Heat shuts down matches at Australian Open as Maria Sharapova struggles through

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 11:22am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 January, 2014, 11:50am

Play on the outer courts at Melbourne Park was called to a halt on day four of the Australian Open on Thursday with temperatures hitting 41 degrees Celsius and still rising.

Organisers, who had been slammed for forcing players to play on in searing temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday, enacted the third stage of their “Extreme Heat Policy” for the first time at about 1.50pm local time.

Play was to continue in all matches until the end of the ongoing set and then cease until conditions eased, organisers said in a statement.

The exception was on the Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena show courts, where play resumed after the retractable roofs were closed.

Russian third seed Maria Sharapova was one of those to survive the heat wave, but not without a scare as she struggled to eventually overcome unseeded Italian Karin Knapp 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 on Rod Laver Arena. Sharapova, playing her second tournament back from extended time off for a right shoulder injury, wore ice vests in every changeover after the third game, draped ice bags over shoulders and poured water over her head.

“For outside courts new matches will not be called to court until the temperature falls back down to a temperature deemed fit for play by the tournament director,” read a statement from organisers.

With forecast highs of 44 degrees Celsius, a third straight day of suffocating heat at the year’s first grand slam was guaranteed to keep the debate on whether play should continue rumbling on.

On Tuesday, when temperatures peaked at 42.2 degrees, Canadian Frank Dancevic passed out during his first-round match and accused organisers of forcing players to play in “inhumane” conditions.

Ivan Dodig became the 10th player to retire in the first three days of the tournament on Wednesday and said he feared for his life after being rendered immobile by the heat on the exposed outer courts.

Under a change to the rules for this year, the decision on whether to stop matches at the tournament is now at the discretion of tournament director Wayne McKewen.

Rather than use the raw Celsius readings to assess the heat, organisers prefer to use the Wet Bulb Global Temperature composite, which also gauges humidity and wind to identify the perceived conditions.

McKewen said that the threshold was not reached on Tuesday and Wednesday with world number seven Tomas Berdych suggesting that perhaps it had been set too high.

The hot weather is forecast to continue on Friday before a dramatic drop in temperatures at the weekend.