Melbourne: Players draped themselves in ice-packs and fans sought shade on Thursday as temperatures nudged 41 degrees Celsius on a day of fierce heat at the Australian Open.
Cloud cover provided some respite at Melbourne Park but when the sun broke through, it was brutal, with many stars racing through their matches to get off court as quickly as possible.
Britain’s Andy Murray, emerging on court around midday, whipped through his second-round encounter with Go Soeda in 1hr 41min. Afterwards, he headed straight for an ice bath.
“It wasn’t that bad on the court,” insisted the Scot, who did his off-season training in Miami. “When the sun came out it was extremely hot.
“There was little humidity. When you get the combination of the heat and the humidity is when it’s normally at its worst. I’ve played in worse conditions, but it’s still very hot.”
Australia’s James Duckworth picked the wrong day for his five-set marathon defeat to Blaz Kavcic. He said the Slovenian was in so much pain afterwards that he needed morphine.
“Poor Kavcic walked into the locker room and locked up and went a full body cramp. He’s on morphine now. He’s struggling a bit more than I am,” said Duckworth, who spent nearly five hours on court.
“It was pretty hot. The court actually felt really hot under-foot. My feet were burning every time I pushed off to sprint. I was sweating bucket loads. Yeah, it was tough conditions,” added Duckworth.
While the players toiled, thousands of fans donned hats and sunglasses and slathered themselves in sunscreen, as tannoy announcements urged them to take precautions in the extreme heat.
During Serena and Venus Williams’ doubles match against Camila Giorgi and Stefanie Voegele, one spectator collapsed and had to be helped out of the stadium, although it was not clear whether heat was to blame.
Despite the conditions, the mechanical roofs stayed open on both the Rod Laver and Hisense arenas with officials closely monitoring the air temperature and humidity.
The Australian Open, held in the height of the southern hemisphere summer, is renowned for its heat and controversy struck in 2009, when officials baulked at closing the Rod Laver Arena roof despite intense conditions.
Defending champion Novak Djokovic was one player affected by the heat when he pulled out mid-match citing exhaustion. Days after the tournament, areas near Melbourne were hit by the Black Saturday bushfires, which killed 173.