Un-Australian Heat

Australian Open, Days 1 -3

The persistent theme through the first three days of the 2014 Australian Open was heat, evident in the desperate struggles of all players to complete their assigned matches, and the even mightier struggle of the attendant press corps to come up with more evocative descriptions for the conditions than ‘brutal’ and ‘searing’. Quinn Rooney/Getty Images AsiaPacMercifully Bernard Tomic was on hand, permitting the assembled hacks to deploy other cherished adjectives such as ‘un-Australian’ and ‘disappointing’.

So far ten matches have concluded in retirement, including nine in the first round, which equalled the record set at the US Open in 2011. Unfortunately for the prevailing narrative, few of the retirements occurred due to the heat, the brutality of which has, to be sure, been searing. Ivan Dodig is probably the only one: today he retired from cramps against Damir Dzumhur while leading two sets to one, and afterwards proposed a revised schedule for the tournament, which shockingly didn’t set aside its existing protocols on the suggestion of one ailing journeyman. Dzumhur may well have voiced similar complaints, but they were drowned out by his Bosnian supporters, who’d earlier celebrated each won game with closely harmonised chanting, and his lone victorious set with a passionate accordion solo. Frank Dancevic yesterday passed out from heat stroke, but soon came round, although not round far enough to elude imminent defeat. It was worth pushing on, however; if anyone could manage to lose from two sets up to a semi-comatose opponent, Benoit Paire is the one.

Aside from Dodig, the men who did retire were Alex Bogomolov Jr, Andrei Golubev, Tommy Haas, John Isner, Julian Reister, Radek Stepanek, Tomic, and Robin Haase. (Philipp Kohlschreiber also withdrew before his first round match, replaced by Lucky Loser Stephane Robert, who celebrated his good fortune by submitting Aljaz Bedene to one of the more comprehensive hidings of the opening round.) The real wonder is that Gilles Simon isn’t among them. Having seriously injured his foot at Kooyong the other day, he was instructed by his doctor not to play for four to six weeks, though he apparently failed to hear, or at any rate heed, the word ‘not’. He instead scampered about for four to six hours yesterday, eventually finishing off Daniel Brands 16/14 in the fifth set. He’ll next face Marin Cilic, who tarried barely three hours in divesting the singles draw of Marcel Granollers. Meanwhile the only five setter today was Florian Mayer’s serpentine defeat of Mikhail Youzhny. Simon Briggs in The Telegraph slyly wondered whether today’s lack of five-setters was down to the searingly brutal heat: ‘could players be folding, even subconsciously, rather than fighting to stay out in the heat for another 40 minutes?’ It’s clearly a statement masquerading as a question – a hack journalist staple as tiresome as the meaningless phrases ‘questions have been asked’ and ‘officials have not ruled out’ – but let’s answer it anyway: No. Yesterday was if anything hotter, and there were plenty of five set matches. (Tomorrow, incidentally, will be hotter still. I suspect the Extreme Heat Policy will be enforced.)

Page 1 of 3 | Next page