Tokyo: Novak Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev - the world’s top two men’s tennis players - led calls to Tokyo Olympic organisers today to move matches to the late afternoon for the rest of the competition to save players from the stifling conditions.
Temperatures hovered around 33 degrees Celsius (91.4ADEGF) and the high humidity made it extremely tough on players, who failed to find much comfort from ice bags and a hose blowing cool air.
World No. 2 Medvedev suggested moving all matches to the evening and found support from Serbia’s top-ranked Djokovic.
“I agree with him 100%,” Djokovic said after finishing off his first-round match on the Centre Court of Ariake Tennis Park in an hour. “I actually asked as well. My team captain Viktor Troicki was speaking to the referee a couple of times."
He added, “To be honest I don’t understand why they don’t start matches at say 3 pm. I heard for tennis there’s some kind of curfew for them to finish by midnight. If that’s the case I just finished the last match. It’s not even 5pm. We still have like seven hours to play. They have the lights on all the courts, they’re going to make life much easier for all of us players. I just don’t understand why they don’t move it, I sincerely don’t understand.”
The International Tennis Federation, which is the governing body of the sport at the Olympics, said its ‘extreme weather policy’ was implemented during the day.
The policy allows a 10-minute break between the second and third set if agreed by both players while play can be suspended if conditions are deemed dangerous. Play on Centre Court can, however, continue after the retractable roof is closed.
“Player health is paramount and great consideration has been given to the 11am or a later start,” the ITF said in a statement emailed to Reuters.
“The decision to retain 11 am was made based on data, a nine-day event and to accommodate factors such as local authority restrictions due to COVID-19 and the unpredictability of the weather.
“Extreme conditions will always put pressure on a schedule and make an optimum schedule challenging. Rainfall is as much of an issue as extreme heat.”
Djokovic said a delayed start could also help broadcasters in the United States and Europe.
“I doubt that they will change the decision but we’re hoping that they will,” the 20-times Grand Slam winner said.
Competing in Tokyo as a representative of the Russian Olympic Committee because the country was stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offences, Medvedev slumped to his chair with his head down after his win over Kazakh Alexander Bublik.
“The matches maybe should start at six, because it actually gets much light on the court,” the 25-year-old told reporters.
“Some tournaments do it. I don’t think they’re going to change in the middle of the tournament but that’s what can be done.” Terming the conditions “unbelievably hot”, Medvedev was also not happy about the changeover duration during the Olympics, especially with stifling conditions on court.
“The fact that we have only one minute between changeovers is a joke,” he said. “I think if you ask, let’s say 200 tennis players that are here, I think 195 will tell you that one minute is a joke and it should be 1:30 like it is in ATP tournaments.” Medvedev’s compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova also implored organisers to help the players.
Pavlyuchenkova had to take a medical timeout after feeling dizzy during her win against Italy’s Sara Errani and she was struggling from dehydration even after spending an hour following her match to recover.
“I was thinking on court that for tennis players conditions are really rough,” Pavlyuchenkova said, complaining that she was unable to find enough ice on court as it had melted.
“It’s very hot out there, the sun is shining very bright, when you’re serving it’s right into your eyes. This is tough conditions but of course for everybody.
“They could have somehow tried to make it a bit easier on us but it’s the Olympics so we can’t really do much about it.”