Liguori: Extreme Heat, Humidity Make Conditions At US Open Too Dangerous  

Officials Must Come Up With New Policy

Ann Liguori
August 29, 2018 - 1:49 pm
Novak Djokovic copes with the extreme heat while playing Marton Fucsovics in a first round-match at the U.S. Open on Aug. 28, 2018.

USA TODAY Images

It’s time for the USTA to create a new policy to deal with these extreme heat and humidity conditions at the U.S. Open.

Temperatures were forecast to reach as high as 96 degrees at 1 p.m. Wednesday. That means the heat index on the courts will be well into triple digits. Add high humidity to that equation, and the conditions become dangerous.

Five guys had to retire from their matches Tuesday because of heat-related issues. It was a good thing no players passed out or became more seriously ill from the unusually extreme heat.

And so the question has to be asked: Should they be playing in these extreme heat conditions?

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The USTA implemented for the first time Tuesday an extreme heat policy for men’s matches, which allows the players to take a 10-minute break between the third and fourth sets. 

In all my years covering this championship, I can’t recall a day that was as hot and humid as Tuesday. And Wednesday looks like it may even surpass Tuesday’s extreme heat. It’s miraculous that there weren’t more serious consequences Tuesday.

The USTA should come up with a policy that reschedules matches when temperatures soar too high. The medical staff could determine what that temperature and humidity combo is. When conditions get as extreme as they were Tuesday, particularly those scheduled in the afternoon, matches should be rescheduled. Otherwise, it gets too dangerous for both the players and spectators.

Novak Djokovic shared that he felt sick throughout most of his match Tuesday at Arthur Ashe Stadium against Marton Fucsovics. Djokovic, returning to the U.S. Open after missing last year with an elbow injury, took the first set 6-3, dropped the second 3-6 and at times looked quite weak out on the court, although he was able to pull out the third set, 6-4. Both players then took the 10-minute extreme heat break. Djokovic said afterward that he and Fucsovics each took quick ice baths during the intermission. It certainly did the trick for Djokovic, as the two-time U.S. Open champ came out and grabbed the fourth set, 6-0.  

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“It's understandable why players were complaining about it because only players know what they were experiencing today on the court,” Djokovic said after his match. “It's quite tough. I mean, it's really sad to see. I think (Mikhail) Youzhny just retired his match because of cramping. There's so much cramping going on.

“You don't want to see that. Obviously, one can say, as well, whether you train, you have to be fit, of course. I agree with that. But there are some conditions that are so extreme, that as fit as you are, you can't just not feel it. I mean, it's there.”

Leonardo Mayer of Argentina was down two sets to one Tuesday against Laslo Djere and trailed 1-2 in the fourth set when he stopped playing. He said he had “heat stroke.”

”I was not going to die on the court," he said. "Tennis is not for that."

I’m not suggesting that tennis players can’t deal with extreme conditions. They are superb athletes who train in all kinds of intensely hot and humid climates. But when the elements get as severe as they are this week, it makes sense to have a policy in place to protect them. You can’t close the roof and blow air conditioning inside the stadiums that have roofs because that would make the conditions unequal. And I realize any delays and rescheduling of matches could wreak havoc on the overall schedule, but these conditions are extreme. Perhaps the USTA can schedule afternoon matches on other courts in the morning.

At the Australian Open, temperatures have peaked at 110 degrees, but they have much lower humidity. When temperatures got that high a few years ago, play was stopped on all outside courts and the roofs were closed on others. On that same day, an Australian buddy told me it was so hot that the innercity rail trains had to stop because the tracks were bending.

The USTA should come up with a rescheduling of afternoon matches when conditions get this extreme. Better safe than sorry.

Follow Ann on Twitter at @AnnLiguori.