throughout the day. He drank loads when he got off the court but he was finding it quite hard to eat.”
Varvara Lepchenko and Galina Voskoboeva had to cope with the pain of defeat as well as heat exhaustion. Lepchenko took a medical time-out in her 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 loss to Romania’s Simona Halep and had ice rubbed into her body. “I’m still feeling a little bit weak,” the American said nearly two hours after the match ended. “I feel like I want to sit down or lay down all the time. I’m not so great.
“This is the first time in my life that this has happened to me, playing under these conditions. At first I didn’t understand what was going on. My legs and my arms started to get heavier. I couldn’t focus at one point. I started feeling dizzier and dizzier.”
She added: “I couldn’t focus and on my returns I couldn’t see the ball. Towards the middle of the second set I started feeling more and more dizzy. I felt like time was going so fast. I needed more time in between points and started feeling really hot on top of my head. Then I completely lost it.”
Voskoboeva had a similar story after losing 7-6, 3-6, 8-6 to Carla Suarez Navarro in three hours 10 minutes. “It was so hot that at the end my body was shaking,” she said. “It was like I was shivering in the cold. It’s tough. I think the conditions are too extreme to play the match. Even for spectators it’s tough to sit and watch. And they are not running around the court for more than three hours.”
She added: “I feel worse and worse. I feel very tired. I felt very emotional after the match. Now all my face is burning and I have a headache. I feel so bad. Maybe on days like this they should not play the matches. We played and neither of us wanted to lose. We were pushing ourselves so hard. It’s not healthy. Are we going to wait until someone dies on court?”
The temperature was 38C even when matches started. Lepchenko said play should not have begun until later. The longest match played in the heat of the day was Maria Sharapova’s 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 victory over Italy’s Karin Knapp. It continued for another 45 minutes after the heat rule had been implemented and eventually finished after three hours 28 minutes.
Sharapova, who said the conditions were “extremely difficult”, thought the rules were not fair on players competing in a final set because there is no tie-break.
The Russian was also unhappy about not knowing when the heat rule would be invoked. The decision is based on a formula which takes into account heat, humidity and wind. “No one actually knows what that number is in comparison to humidity or the actual heat,” Sharapova said.
Meanwhile, the company that employs a 22-year-old British man accused of a gambling offence at the Australian Open insisted on Thursday that he was involved in neither illegal betting nor match-fixing. Daniel Dobson, who was arrested for “conduct that would corrupt a betting outcome”, will reappear in court next Thursday after his case was adjourned.
Melbourne Magistrates Court heard that Dobson had an electronic device that enabled him to transmit the results of points before they were officially distributed globally. Police are investigating two other British men in relation to the same offence.
Cramp can affect a sportsman at any time – but in extreme temperatures it’s both more likely and often more severe.
In Melbourne’s searing heat, players are becoming quickly dehydrated and losing vital salts through sweat as their bodies work overtime trying to maintain a safe core temperature.
These low levels of water and salt in the system can trigger leg cramps – a sudden tightening of the muscles that can be both painful and debilitating.
In many cases, as for Jamie Murray, these cramps can be a symptom of heatstroke – a dangerous condition that can follow prolonged exposure, in which the body loses the ability to cool itself down; sometimes people even stop sweating. The best response is to cool down the body manually – hence the use of ice bags at court-side.
Charlie Cooper, Health reporter
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