WTA chief: Heat policy should be reviewed

Updated: January 17, 2007, 12:38 AM ET
Reuters

MELBOURNE, Australia -- A review of the extreme heat policy at the Australian Open could be on the agenda after several players struggled to go the distance in sweltering conditions at Melbourne Park this week.

Women's top seed Maria Sharapova was left delirious on Tuesday as she was forced to battle for almost three hours under a blazing sun as on-court temperatures soared toward 122 degrees.

"Player health and well-being is our top priority and I was very concerned about the conditions [Tuesday] and the potential risks to our players," WTA Tour chairman Larry Scott said on Wednesday.

"What happened yesterday is going to cause us to take another look at the heat policy. I don't remember conditions like that and seeing the match go on for so long. It's something the WTA will look more closely at," he said.

Organizers at the season's first Grand Slam apply their extreme heat policy when the thermometers pass 95 degrees and when the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature, a combination of ambient air temperature and humidity, exceeds 82.4 degrees.

Under the rules all unstarted matches are suspended on the outside courts but players already on court have to play on until their matches conclude. Those forced to play on are entitled to a 10-minute heat break after the second set.

"It's inhuman to play three hours in that kind of heat," said Sharapova, who looked dazed during the closing stages of her three-set win.

"I don't think our bodies were made to do that. When it's that hot your mind doesn't work properly," she said.

Play was restricted to the two main courts -- Rod Laver Arena and Vodafone Arena -- where action was only possible because of the retractable roofs. As these can only be closed between matches, Sharapova had to complete her contest in the open arena.

Belgium's Christophe Rochus and Serb Janko Tipsarevic both wilted in the draining weather. Rochus withdrew with breathing problems against France's Sebastien Grosjean, and Tipsarevic called it quits early in the fifth set against eighth seed David Nalbandian.

World No. 1 Roger Federer said competitors should be given a choice if they want to continue playing.

"Going out on the court, it gets so hot like you can't believe," Federer said. "It's not only the heat from the sun, but especially from underneath. This is what's really killing the players. The feet are just on fire.

"If both players agree they don't want to continue, maybe they can make an arrangement," he said.

The inconsistency of the heat policy has irked many players.

The wisdom of forcing some athletes to play on while others are allowed to stay in the locker room until the conditions become more acceptable seems to have raised eyebrows.

Players feel that when the weather does get too hot, all matches should be suspended, just as rain postpones play for all those affected.

"The issue of whether a match should continue once it's started if the heat index goes above a certain level will get renewed focus," Scott said. "This morning I was talking to the Tennis Australia management about it and I'm sure discussions will be ongoing.

"The Australian Open decides the rules for the tournament, so we [the WTA] cannot impose a rule at the Australian Open. But they are open to discussions," he said.

Scott, however, highlighted that players had been consulted about playing conditions and agendas were set accordingly.

"In the past the policy was based on medical opinion and a sense of competitive fairness," he said. "Opinion suggested fitness was an important competitive advantage. It's a case of survival of the fittest. If the conditions are extreme, you've got to be able to play with sun, you've got to play with wind, heat and humidity.

"The situation we had yesterday is maybe different from anything we've had in the past, and it's quite possible player opinions have changed," he said.

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