Players Unhappy With Speed Of Courts At Melbourne Park; Aussie Heat Wave Expected
Rafael Nadal's uncle and coach Toni joined him on Monday "in criticising Melbourne Park's faster hardcourts" at the Australian Open, according to REUTERS. The speed of the blue Plexicushion courts "has polarised opinions," with Roger Federer and Australian Lleyton Hewitt "welcoming it" while Nadal "questioned the logic behind the change." Toni Nadal said, "The spectators want a bit of rallying, a bit of tactics. People don't go to Barcelona's stadium to watch Lionel Messi taking penalties" (REUTERS, 1/13). SPORTS ILLUSTRATED reported the consensus among tennis players is that the courts "are playing faster than in years past." Nadal: "[These are] completely different conditions than what I remembered of this tournament." Sam Stosur has only had one practice session in Melbourne and she believes that "the difference is in the balls, which she believes are taking more spin." Stosur: "Whether the court is faster, the balls are definitely different. The balls go through the air a lot faster." Federer and Maria Sharapova got a preview of the faster courts at the Brisbane Int'l, where "the conditions were remarkably fast." Both agreed the speeds in Melbourne "were faster than years past but noticeably slower than Brisbane." Federer: "We’re not talking about a lightning speed court. In Brisbane it was fast, but it wasn’t lightning either. This is like medium, if that" (SI, 1/11).
HEAT WAVE: USA TODAY's Douglas Robson reported current weather forecasts in Melbourne are "calling for triple-digit highs over the next several days," with temperatures by some reports "topping out at an egg-frying 107 degrees Fahrenheit." Once the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature "extreme heat threshold is reached a number of precautions kick in." Play can be "halted at the tournament referee's discretion" and the domed courts -- Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena -- can "have their retractable roofs closed before or during play." Female players are "allowed a 10-minute break between the second and third sets of a singles match if the WBGT reading exceeds 30.1 before the start of a match." Even before it "hits that level, other policies, such as ice wraps for players on court, come into play." Melbourne's "wide fluctuations in heat" could create "competitive imbalances for those that happen to play at night or in the roofed stadiums" (USA TODAY, 1/13). ESPN’s Chris Fowler said it will be "interesting to see what will happen in the coming days." Fowler: "Will the Wet Bulb Index be enough to close the roofs? The combination of heat and humidity could be close, heat alone isn’t enough to do it." ESPN’s Pam Shriver said, “I would have been politicking a couple of days ago to play first on Monday morning 11:00. This could be the best conditions for a week down here, especially in the day.” Tennis player Sam Querrey: "I was lucky to play on Monday here. It was probably 15 degrees cooler than it’s going to be the next four days. But, just hydrate a lot, do a good job of taking care of my body with ice baths and things like that” ("Australian Open," ESPN2, 1/12).
KEEPING AN EVEN KEEL? ESPN's Shriver reported several players have complained that they "see a slope, feel a slope" on Margaret Court Arena, and observers "can clearly see it." Fowler said, "Let’s be clear, the court is perfectly level. They haven’t changed the court at all since last year. Just a psychological thing or a visual trick?" But ESPN's Mary Joe Fernandez responded, “You say the court hasn’t changed. Everything else has changed. I can’t imagine they haven’t changed the court surface, and it clearly looks, from my angle and from what the players are saying, uphill is this end." Fowler: "If that court isn’t level, if one end is higher than the other, they need to launch an investigation. That’s just inconceivable. ... You can go to the hardware store, you get a level and you place it on the court. It’s pretty easy to see if there’s a slope" (ESPN2, 1/12).