Canada's Frank Dancevic faints during his opening match at the Australian Open
Temperatures reached 107.96 degrees Fahrenheit in Melbourne
Dancevic described the conditions as "inhumane"
Tournament organizers introduce "extreme weather" contingency in the women's draw
Players and ball boys fainting and accusations of “inhumane” treatment.
If it’s hot on court – temperatures of 42.2 Celsius (108 Fahrenheit) were recorded Tuesday – at the Australia Open, the mercury is also rising for tournament officials at Melbourne Park.
Canadian Frank Dancevic fainted during his match with Frenchman Benoit Paire, before he got really hot under the collar over the conditions players had to contend with at the first tennis grand slam of 2014.
“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,” the world No. 122 told reporters.
“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.
“I personally don’t think it’s fair and I know a lot of players don’t think it’s fair.”
It wasn’t just players who succumbed to the elements. One of the ball boys fainted during 11th seed Milos Raonic’s four-set defeat of Spain’s Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
“Of course there were a few players who experienced heat-related illness or discomfort, but none required significant medical intervention after they had completed their match,” chief medical officer Tim Wood told reporters, as organizers defended the decision to play in the heat.
But with temperatures above 40 Celsius expected for most of the week, Briton Andy Murray urged caution.
“Whether it’s safe or not, I don’t know. You’ve just got to be very careful these days,” he said. “There’s been some issues in other sports with, you know, players having heart attacks.”
In the women’s draw, Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki claimed the weather caused her drinks bottle to melt on court while second seed Victoria Azarenka described playing at the Rod Laver Arena as like “dancing in a frying pan.”
The tournament’s “extreme heat” contingency was introduced for matches in the women’s draw, allowing for an extended break between the second and third sets.
Rather than solely using a temperature reading, organizers use a measurement which also considers humidity and wind to decide whether or not conditions have become unplayable.
“We have to reach a minimum threshold and have a forecast that it will be sustained for a reasonable time,” tournament referee Wayne McKewen said in a statement.
“That didn’t happen. While conditions were hot and uncomfortable, the relatively low level of humidity ensured play would continue.”
While some players wilted, Roger Federer was typically unflappable in the stifling heat.
“Just deal with it, because it’s the same for both (players),” said the 17-time grand slam winner, seeded sixth, after defeating spirited Australian James Duckworth 6-4 6-4 6-2.
When asked if he thought organizers should close the retractable roof over the Rod Laver Arena to help lower the temperature on court, the 32-year-old Federer, who last won one of tennis’ four majors at Wimbledon in 2012, replied: “No. I think it should always stay open, honestly.”
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal played in the last match to get under way in the Rod Laver Arena against Australian Bernard Tomic.
Thirteen-time grand slam winner Nadal took the first set 6-4 before the 57th-ranked Tomic retired with a leg injury.
Nadal will play Tomic’s compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round.
Murray made a strong start in his bid to finally capture Melbourne glory, beating Japan’s Go Soeda 6-1 6-1 6-3.
The world No. 4 has been runner-up at the season’s first grand slam in three of the last four years, but enters this tournament short of match practice after undergoing back surgery.
However the Scot looked sharp, taking just 87 minutes to dispatch his 112th-ranked opponent in punishing heat and set up a second round meeting with Frenchman Vincent Millot.
U.S. No. 1 John Isner’s tournament is over after he was forced to withdraw from his match with Slovakia’s Martin Klizan due to a foot injury.
Isner, the only American male seeded in the draw, has been battling ankle and shin problems during the offseason. The 28-year-old missed last year’s tournament with a knee injury.
Another American to fall at the first hurdle was Rhyne Williams who, despite winning the opening set, suffered a battling 6-7 (1-7) 6-3 6-4 6-4 loss against fifth seed Juan Martin del Potro.
Argentina’s Del Potro is looking to build on an encouraging 2013 season which saw him reach the last four of a grand slam, at Wimbledon, for the first time since 2009.
But Del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, struggled with intense heat.
“You are thinking about a lot more things than the tennis match,” said the 25-year-old, who plays Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut next.
“You are trying to drink a lot and always thinking about your body, your physic, and not about the game.
“I know tomorrow and after tomorrow it’s going to be worst, so I will try to be ready for the weather conditions, too.”
Empty seats were prevalent as many fans stayed away in heat, but those that did go to Melbourne Park were treated to a gutsy performance from Australian stalwart Lleyton Hewitt in his five-set battle with 24th seed Andrea Seppi.
The Italian took a two-set lead before former world No. 1 Hewitt rallied to draw level.
To the disappointment most of those in the Rod Laver Arena, though, Hewitt’s comeback was thwarted and Italy’s Seppi eventually triumphed 7-6 (7-4) 6-3 5-7 5-7 7-5.
Tenth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, beaten in the quarterfinals in 2013, beat Seppi’s compatriot Filippo Volandri in straight sets.