Extreme heat brings Australian Open to a halt
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The scorching weather finally brought play to a halt on the fourth day of the Australian Open when the temperature topped 43 Celsius (109F), but not soon enough for some players who criticised officials for not stopping matches earlier.
The Extreme Heat Policy was enacted at Melbourne Park just before 2:00 pm yesterday, suspending all matches on outer courts until the early evening and requiring the closure of the retractable roofs at Rod Laver and Hisense arenas before play could continue on the show courts.
It was the first time since 2009 play had been halted due to heat at the Australian Open.
For Maria Sharapova, playing at Rod Laver Arena, the call came too late. The rule dictates the roof can't be closed until the end of a set in progress, so she was forced to finish a grueling third set against Italian Karin Knapp under the blazing sun.
"Everyone knows there is no tiebreaker in the third set (at the Australian Open), so once you start that set, you're going to be out there until you're done," she said after closing out the 3_-hour match, 6-3, 4-6, 10-8.
Other players wilted in the heat. American Varvara Lepchenko received medical treatment during her match against 11th-seeded Romanian Simona Halep, lying flat on her back during a changeover as trainers rubbed iced on her body.
"At first I didn't understand what was going on but then my legs, my arms started to get heavier. I couldn't focus at one point and started feeling dizzier and dizzier," she said.
She continued but only won one more game in a 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 defeat.
"They definitely should have just not started the matches in the first place," she said. "And the same goes for a couple of days ago when I played my (first) match."
The heat wave began Tuesday when the temperature peaked at 42C (108F). The tournament referee did not halt play then because the Extreme Heat Policy also takes into account other factors, such as humidity and wind speed.
Number 25-seeded Alize Cornet of France sobbed on court after her draining 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Italian Camila Giorgi, then blasted officials for not halting play sooner.
"On Tuesday, I don't know why they didn't stop matches," she said. "It was an oven. An oven. It was burning. Why today and not Tuesday?"
Play finally got under way again on outer courts shortly after 6:00 pm local time, but 14 matches were later suspended again due to lighting.
The heat hasn't just affected players - it's also kept fans away. Total attendance was just 53,226 on yesterday, down from Monday's high of 63,595.
The unshaded seats on the outer courts were virtually empty Thursday, with spectators congregating under trees or in the upper reaches of stands where temporary covers provided a little relief.