It would be unfair on the players competing on the outside courts if top players are handed the comfort of playing under closed roof in extreme hot conditions at the Australian Open, says former world number one Lleyton Hewitt.
Novak Djokovic described the conditions as “brutal” in the first week at the Melbourne Park when the court temperature read 42 degrees celsius during his match against Gael Monfils. The Frenchman said it was “risky” to play in such conditions even as Roger Federer, who mostly played in the cooler night sessions, played down the heat factor.
Hewitt said the onus was on players to counter the conditions. “You got to do the hard work in the pre-season to be able to play in conditions like that. This is an outdoor tournament. You have to be acclimatised. To play best of five sets in these conditions is not easy at all,” Hewitt, a Mastercard brand ambassador, told a select gathering at the newly-launched Beach Club at Melbourne Park.
“The other thing is, if you close the roof on the centre court, you have to think about poor guy playing on court 23, playing exactly at the same time. If they have to go through those conditions without the roof closed or any comfort to help them, we will be just helping the best players. If they (top players) get through that match, the other guy would not be able to come through physically in the next two days and that will be unfair. Roof should only be closed if it’s raining,” Hewitt made his point.
The Australian Open’s heat policy states that matches on the outside courts will be halted and roofs closed on capable venues when the mercury hits 40C (ambient temperature, not court temperature) and the wet-bulb reading gets above 32.5C. The wet bulb temperature is the minimum temperature achieved after wetting the surface of the court. The system works like a traditional cooler in which dry heat is countered by increasing the moisture content of the air to bring down the overall temperature.
“It’s always been this time since we moved to Melbourne Park. It’s great time, whether we move a week back or not, it does not matter. Obviously, there is a breaking point but if the guys are doing the off season indoors in Europe indoors in snow then, it’s different conditioning for them coming here,” said Hewitt, the last Australian to win a Grand Slam singles title in 2002 at the Wimbledon championships.
The 36-year-old said this Australian Open would be remembered for the “emergence of young players”. Playing in the bottom half of the draw, 21 year-old Korean Hyeon Chung, ranked 58, toppled Alexander Zverev (ranked four) and Djokovic en route the semifinals. “They have taken the next step. It’s easy to beat a top player in the three-set matches when you are on the Tour but when it comes to Grand Slams, beating them in five sets is amazing,” said Hewitt. “Young Chung, he beat Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic. This guy could be future player on the ATP Tour. It’s good to see different names out there. Kyle Edmond, the English man has come up. He has done a lot of good work with Andy Murray and that’s paying off.”
Hewitt agreed that the jam-packed Tour was taking a toll on the players as many top players were left injured in 2017. “That’s one reason. Those top players have to play so many matches on the Tour the whole year to try and stay on top of the game and that’s not the easy thing to do. So many matches are played on the hard court surfaces, which is tough on our body. The top players have to take breaks to charge their batteries, get their bodies right.”
World number one Rafael Nadal, who limped out of Australian Open after retiring from his semifinal against Marin Cilic, has also blamed the busy schedule and hard surfaces for his latest injury. However, Hewitt felt that young players have come better-prepared. “We are seeing the likes of Nadal and Djokovic did not play any tournament before the Australian Open. I think some of these guys came little underdone.
“These young players, like Chung, he won the NextGen finals at the end of the last year, they are carrying lot of confidence but they are playing so many matches before coming, so that can contend with the top players here.”