| NAVRATILOVA: ‘Meet should be in February’
Melbourne: Tennis great Martina Navratilova has attacked the timing of the Australian Open, saying the first Grand Slam of the year should be pushed back a month to February.
The former world number one said it was dangerous to play the tournament in January because of the heat while most of the players were still below peak fitness after their winter holidays in Europe and North America.
“It could take someone dying before things will change, but I firmly believe the Australian Open should be put back a month until at least February,” Navratilova wrote in The Australian.
“I think if they moved it a month it would be great for tennis and especially for the players.”
Navratilova won the Australian Open three times but refused to play again after 1989 when it moved from the grasscourts of Kooyong to the Rebound Ace at Melbourne Park, even though she continued her career for another five years.
“I would have loved to have kept playing here (but) it’s too hot in January,” the 46-year-old said. “We’ve had people on IV treatment after matches recovering from extreme heat exhaustion.
“When you’re playing a match and all you can think of is how to stay cool, trying to find any shade on court, that is no good for anybody.”
Navratilova said last year’s final between Martina Hingis and Jennifer Capriati, when both players were in obvious distress after the temperature rose to 35 degrees Celsius, was proof the tournament needed to be moved to a later date.
“That match showed how ridiculous it can get out there,” she said.
This year's Australian Open, starting on January 13, has already been struck by a mass withdrawal from some of the world’s top players, including former champions Pete Sampras, Hingis and reigning champion Thomas Johansson.
“The bulk of the players are from the northern hemisphere and they’re not ready to go in January. Most play one lead-up tournament, so they’re still just getting into it by the time they get to Melbourne,” she said.
“You would have better quality tennis if it was played later in the year. You could build up a circuit for four or five weeks, with tournaments in Asia, New Zealand and Australia.”