Criticism of the conditions players are being made to endure at the Olympic Tennis Event were underlined on Wednesday when Spain’s Paula Badosa left the court in a wheelchair after retiring from her quarter-final match against Marketa Vondrousova because of ‘illness’ that was in all probability heat exhaustion.
I know that for Ukraine, [the Olympics] is a really big thing," Svitolina told the media on The Olympic Channel, after her win. "I value the Olympics as a Grand Slam, and I tried to prepare to bring my best tennis. Here I am in the semi-final, and I can get a chance to get a medal. It's very special for me, but I try to take one match at a time. Elina Svitolina
Elina Svitolina, Belinda Bencic and Elena Rybakina, however, were able to combat both the conditions and their opponents to advance to medal contention.
After rainy day on Tuesday, the temperature at Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo rose to 31˚C (88˚F) with the heat index making conditions feel more like 37˚C (99˚F).
The problems the players faced had raised questions over why organisers did not grant requests earlier in the tournament from Novak Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev and others to move matches at the Games to the evening.
Djokovic, the men’s World No 1 from Serbia said earlier in the week: “I don’t understand why they don’t start matches at, say, 3pm. We still have seven hours to play. They have lights on all the courts.
“You feel you have weights on your shoulders because there’s so much heat and humidity and stagnated air. You don’t feel yourself, you feel slow with your legs.
“It’s not the first time we get to experience tough conditions. I spoke to a couple of guys in the locker room and all of them said this is the toughest that they have experienced day to day.
“I don’t really get why ITF [the International Tennis Federation] doesn’t want to move the matches, the 34-year old added.
Earlier on Wednesday, Medvedev, Russia’s World No 2, was also left hot and bothered on court in his third-round win over Fabio Fognini, displaying signs of great fatigue in the heat.
When chair umpire Carlos Ramos asking him if he was okay to continue or if he needed a physio, Medvedev responded: “What else can I do? I will fight and I can finish the match, but I can die. If I die, are you going to be responsible?”
Medvedev had described conditions in the early rounds as ‘some of the worst’ he had played in, and said it was a ‘joke’ that players only get one minute at changeovers rather than the usual 90 seconds.
Organisers said immediately after Medvedev’s win that they were ‘considering’ playing the matches later, starting on Thursday and, by the close of play, the ITF issued a statement.
“In the interests of player health and welfare and following extensive consultation, the ITF has announced a change of schedule due to the increasing heat and humidity currently being experienced in Tokyo, Japan. Tokyo 2020 Olympic Tennis Event matches will begin at 3pm from Thursday, 29 July 2021.
“The decision to start matches at 3pm JST from Thursday is possible due to the outcomes of today’s matches across the five competitions being staged and the size of player field, and is designed to further safeguard player health. It has been made following consultation with the IOC, Tokyo 2020, Olympic Broadcast Services as well as the Olympic Tennis Event players, referee, medical experts and other key stakeholders.
“The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Tennis Event Extreme Weather Policy, which has been in place throughout the tournament provides for modifications of play once the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) reaches a threshold of 30.1°C, including ten-minute breaks for both the men and women, if requested.”
With an 11am start on Court 4, Badosa and Vondrousova played the second match in the oppressive heat of the day.
An early 3-1 lead for Badosa was erased by the Czech, who knocked off 8 points in a row to reach 3-3 and rolled on through the opener from there, winning 5 straight games to close out the set, which she concluded with a passing shot off of her lefty forehand.
The Czech, who eliminated Naomi Osaka a day earlier, advanced when Badosa’s hopes of a medal at Tokyo 2020 were dashed as she was forced to retire of their quarter-final match.
Badosa, the World No 29, was visibly struggling on the court in the intense summer heat of Japan before she pulled out, slumping in her chair as her opponent hugged her and the chair umpire cited ‘illness’ as the reason for the Spaniard’s retirement.
She has since withdrawn from the mixed doubles with fellow Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta.
Vondrousova’s semi-final opponent will be 4th-seeded Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who beat Italy’s Camila Giorgi, 6-4 6-4.
Meanwhile, it has been quite a month for Svitolina, who married France’s Gael Monfils on 16 July before flying to Tokyo, putting their honeymoon on hold until November, when the tennis season ends.
