Ladies who Lob: It’s getting hot in here

This article was written by Nicole Hunt.

There’s barely a year that goes by that the attention of the tennis world doesn’t turn to the subject of the Australian Open weather – and where there’s mention of the weather, there’s mention of the extreme heat policy.

The ambient temperature is severe enough but sometimes the radiant heat from the court surface is so strong you can feel it in the first few rows of the stands.  At that point I invoke my own extreme heat policy. It usually involves going to shady part of Melbourne Park via the closest refreshment stand, and l’m not alone in that plan. When US Open winner Juan Martin Del Potro finally won his four set match today in 39 degree heat – which was no doubt much worse on court – he told the sweltering crowd that every part of his body hurt and that he’d rather be sitting on the beach with a beer. I’m right behind you, Juan.

It’s not just the players that feel like they’re turning slowly on the top of a barbecue. There’s a lot of media, volunteers and officials on court in the heat too. ‘Be a ballkid,’ they said. ‘It’ll be fun,’ they said.

The nature of a grand slam tennis match changes in the heat. The crowd thins with everyone seeking shade and water. Applause is laboured. The press box empties. The play often slows down. The heat haze on the court surface makes line calls just that little bit more difficult and everything is harder than it really ought to be.

Hot weather tennis is a bit like wet weather football. The weather becomes a determining factor and the winner the one who can best withstand the conditions. That was the case today with Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils who hit it out on Rod Laver Arena in the afternoon.

Gael looked to have the upper hand in the first set but as the second began, the heat took its toll. The doctor was called to the court but Gael remained groggy. Novak looked terribly heat affected too but Gael appeared the worse, bravely playing on through three more sets that didn’t go his way. He later said he was ‘super dizzy’ for over 40 minutes and it was ‘tough to breathe.’ It was also tough to see it.

Novak has since posted on social media, checking on Gael’s welfare and saying that it was close to 70 degrees on the court. There is indeed an Australian Open extreme heat policy but it’s discretionary, and unclear just how ‘extreme’ the extreme heat needs to be.

By the evening session the temperature had dropped, if only a little, and Aussie Ashleigh Barty pulled off another stunning come from behind win. After losing the first set she fought through the second, then walked easily away with the third.  This is not the same girl who left tennis for WBBL. This is a mature 21year old who looks to be comfortable in her ability and really enjoying her success. May she have many more successes ahead of her.

For those in the locker room glad they didn’t have to play in near 40 degree heat today, it will be your turn tomorrow. Melbourne’s forecast for Friday is for a top of 42 and everyone’s wondering if that’s going to be considered extreme.