AUSTRALIAN Open tennis chiefs were forced to defend their refusal to implement an extreme heat policy yesterday after players and ball boys fainted on court as temperatures in Melbourne rocketed past 42C.
Canadian Frank Dancevic called the decision to allow matches to continue “inhumane” after he passed out from heatstroke during his first-round defeat, adding: “Until somebody dies, they just keep going on with it.”
A ball boy also collapsed, while women’s former world No1 Caroline Wozniacki’s water bottle melted and ex-Wimbledon doubles champion Jelena Jankovic complained of being burned by her seat.
Britain’s Andy Murray minimised his exposure with a swift first-round win but warned: “At 3pm the conditions were very, very tough. It doesn’t look good for the sport when people are collapsing.”
Australian Open organisers allowed 10-minute breaks during women’s matches that went to three sets but did not halt play or close roofs on the two main courts despite the mercury reaching 42.2C.
Tournament director Wayne McKewen said: “While conditions were hot and uncomfortable, the relatively low level of humidity ensured they never deteriorated to a point where it was necessary to invoke the extreme heat policy.”
Chiefs use the Wet Bulb Global Temperature index, which takes into account air temperature, humidity and wind speed, to determine their response to hot weather.
Defending champion Victoria Azarenka compared conditions to “dancing in a frying pan”, while 2008 finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga noted his shoe soles had partially melted.
World No122 Dancevic issued the fiercest criticism after he fainted in the second set against Frenchman Benoit Paire. “I think it’s inhumane, I don’t think it’s fair to anybody,” he said. “I’ve played five-set matches all my life and being out there for a set and a half and passing out with heatstroke is not normal.”
Wozniacki said of the water bottle during her win “it started melting a little bit underneath”, while Jankovic, who burned her legs and bottom on an uncovered seat during her victory, said she felt “ready to explode”.
Murray took just 87 minutes to ease past Japan’s Go Soeda 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 in only his third competitive match since back surgery in September.
The Scot, who faces French qualifier Vincent Millot tomorrow, said: “Most players are conditioned to last in that weather but doing it for three or four hours is tough.
“Whether it’s safe, I don’t know, but there have been issues in others sports with players collapsing and you don’t want to see anything bad happen to anyone.”