Tennis Channel recaps Day 4 at the Australian Open, where No. 3 seed Garbine Muguruza and No. 9 Johanna Konta lost as temperatures cracked triple digits.
MELBOURNE — When it came down to the story that would dominate Thursday at the Australian Open it wasn’t about who won or lost. Instead the talk was all about the scorching heat wave that is blanketing the city of Melbourne
Temperatures soared to over 100 degrees, and that’s a lot cooler than the furnace it would feel like on court with the sun beating directly down on the cement.
Broiling – or rather playing – for 2 hours, 45 minutes in the thick of the day was the fate of 14th-seeded Novak Djokovic and Gael Monfils. Both struggled through the conditions, feeling at times as if they were wilting and might not have more to give.
But in the end, they were both still standing to walk off the court after Djokovic managed to edge past Monfils 4-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 to move onto the third round.
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The 39th-ranked Monfils, who won the Doha title two weeks ago, categorized Thursday’s conditions as “tough to breathe” and “the hardest I have [experienced].”
“For sure, you know, we took a risk,” said Monfils, who had a trainer and doctor out on the court ahead of the third set. “It’s a little bit hot, maybe a little bit too hot.
“I got super dizzy,” he added. “I think I have a small heat stroke for 40 minutes. Couldn’t feel like fresh.”
Djokovic, who has conquered the Australian summer to win the tournament six times in the past, concurred it was a day more suited to indoor past-times and air conditioning than outdoor activities.
“The conditions were brutal, that’s for sure,” the former No. 1 said. “We both struggled. Maybe he struggled a bit more, end of the second, entire third set. That’s where I managed to get on top of him, get even on sets, obviously start off well in the third.”
Needless to say, many wondered why the tournament didn’t just push the button and close the convertible top roofs they have on three of their stadiums. Well, there’s a rule about this kind of decision and it’s called the Extreme Heat Policy, or EHP for short.
To simplify, the ultimate decision is at the Referee’s discretion, but the guideline is the ambient temperature needs to exceed 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), plus a Wet Bulb Globe Temperature – it registers humidity – needs to exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Expectations are those levels could be reached on Friday, which is expected to be even hotter.
The rule also states that If there is a closure of the roofs because of heat all matches being played on courts without roofs must be suspended until conditions are deemed playable again.
Djokovic tries to cool down between games.
Djokovic, who likely was told by a teacher somewhere in his life to remember to respond to questions with complete answers, offered an entire typed page opinion on the subject of the safety to play or not to play in unbearable heat.
“It was right at the limit,” said Djokovic, offering his assessment of whether it reached critical conditions on Thursday.
“I think there are certain days where you have to, as a tournament supervisor, recognize that you might need to give players few extra hours until it [the temperatures] comes down,” he added. “I understand there is a factor of tickets. If you don’t play matches, people will be unhappy. You have to take into consideration different angles before making a big call like that….People might say, ‘Well, at this level you have to be as a professional player fit…But I think there is a limit, and that is a level of, I guess, tolerance between being fit and being, I think, in danger in terms of health.”
Despite at one point receiving a time violation for taking more than the 25-second rule between points, Djokovic went out of his way to compliment Australian umpire John Blom for how he handled the match considering the extenuating circumstances.
“Chair umpire was doing a good job today, I think,” he said. “He was really trying to participate in the game and understand what’s happening.”
The weather conversation became something of a moot point in terms of play carrying on, and the win provided Djokovic with further proof he’s ready to be back on tour following six months sidelined with a right elbow injury.
“It was a big challenge for both of us to be on the court, to be able to finish the match,” Djokovic said. “I’m just glad that I managed to come out on top.”
Djokovic’s victory extended his winning streak against Monfils to 15-0, and it’s not just against Monfils that he’s experienced good luck when facing French players.
Clearly, French opponents is a motivational factor for Djokovic as he’s only lost to one Frenchman in his last 59 matches played against someone from that country. The player who had the audacity to interfere with his having a perfect winning streak against French competitors was Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who won their third round match at the 2014 Toronto tournament.
Djokovic’s win over Monfils extends his winning streak over French players at the Grand Slams to 25 and counting. Overall at the majors, Djokovic has a 34-2 winning record over Frenchmen, only losing to Sebastien Grosjean at 2005 Wimbledon and Tsonga at Melbourne Park in 2010.
“I don’t have anything against the French,” said Djokovic, laughing, when asked why he’s made a habit of picking on them throughout his career. “Actually, I get along very well with Gael and most of the guys. It’s sports.”
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