Melbourne: Players fainted and vomited and a ball boy collapsed as the Australian Open boiled in one of the hottest days in its history on Tuesday, prompting angry complaints and keeping fans away in droves.
Temperatures of 42 Celsius (107.6 Fahrenheit), enough to melt plastic bottles on the rubberised courts, made for a punishing day for the players with some incensed their matches went ahead.
Canada’s Frank Dancevic lashed out at the “inhumane” playing conditions after he blacked out and needed treatment during his first-round defeat to Benoit Paire.
“I think it’s inhumane, I don’t think it’s fair to anybody, to the players, to the fans, to the sport, when you see players pulling out of matches, passing out,” 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 heat-stroke, it’s not normal.
“Having players with so many problems and complaining to the tournament that it’s too hot to play, until somebody dies, they’re just keep going on with it and putting matches on in this heat.”
Chinese player Peng Shuai cramped and vomited during her loss to Japan’s Kurumi Nara, and also received a violation for time-wasting at a moment when she said she was unable to walk.
“I was just cramping and I couldn’t stand up. Both legs, my hamstrings were cramping,” she said.
“I had no energy, I couldn’t run, I couldn't serve,” she said, blaming the heat for her defeat.
There was no immediate response from tournament officials to the complaints. The Australian Open, held at the height of the Melbourne summer, is notorious for its heat. State officials imposed a blanket fire ban and warned of extreme temperatures in some areas on Tuesday.
The day’s peak of 42 degree Celsius was shy of Melbourne’s January record of 45.6 C, which came during the notorious Black Friday bushfires of 1936.
Players draped themselves in ice towels and guzzled water on the change overs as temperatures, already at 35 degree Celsius before play even started, rose steadily until the early evening. “It felt pretty hot, like you’re dancing in a frying pan or something like that,” said defending women’s champion Victoria Azarenka. “I don’t think anybody wants to go outdoors right now.”
Daniel Gimeno-Traver helped a ball boy to his chair after he collapsed during the Spaniard's four-set loss to Milos Raonic. A spokeswoman said the boy later recovered.
And former women’s world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki said that when she put her water bottle down on court, the bottom started melting.
“Geez, it feels hot out there,” said Wozniacki, who headed straight for an ice bath after her win over Lourdes Dominguez Lino. “It feels like I was sweating in a sauna or something.”
Despite the incidents, officials chose not to invoke emergency heat rules which allow them to halt play and close the roofs on the centre and second court. “I would love it, I think my opponent would also enjoy that. But it’s fine,” Azarenka said about playing under closed roof. “I think we’re all in the same conditions.”
Roger Federer, the 17-times champion, was firmly against closing the roof on Rod Laver Arena.
“I think it should always stay open, honestly. That’s my opinion,” he said, adding of the heat: “It’s just a mental thing ... If you can’t deal with it, you throw in the towel.”