Monfils was sitting court-side cheering on his new bride, having been eliminated from both the singles and doubles tournaments.
Svitolina is the highest seeded singles player left standing after top-ranked Ash Barty, No 2 Naomi Osaka and No 3 Aryna Sabalenka were eliminated from the women’s draw.
The 4th seed led the remaining field into the semi-finals and medal contention with a straight sets win over Giorgi in an hour 31 minutes.
“I know that for Ukraine, [the Olympics] is a really big thing,” Svitolina told the media on The Olympic Channel, after her win. “I value the Olympics as a Grand Slam, and I tried to prepare to bring my best tennis.
“Here I am in the semi-final, and I can get a chance to get a medal. It’s very special for me, but I try to take one match at a time.”
Svitolina notched one of the best wins of her career at the previous Olympics, when she defeated defending gold medalist Serena Williams at 2016 Rio en route to a quarter-final finish.
She is now one round further in Tokyo, having converted 4 of her 11 break points to stem the tide of power-hitting from Giorgi, who had taken out No 5 seed and Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova in the round of 16.
The Italian struck 5 more winners, but her 9 more unforced errors proved the difference on the day.
It was smooth sailing early for Svitolina, who leapt to a 5-1 lead in the first set, but Giorgi saved 2 set points in that game, and a 3rd at 5-3, to pull back within a single game.
Serving out the set at her second time of asking, however, Svitolina prevailed.
The second followed a similar pattern, as Svitolina again went up a double-break for 4-1 before Giorgi clawed one back to edge to 4-3, but the Ukrainian dropped only one more point on serve the rest of the way, closing out the win with an ace.
“It was a really good match today, I think one of the better ones I’ve played here,” said Svitolina, who needed 3 sets in each of her 3 prior wins this week. “Definitely helps me for my next match.”
Later, No 9 seed Belinda Bencic of Switzerland also booked a spot in the semi-finals, as she outlasted 13th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 6-0 3-6 6-3, in their quarter-final encounter.
Pavlyuchenkova, the 2021 Roland Garros runner-up, had dropped a mere 7 games in her first 3 matches of the week in Tokyo, but Bencic was able to extend her hefty head-to-head lead over the Russian to 5-2 with her 2 hour 13 minute win under the brutal Japanese sun.
The Swiss won just over half of the points when she was returning serve, spurring her on to 6 breaks in the match, after she had stormed through the 25-minute bagel first set, which ended with a Pavlyuchenkova double-fault.
The Russian fought back well in the second, though, during which she had 13 winners to Bencic’s 5.
The final set opened with a lengthy 4-deuce game, which Bencic eventually won to take control of the decider, and she clung to that lead as she fended off all of the Pavlyuchenkova’s chances to level.
Pavlyuchenkova held 3 break points late in the set, but she was unable to pull back on serve following weary miscues and, in the end, Bencic used spectacular returns to earn another break in the final game of the match, clinching her spot in the medal rounds.
In the last quarter-final of the day, played in cooler conditions, Elena Rybakina upset the No 7 seed Garbiñe Muguruza from Spain, 7-5 6-1, after an hour 33 minutes on Court 2.
The 25th seed from Kazakhstan edged out the tightly contested first set and then ran away with the second in a match in which both played with similar styles but Rybakina stole the march.
It left the last Grand Champion at Tokyo 2020 out of medal contention after 100 minutes of bruising rallies.
The first break of the match came in the 12th game of the opening set when the Kazakh broke to claim the set 7-5 in 47 minutes, registering more winners than Muguruza, 12 to 5, and fewer unforced errors, 13 to 15.
The Spaniard called for the trainer at the end of the set and took an off court medical timeout, but it did not shift Rybakina’s momentum, while Muguruza struggled to find her rhythm on her return.
The second set slipped away from the Spaniard’s grasp after she was broken for a second time in the match in the 4th game, and she soon fell 1-4 down when she was broken again.
Rybakina served it out, having dominated the set with 13 winners against Muguruza’s 4 to advance to the semi-finals where she will play Bencic.
Although Muguruza was marginally more successful on serve, Rybakina struck more aces, 6-4, and won more points for the match at 70 to 48.