SBD/January 15, 2014/Events and Attractions

Extreme Heat Beginning To Impact Crowd Attendance At Australian Open

Australian Open spectators avoid seats in the sun in Melbourne
Attendance at the Australian Open continues "to wilt" in Melbourne's extreme heat, as today's crowd of 32,911 fans who "braved the conditions for the day session was down almost 15,000 on the corresponding figure in last year's Open for the second day running," according to Peter Hanlon of the Melbourne AGE. Pre-sales of ground passes were up 8% this year, but event organizers "conceded 'walk-ups' had been hit hard by the weather." Tennis Australia COO David Roberts: "I have been heartened by the commitment shown by Australian tennis fans this week. ... But I also know that given the weather during the last two days and the forecast for tomorrow and Friday we will fall well short of the overall record attendance" (Melbourne AGE, 1/16). ESPN's Darren Cahill said the heat is "really difficult for the people outside." They have to "prepare like the players do: drink a lot of water, make sure they get to shade when they can." Cahill noted Australian Nick Kyrgios' win over Benjamin Becker yesterday on Court Two, which is "sort of the Australians' court," only had "about 10% of the stadium ... occupied for that match." Cahill: "It's a little disappointing but certainly understandable" ("Australian Open," ESPN2, 1/14).

ARE PLAYING CONDITIONS SAFE? ESPN's Chris Fowler noted triple-digit heat is "not strange" at the Australian Open, but it is "not easy to play tennis in it." There were nine player retirements through the first round, tying a Grand Slam record. While not all of them were "related to the heat, but, boy, it really becomes the overriding story there when it's like this down here" ("Australian Open," ESPN2, 1/14). The AFP noted Andy Murray "warned organisers were risking a serious incident by letting play continue." Murray said, "There's been some issues in other sports with, you know, players having heart attacks. I don't know exactly why that is. Or collapsing." But tournament referee Wayne McKewen said that while conditions were "'hot and uncomfortable' they were not dangerous because humidity remained low" (AFP, 1/15). Tennis Magazine's Peter Bodo said, "They're really playing with dynamite here. Players really question very strongly the wisdom of the tournament organizers." NBC's Al Roker: "I think this is reckless, really, for them to continue carrying on like this" ("Today," NBC, 1/15). USA TODAY's Douglas Robson wrote yesterday "was simply mind-numbingly hot." Robson: "A ball kid fainted. Players cramped. One vomited." Murray said, "It looks terrible for the whole sport when people are collapsing, ball kids are collapsing, people in the stands are collapsing. That's obviously not great." Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki said that she "put a plastic water bottle down on the court and the bottom started to melt" (USATODAY.com, 1/14). Former Australian Open winner Chris O'Neil in a special to the GUARDIAN wrote the "majority of matches were completed without calls for medical attention but there were also many that required treatment for serious conditions." It was "awful to see players vomiting on court and forfeiting, barely able to move let alone hit the ball with purpose" (THEGUARDIAN.co.uk, 1/15).

SOME LIKE IT HOT: Roger Federer said that the tournament "shouldn't bother with its heat policy, which allows stadium roofs to be closed in extreme conditions." Federer: "It should always stay open, honestly." The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Tom Perrotta noted the roofs "remained open" yesterday. But crowds "were thinner than usual, and many fans fled for the shade in the afternoon" (WSJ.com, 1/14). In London, Simon Briggs notes there is a "case for bringing in a sort of 'siesta' in mid-afternoon when only the show courts would be in action." Player Ivan Dodig said, "You can make a gap for a couple of hours, let’s say from 1 to 4pm. We have lights on the courts, TV can adapt a bit and it’s better for us if everybody plays the night session." Briggs: "Of course there would be significant inconvenience, especially for supporters. Yet the number of visitors to Melbourne Park has been significantly reduced by the weather in any case. You can imagine a site-wide night session creating a boisterous, party atmosphere" (TELEGRAPH.co.uk, 1/15). Also in London, Kevin Mitchell wrote there are "perfectly adequate regulations in place to give players the best chance of performing in safety." If they "genuinely feel they are risking their health ... there should be no shame in quitting. It's only sport." The heat was "not really the deciding factor in most cases" of players retiring (THEGUARDIAN.co.uk, 1/14).
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