Heat is on at Australian Open - literally
THE world's top players are psyching themselves up for a scorching week at the Australian Open with temperatures set to soar above 40 deg C in Melbourne.
Temperatures are forecast to reach 42 deg C tomorrow and remain around those levels until a cooler change this weekend.
The Australian Open has an Extreme Heat Policy, introduced in 1998, incorporating a complex calculation of air temperature, humidity and wind, and medical advice, and enforced at the discretion of referees.
It has been invoked only occasionally, with play halted or the roof of the main stadiums closed and air-conditioning turned on. But the conditions have to be severe.
Players, many of whom have experienced Melbourne's extreme summers, will be given ice vests and packs, while a good number arrived in Melbourne early to acclimatise.
However, world No. 3 Maria Sharapova warned: "I think it's tough to train on a very high level in that type of heat."
She remained rueful about her 2007 three-setter played in searing heat against France's Camille Pin, after which she called the conditions "inhuman".
"How could I forget," she said, when asked about that match. "I didn't feel too good after." She added: "You're not really thinking about tennis, you're trying to really keep your mind focused on maybe keeping the points a little bit shorter.
Novak Djokovic has also been through the grinder in Melbourne, retiring in the 2009 quarter-finals against Andy Roddick due to heat exhaustion when defending his title.
"I know how tough it is. But it's the same for myself and my opponent, so you have to adjust to it," he said.
World No. 1 Serena Williams, aiming to match Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova with 18 Grand Slam titles, is not looking forward to the hot days, but said she could cope.
"I've been training my whole life in the heat. I think I'm pretty used to it," said the Florida-based American.
"I mean, obviously the heat in Melbourne is just completely different than any other heat.
"But it's okay. I just got to be ready to play under any circumstances."
Andy Murray, returning from back surgery, is another who trained in Florida during the off-season, but he said that Australian conditions were a different matter. "I mean, it helps," said the Scot. "But the difference between 32 deg C or whatever in Florida and 40, it's a huge difference.
"It feels very different on the court. The court gets so hot, the air is extremely hot as well."
Not everyone is perturbed, with defending women's champion Victoria Azarenka saying she was even looking forward to the extreme conditions.
"I've been here playing for, what, last eight years. It's not a new thing to play in the heat. I actually enjoy that," she said. "I mean, not all the time probably, but it's nice to get some sun."