Simon Reed

Extreme heat damaging tournament, not just hurting the players

Simon Reed

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Dealing with the often insane weather Down Under is one of the attractions of the Australian Open. Epic battles played out in intense heat are part of its lore.

But there is intense heat, and then there is what the players have been forced to put up with this week.

Players have been more vocal than ever about the conditions, with the temperature set to hit 44 celsius on Thursday, and I really think they have a point.

We are still seeing four and five set matches but they are finishing relatively quickly. Sets are only lasting half an hour because the players are hitting stronger to try and end the points. The rallies are not lasting as long, and this is happening right across the courts. It all leads to a less entertaining spectacle for the fans.

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Not only that, but the players are just not fighting like they usually do. If they find themselves a break or two down in a set they just throw in the towel and say: "That's it, I'll wait until the next set." Nobody is getting nibbled back at.

The Australian Open has always been a great physical and mental battle but surely there comes a point where the brain is so fried that it no longer becomes pleasant to watch and certainly not pleasant to play in. There is some value in finding out who can be 'last man standing', but you can push that idea too far.

The heat is always an issue in Australia but this year has been the worst in quite some time. Normally these strong heat waves last just a couple of days, but this year looks like being a consistent spell of extreme heat for the duration of the first week.

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I think that is why the organisers have been so reluctant to close the roof on the two main courts. They saw the conditions on the opening day and said to themselves: "Well if we close the roof today, we are going to have to do it for the rest of the week."

But it just looks too brutal out there. If something really bad happens, and it could, that would immediately change the philosophy - but obviously then it would be too late.

The organisers just seem to be crossing their fingers that nothing serious comes out of this, but you could have a heart issue with one of the players and then automatically the perception changes.

They are projecting 44C on Thursday which would be the hottest temperature of the tournament so far and maybe that will be enough to convince them to close the roof on the two main courts and delay play on the outside courts – even for as much as five or six hours – until it cools down. Most of the courts have floodlights so it is not a big deal.

The organisers can't even use television contracts as an excuse like they might have in the past because you will still be getting constant tennis on the two best courts.

Meanwhile, all the players can do is try and cope as best they can. Andy Murray is the player out of the main contenders who has had the most issues with the heat in the past, but I do not think that is a problem for him any more. He has improved his conditioning fantastically in the last few years, with his training in Miami really helping him.

The big takeaway from the first few days of the tournament seems to be that Murray's back seems to be fine. He looks in great shape and I think he is playing the best tennis of anybody in the men's draw. The only concern is his lack of matches in the run-up - but if he can play himself into the tournament, then I think he has his best ever chance of winning the Australian Open.

The heat is not as big an issue for the top players generally in any case, because they are so well looked after. They often see their matches scheduled for the evening when the conditions are more manageable.

How people cope with the heat differs from player to player, but for me it is as much a mental issue as a physical one.

Not just when it comes to the individual's determination but also when it comes to their decision-making. Tactics and reactions become increasingly important in temperatures such as those we are seeing because that sort of weather really fries the brain.

It leads to sloppy mistakes and errors and, for me, it's just not as entertaining to watch as 'normal tennis.'

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