On a day when play on the outside courts was halted for more than seven hours because of the stifling heat, nobody was hotter than Andy Murray in the first round of the Australian Open here yesterday. The British No 1, finding his own comfort zone in the comparative evening cool under a retractable roof, humiliated the Spaniard Alberto Martin 6-0, 6-0, 6-1 in 70 minutes with a display that nearly took him into the record books.
Murray was on the point of becoming only the sixth man in the Open era and the first for 14 years to complete a match at a Grand Slam tournament without dropping a game until he played four loose points when leading 5-0 in the third set.
"You probably get one chance in your lifetime to win a match 6-0, 6-0, 6-0," a mildly frustrated Murray said. "I wanted to maintain my concentration and I let it slip a little bit."
Martin, the 28-year-old world No 60, had no answer to Murray's injections of pace and unerring accuracy. It was a performance that deserved a bigger audience than the 1,000 or so who filled the 10,000-capacity stadium.
The match had been switched from the roofless Margaret Court Arena after the schedule was revised because of the heat delays. It meant a return to the Vodafone Arena, where Murray was surprisingly beaten at the same stage by Juan Ignacio Chela 12 months ago. "I wanted to go out there and change that memory a little bit," he said. "I felt like I did that really well."
Murray's next opponent will be Fernando Verdasco after a dramatic finish to the Spaniard's match against Paul-Henri Mathieu, who won the first two sets and was leading 3-0 in a tie-break when he slipped and damaged his ankle. The Frenchman retired and left the court in a wheelchair.
Alan Mackin, the only other Briton in the singles here, suffered in the heat. The 25-year-old world No 270, who had fought through three rounds in qualifying, was beaten 6-4, 6-4, 6-2 by Ecuador's Nicolas Lapentti.
"I've never played in heat like that before," Mackin said. "I was getting tired after the second set."
Two of the other early starters failed to complete their matches. Christophe Rochus retired with breathing problems after 13 games against Sébastien Grosjean, while Janko Tipsarevic quit after three hours and 19 minutes against David Nalbandian. The Argentinian, who was leading 6-7, 4-6, 7-6, 6-0, 2-1, said that having to play in such conditions was "disgusting".
Tipsarevic, who had two match points at 5-2 in the third set, said: "I felt my heart pounding and then suddenly stop, then pounding, then stop. I felt like vomiting on the court. All that led to incredible exhaustion. It's not tennis any more. It's who is going to last longest in the sun."
Julien Benneteau lost consciousness after his five-set defeat to Paul Capdeville. "Several times I thought about quitting but I pushed myself to my limits," he said. "I was vomiting at the end of the fifth set and I was scared. When I went into the dressing room, the tournament doctor used a drip to try to hydrate me. I fell asleep but the doctor shook me and said: 'Stay with us.' He was quite scared."
Under the tournament's "extreme heat" policy, no matches start once the temperature reaches 35C. However, those that have already begun must proceed, while those in the two stadiums equipped with retractable roofs have to continue without cover, on the basis that it would be unfair to change the playing conditions in the middle of a match. The roofs are closed only for subsequent matches, provided the temperature remains above 35C.
The rules were invoked shortly after midday. The temperature quickly soared above 40C and no more matches started on the outside courts until 8.15pm.
Maria Sharapova was another who suffered. Having led 5-0 in the third set against France's Camille Pin, the No 1 seed wilted on Rod Laver Arena - where the roof remained open - and was within two points of defeat before summoning her last reserves to win 6-3, 4-6, 9-7 after nearly three hours. "I was so delusional I couldn't think," she said.
Sharapova, who was under medical supervision for more than two hours after the match, said she thought the rules should be changed to allow the roofs to be closed during matches. "It's inhuman to play three hours in that kind of heat," she said. "I don't think our bodies were made to do that."
John Lloyd, Britain's Davis Cup captain, called the extreme heat rules "ludicrous and totally illogical", while James Blake, a member of the ATP's Player Council, said there should be provision for matches to be halted.