Play at the Australian Open was suspended on outside courts on Tuesday afternoon as oppressive heat sparked dangerous conditions at Melbourne Park. The mercury hit 35 degrees around midday, with officials enacting the extreme heat policy and giving players additional breaks during matches.
However things went to the next level around 2pm when the call was made to suspend play on all outdoor courts. Jordan Thompson was in the middle of his first-round match when players were taken from the court, and the Aussie wasn't particularly impressed.
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"When has that ever happened? I've been here when it's like 45 degrees," he told the chair umpire.
Tennis Australia said in a statement: "The AO Heat Stress Scale has reached 5 and play will be suspended on the outside courts. This means play continues until the end of an even number of games or the completion of a tie break. No new matches will be called to court. Play on outdoor practice courts is also suspended."
Play continued on the three main show courts, with the roof closed on Rod Laver Arena, John Cain Arena and Margaret Court Arena. The blockbuster clash between former World No.1 Andy Murray and Italian star Matteo Berrettini was moved inside to Rod Laver, but play on outside courts wasn't due to resume before 5pm.
Aryna Sabalenka, Garbine Muguruza, Dominic Thiem, Andrey Rublev and Alize Cornet were among the players who suffered in the brutal conditions of the day session. According to leading tennis writer Tumaini Carayol, a ball girl had to be taken from the court during Taylor Townsend's win over Diane Parry on Tuesday morning.
"We’re 20 minutes into a stupidly hot day two at the Australian Open and it looks like ball girl was just guided off the court due to illness in Townsend vs Parry. Stay safe everyone," Carayol tweeted.
The Australian Open is always played in brutal heat due to the fact it takes place in January in the middle of the Aussie summer. But speaking to reporters before the event, Tennis Australia boss Craig Tiley rejected calls to move the event to make it safer.
"I thought it was absolutely ridiculous - a bizarre claim," Tiley said. "You talk to every player, this is the season. It starts in January. It starts here in Australia.
"Australia is the summer, Australia is January and this event is, from the players' perspective, one of their favourite places to play. They're coming here earlier, we're now seeing players here for six weeks, for seven weeks and the preparation for the Australian summer is very normalised - they know what they need to do."
Players from around the world face a gruelling change in conditions, often arriving from winter in Europe and the United States. But Aussie star Alex de Minaur reckons it's up to players to organise their pre-season and acclimatise better.
"I love starting my year here. There's nothing better than the Aussie summer," he said. "It's nice and hot, us Aussies at least we thrive in the heat and we're ready to kick off our year with playing at home. So for us it's amazing. We love it."
Aryna Sabalenka overcomes brutal conditions
Speaking after her win over Czech player Tereza Martincova, Sabalenka said she was absolutely cooked by the heat. The fifth seed from Belarus was able to escape indoors after prevailing 6-1 6-4 in just 69 minutes.
"I definitely need to cool down," Sabalenka said. "It wasn't an easy match and I'm super happy with the win."
Others weren't so lucky, with Thiem and Rublev both suffering in the heat as their match went to a third set. Muguruza also appeared to be suffering from cramp as she went down to 26th seed Elise Mertens.
Before play was suspended, players resorted to using ice bags between changes of ends, while spectators have also been treated to large fans blowing water. Thankfully for players and fans the forecast for the rest of the week is multiple days in the 20s, with Thursday only meant to reach a top of 18 degrees.
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