Heat still taking its toll at Australian Open

Last updated 09:30 17/01/2014
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Stanislas Wawrinka kisses the Australian Open trophy after his first grand slam victory.

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Maria Sharapova was already soaking in ice by the time the extreme weather warning arrived. 

It seemed bafflingly late to the four-time major winner, who felt fried after playing for three hours in searing heat to reach the third round of the Australian Open.

She didn't know it when she was out on Rod Laver Arena tangling with Karin Knapp on Thursday, but tournament organisers had finally conceded it was unsafe to keep players on court on the third consecutive day of what was shaping as a once-in-a-century heatwave.

Matches were suspended for four hours as temperatures topped 43 degrees Celsius before subsiding, but that didn't apply to Sharapova and Knapp because they were already into the third set and the ''extreme heat policy'' only kicks in at the end of sets in progress.

Sharapova thinks it absurd that a vague formula for measuring ambient temperature, wind and humidity leaves the tournament referee as the sole arbiter of extreme heat - without input from the players. 

''We have never received any emails or, you know, warnings about the weather or what to do,'' she told a news conference an hour or so after her 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 win over Knapp. 

Then she recalled: ''Actually, I did receive one, I think, while I was in the ice bath a few minutes ago - I was like: 'That's a little too late.''' 

Not long after tournament director Craig Tiley appeared outdoors in a TV interview, dressed in jacket and tie, to explain how the decisions are reached, Sharapova said organisers should be telling the tour trainers, medical staff, officials and players so that everyone is in the loop.

The only matches that continued in the afternoon were on the two main show courts under closed roofs, which in hindsight was a good thing when the lightning and rain arrived later in the evening to again delay matches on outside courts.

Top-ranked Rafael Nadal was pleased to avoid the heat, and the lightning, and the temperatures had dropped when two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka and Wimbledon champion Andy Murray won the featured women's and men's night matches on the centre court. 

Roger Federer was content to find his way out to a secondary court at Melbourne Park for the first time in a decade so that he could play under the roof on Hisense Arena. He and Nadal played at roughly the same time, also a rarity here, and won in three sets.

Others advancing on the men's side included 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, No. 11 Milos Raonic, No. 22 Grigor Dimitrov and American Donald Young, who beat No. 24 Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.

No. 5-ranked Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open champion, didn't like the late finish. His run as an outside contender ended in a shocking 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 defeat to Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut at 1.20am Friday (local time). 

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The women playing the early matches experienced the worst of the heat Thursday, with No. 11 Simona Halep winning all but one game in the last two sets against American Varvara Lepchenko, who needed treatment and said she was almost delirious. No. 5 Agnieszka Radwanska, No. 8 Jelena Jankovic and No. 13 Sloane Stephens advanced in the relative cool of the evening.

TOO HOT FOR A SCOT

World No. 4 Andy Murray has rejected the idea of moving the Australian Open to avoid the searing summer heat that left his brother with heat stroke.

Murray's older brother required two hours of medical supervision for heat stroke after victory in the men's doubles with Australian partner John Peers.

The Scotsman said his brother, who suffered cramping mid-match, wasn't in a ''great way''.

''He drank loads when he got off the court but he was finding it quite hard to eat,'' Murray said.

''He was struggling for a good three or four hours after the match.''

Murray, the Wimbledon champion, believed there would be  discussions between the ATP men's tour and the International Tennis Federation about how the tournament handled the heat.

''I'm sure there will be some discussions to maybe shore up the rules a bit and make it easier for everybody to understand.''

But Murray didn't want the grand slam pushed back to February, when it's usually slightly cooler in Melbourne.

''Let's remember that it's the first time it's ever been like this.

''I heard it was 100 years they've never had weather like this four days in a row. So you've got to expect that's probably not going to happen again for a while.'

''I don't really mind the place it is in the calendar.

''It rewards the guys... you can see who's put the work in the off-season and that's why I like it being where it is.''

MORE HEAT COMING

The temperatures were forecast to reach 44C today. No. 1-ranked Serena Williams was due to play the opening match on Rod Laver Arena against Daniella Hantuchova, and three-time defending champion Novak Djokovic was due to play  at night when a cold front was due to arrive for the weekend. Forecasters were predicting a weekend high of 23C.

HOT AS AN 'OVEN'

The heat and the tournament's delayed decision to halt play sparked debate about whether it was dangerous to have allowed matches since Tuesday when the heatwave started.

No. 25-seeded Alize Cornet of France sobbed on court, then blasted officials for not halting play sooner.

''On Tuesday, I don't know why they didn't stop matches,'' she said.

''It was an oven. An oven. It was burning. Why today and not Tuesday?''

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova said it was ''ridiculous'' to have played outdoors Thursday morning.

American player Varvara Lepchenko said her body broke down during her three-set loss.

She felt ''dizzier and dizzier,'' she couldn't see the ball. After the match she took an ice bath, drank a lot of water.

''And I just laid down in the locker room for the past hour because I just couldn't physically get up.''  

The No. 2-seeded Azarenka played under the roof in the evening.

''It was a little bit humid,'' she said.

''But I can't complain. I'm sure a lot of players were suffering a little bit more.''

GUIDELINES FOR HALTING PLAY

Matches can be stopped and the tournament's two retractable roofs closed at the discretion of tournament director Wayne McKewen.

He makes his decision while monitoring the wet bulb globe temperature index, a calibration based on temperature, humidity, wind speed and sunshine.

Extreme heat halted play during several days of the 2006 tournament.

The hottest Australian Open on record was in 2009, when the average temperature across two weeks was 34.7 degrees Celsius.

ATTENDANCE

The heat has thinned out crowds at Melbourne Park. Attendance peaked for the two sessions on Monday, day one, at 63,595 when it was sunny with a high of 31C.

The heat wave arrived Tuesday with a hot breeze and high of 42C. Attendance dipped to 53,627.

A smaller crowd totalling 49,860 came Wednesday.

Thursday was the hottest day so far, and the numbers picked up to 53,226 due to a slightly larger night attendance.  

- Agencies

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