Blistering heat and some dramatic upsets provided the main topics of day four at Melbourne with ice-wrapped towels and spraying mists deployed to cool down players and spectators alike.
There are certain days where you just have to, as a tournament supervisor, recognise that you might need to give players few extra hours until it (temperature) comes down Novak Djokovic
With temperatures rising to 42 in the city and 69 degrees on court. It wasn’t surprising that players like Novak Djokovic, the six-time Australian Open champion, called for the organisers to take greater consideration of the players welfare declaring the conditions were ‘brutal’. His opponent on Rod Laver Arena, Gael Monfils, even went to the umpire to go off court stating he was ‘sick to the stomach’ and declaring “I’m tired and dizzy”
Djokovic and Monfils eventually managed to complete their second round match with the Serb prevailing with a 4-6 6-3 6-1 6-3 win. Speaking after the match, the former champion revealed the temperature had pushed him to his limits and then referred to the tournament’s extreme heat policy.
“If we talk about rules, there is a rule about index, combination between temperature and humidity,” he said.
“There are certain days where you just have to, as a tournament supervisor, recognise that you might need to give players few extra hours until it (temperature) comes down.
“People might say, well, at this level you have to be, as a professional tennis player, fit. It’s the beginning of the season. You kind of work and train hard to be able to sustain these kind of conditions, to be tough.
“But I think there is a limit, and that is a level of, I guess, tolerance between being fit and being in danger in terms of health.
“[Today} it was right at the limit.”
Under the extreme heat policy at the Australian Open, match referees can decide to postpone and suspend matches when the temperature rises above 40 degrees.
Meanwhile with the temperature is set to rise to 42 degrees on Friday, Monfils has advised players who are scheduled to play, to “Just be smart. If you have to give up, you know, it’s not a shame,” he said.
Tournament officials, while claiming the welfare of the players is their foremost concern, defended their decision not to initiate the heat policy on Thursday.
“The health of our players is of paramount concern, but we need to be consistent with the outside courts so some don’t get an unfair advantage.
“The referee will initiate the Extreme Heat Policy once the ambient temperature exceeds 40C & the Wet Bulb index (WBGT) exceeds 32.5C.
“The health of our players is of paramount concern to us, and we are constantly monitoring conditions. Let’s hope it cools down!”
Gael Monfils also pointed out that playing Novak Djokovic in temperatures of 40 degrees was a ‘risk’ to health and that the 25-second rule between points should have been relaxed.
“It was tough to breathe,“ he told reporters. “For sure, we took risk. At one stage I said to the chair umpire that the 25-second rule, there’s no need.
“Definitely it squeezes you, because it puts you under so much pressure with the heat, then you rush. Honestly, I played two sets out of breath, for nothing, just to please the official.
“So at the end, it’s a bit risky. I’m telling you, I was dying on the court for 40 minutes.”
Someone else who found it hot but for different reasons, was Stan Wawrinka who was bundled out of Melbourne by Tennys Sandgren of the US, 6-2 6-1 6-4.
This year has been tough for Wawrinka, who, following left knee surgery, was playing in his first tournament since Wimbledon six months ago. Despite showing some form in his opening match two days ago, he was never in contention on this occasion and was broken five times, made 35 unforced errors and only struck 21 winners.
The 94th ranked Sandgren next faces Germany’s Maximilian Marterer who reached the third round with a 6-4 4-6 7-6(5) 3-6 6-3 over Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco.
Also out is one of the contenders for the title, Belgium’s David Goffin who, in the sweltering heat saved two match points before capitulating to Julien Benneteau of France 1-6 7-6(5) 6-1 7-6(4).
Ironically Goffin had more winners and made less errors and won more points than his adversary. Unfortunately, they weren’t the ones that mattered most.
Consequently it was Benneteau who set up a third-round meeting with fellow veteran Fabio Fognini.
Italy’s 25th seed was a 2-6 6-3 6-4 6-1 winner over Russian Evgeny Donskoy.
Argentine’s 12th seed Juan Martin del Potro, in his first Aussie Open in four years, remains a title dark horse after seeing off Russian Karen Khachanov 6-4 7-6(4) 6-7(0) 6-4 and has the pleasure of taking on Tomas Berdych in the next round, the Czech having overpowered Spain’s Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-3 2-6 6-2 6-3 in another battle of ‘vererans’.
But Roger Federer was forced into a third-set tie-breaker by Jan-Lennard Struff before winning in straight sets to reach the third round 6- 6- 7-6(4)
Fifth seed Dominic Thiem endured a draining second-round scare, fighting back from two sets down against American qualifier Denis Kudla.
The Austrian recovered from the brink of defeat against the 190th-ranked Kudla, to escape an embarrassing loss 6-7(6) 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-3 and secure a third round match with Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
But 13th seed Sam Querrey has joined the list of American losses after going down 6-4 7-6(6) 4-6 6-2 to Hungary’s world No.80 Marton Fucsovics.
Fucsovics will play Argentine Nicholas Kicker, who squeezed past Slovak Lukas Lacko 6-2 7-5 1-6 7-5.
In the battle of the young contemporaries, South Korean Hyeon Chung replicated his Next-Gen ATP Finals victory over Daniil Medvedev in November, prevailing 7-6(4) 6-1 6-1 to end the Russian’s six-match summer winning streak.
Chung has an even bigger opportunity to make an impact when he confronts German fourth seed Alexander Zverev, a 6-1 6-3 4-6 6-3 winner over countryman Peter Gojowczyk.
US wildcard Tim Smyczek fell 6-4 6-2 7-6(2) to 21st-seeded Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who earned a shot at six-time champion Novak Djokovic while Richard Gasquet ended the run of world No.219 Lorenzo Sonego 6-2 6-2 6-3.