Saturday School: US Open’s Extreme Heat Policy

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August 28, 2018 - Novak Djokovic in action against Marton Fucsovics at the 2018 US Open.
In a first, the US Open had to enact an extreme heat policy on the second day of the tournament’s 128th edition after realizing the scorching conditions under which the players had to at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. The conditions at the US Open this year are worse than ever, with the hard courts making the situation even more pathetic.
Weather reports stated that New York will see temperatures reaching no less than 32°C up until Thursday. On Friday, the mercury is predicted to take a significant drop with the possibility of rain making an appearance. However, in these first four days of the US Open, players will have to deal with the heat and the humidity that would be ranging between 45-50%.
A combination of 36°C of mercury and 47% of humidity was making it difficult for the players to endure on the courts where the temperature felt nearing the 49°C mark.
“I think we should have a heat rule, it’s not healthy to be out there getting dizzy and stuff and the poor ball kids out there.” – Nick Kyrgios
 
“They should have canceled the matches. It was not healthy. We are fit, but this was too much. It is dangerous out there. The ATP doesn’t have a heat rule but they should stop the matches. They will not make a change until someone dies.” – Richard Berankis after retiring against Hyeon Chung
 
The new Louis Armstrong stadium houses 14,000 people but does not have an air-conditioning system and instead relies on a unique naturally cooling ventilating system. This surely does not seem to bring comfort to the players or the spectators, as a result of which, Brian Earley, the US Open’s tournament referee (who is likely to retire after this tournament) released an emergency statement on 29th August 2018.
“For all women’s singles matches, a 10-minute break will be allowed between the second and third sets if either player requests such a break.”
“If both players decline a 10-minute break, then play shall be continuous. Appropriate medical timeouts for heat-related illness are allowed.
“For all men’s singles matches, a 10-minute break will be allowed between the third and fourth sets if either player requests such a break.
“If both players decline a 10-minute break, then play shall be continuous. Appropriate medical timeouts for heat-related illness are allowed.”
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA), which governs the women’s tennis circuit has already had a rule since 1992 wherein the ladies can take a certain time to rest if the heat stress index reaches 86°F. For the men, this is the first policy related to heat at the US Open.
It indeed is surprising that the ladies have breaks in best of three set matches whereas the men’s game didn’t have any such policies in best of five set matches. A few years back, Stan Wawrinka put forth this question to the authorities but received no positive responses. Before the heat policy was implemented this week, Wawrinka was facing Grigor Dimitrov in the first round. The Swiss called for a medical timeout and apparently let his body cool down for a bit. When asked about it in the post-match interview, he said nothing regarding an injury on any particular part of his body and instead commented upon the malaise he felt during the match.
Apart from the players, even spectators have found the temperatures to be distressing at the Flushing Meadows. One spectator who was witnessing Petra Kvitova play against Yanina Wickmayer collapsed in the stands. The play had to be halted and the spectator was given emergency medical assistance.
Kvitova herself could be seen turning all red, courtesy of the heat, and was constantly looking to go farther away from the baseline in between the points where the court was masked with the shadow of the roof. When the heat policy was implemented, it saw two opposite implications from two players pitted against each other at the Louis Armstrong Stadium. While Andrea Petkovic straight away headed to an air-conditioned room, her opponent Jelena Ostapenko decided to first visit the restroom to dress herself in a new outfit and later visit an air-conditioned space.
“When I came back out, it felt like five billion degrees. Next time, I would stay out there, chill on the bench,” said Petkovic. For Ostapenko, it all went her way as she broke Petkovic in the first game of the decider and eventually won it 7-5 to cruise into the next round.
Despite the heat policy being implemented, on its debut day, six men retired and five others complained about heat related degrading health issues.
Venus Williams, who is playing her 20th US Open optimistically said that maybe she would begin to train in noon to cope up with the conditions.
“There’s really nothing you can do but try to hydrate the best you can so your body is holding onto the water and you’re not letting the water go out so fast. That’s what leads to cramps and it’s definitely not easy out there. So the thing that makes it fair, though, is every single person is playing in it.” – Venus Williams
“I want to thank the US Open for allowing us to have the 10-minute break, because we both needed it. We were naked next to each other in the ice baths after battling for three sets, and it was a magnificent feeling, I must say.” – Novak Djokovic, after defeating Marton Fucsovics
“You’ve got to be ready. And, I mean, mentally, physically, we all know that US Open can be like that. There can be some difficult days like this. There can be some windy days. Even a little bit cooler days. So you have to be ready.” – Marin Cilic
The US Open has now become the second slam to execute the Extreme Heat Policy after the Australian Open.

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