This Australian Open Extreme Heat Policy Is Ridiculous

ICYMI, it’s hot in Australia right now. Like, see-Snoopy-and-faint hot. Like, if-your-body-temperature-was-this-high-you-would-be-dead hot.

After three days of nearly insufferable temperatures–all well above 100 degrees–the Australian Open finally decided to enact their extreme heat policy to stop play until it was “safe” to go out there again.

But, because things make sense, there are people out there still playing tennis. Not all people, but some. Am I confusing you? Well, that’s because this whole thing is confusing. (And stupid.)

Here are the highlights of the policy, from the Australian Open website:

At the Referee’s discretion, the Tournament Referee may suspend the commencement of any further matches on outside courts;

Any matches currently in progress will continue until the end of the current set. At the completion of the set, play will be suspended;

Where play in any match commences outdoors (or with a roof open), the match will continue until the completion of the set. At the end of the set a decision will be made by the Referee to close to the roof for the remainder of the match and the following matches, where the EHP is still in effect (On Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena);

A roof will only be closed because of extreme heat if a decision has been made by the Referee to suspend the completion or commencement of matches on the outdoor courts; When the EHP has been implemented, the Tournament Referee will suspend the calling of any further matches on outside courts;

The break will not apply between the second and third sets if play had previously been suspended after the first set due to EHP.

During the suspension of play, the Referee will review the conditions and make a decision as to whether the EHP is still in force. A player will be given at least 30 minutes notice prior to the resumption of play. Announcements will be made via the public address system.

Today, when it was 107 degrees very early in the afternoon, this vague policy went into effect, stopping play. That sounds reasonable. Among others, Young and Seppi were taken off court after the fourth set, and Tsonga and Bellucci paused after the first set so they could close the roof. (Why you wouldn’t start the day with the roof closed is beyond me…)

But other players kept going. Most notably, Sharapova and Knapp, who were into a third set. A third set without a third-set tiebreaker. A third set that ended up going to 10-8. That is absolutely RIDICULOUS. If it is too hot on one court to be playing, it’s too hot everywhere. I mean, tennis sets can last 20 minutes or they can last 1 hour and 20 minutes.

I’m listening to Craig Tiley talk to Pammy on ESPN right now, and it seems the end-of-set rule is put into place so that the pause doesn’t stop momentum. But, in theory, the heat rule could come into effect when a set is at 1-0, meaning they’d have to play an entire set while everyone else sat inside because the heat was too dangerous!

Sure, I get that it shouldn’t be like rain delays where the players have to stop mid game, but seeing as “discretion” is a HUGE part of this already confusing rule, why not let the umpires apply such discression to individual matches? Sure, if they’re in a tiebreaker, don’t stop that. But once it gets to a changeover? If the match has just started? If they’re in a third set that could never end? Stop it.

It’s already ridiculously stupid to have a tennis tournament in these types of conditions. At least use some common sense and protect these athletes, not to mention the fans, ball boys, linesmen, and referees.

As for the players? Yeah, they’re not happy:

The Australian Open usually does a great job of taking care of the players–at least when compared to the other slams–but this is something they need to work on. The EHP needs to become more transparent, more practical, and more evenly distributed for it to be at all effective, and it needs to happen quickly–this isn’t a problem that’s going away any time soon.

Lindsay is an author, a filmmaker, a long-winded blogger, and a huge tennis fan.

7 Responses

  1. Judity
    Judity January 16, 2014 at 3:35 am |

    I don’t get it–Every year it’s the same thing. They know it’ll be scorching hot…Keep the roofs closed!

  2. Winslow York
    Winslow York January 16, 2014 at 4:34 am |

    This is an abuse to the athletes, seriously?! Why isn’t the roof shut. If it’s 44 degrees celsius outside then how hot would it be on the court, possibly 60? I don’t really know. However, since the option exists to close the roof, then why don’t they? It’s uncomfortable for the spectators and the players and it’s extremely dangerous. Why isn’t the Victorian Workcover Authority looking into this? Construction workers are instructed to go home when the temperature reaches 35 degrees due to health and safety reasons so I cannot understand why a roof can’t be closed at the tennis….it’s just ridiculous and unsafe.

  3. Max
    Max January 16, 2014 at 12:20 pm |

    Many activities were cancelled yesterday in Melbourne and the AO still had dozens of ballkids (minors) out on inhumane temperatures. Is that even legal?

  4. James
    James January 16, 2014 at 1:12 pm |

    I understand why they wouldn’t close the roof from the get-go. 1) It may not get as hot as they say it will get (least plausible excuse). But I think 2) they don’t want to seem to favor the top name players who inevitably play in a space where there actually IS a roof. Would it be fair to player X who played all his matches outdoors in the (not as yet extreme) heat to meet up with someone in the finals who because of scheduling, got to play all his matches in a/c?

    But I’m with you re: discretion to stop match play because of the heat. It’s almost like rain / lightning where conditions are simply unplayable. With the heat, you may have a few extra minutes to wrap up, but not close to an hour. This is a case where people are blindly following rules without taking 10 mins to have a quick meeting to say: This is getting RIDICULOUS.

  5. Patrick of La Verne
    Patrick of La Verne January 17, 2014 at 3:41 pm |

    Well, the Aussies have always been pioneers in the area of women’s suff(e)rage, mate.

  6. Sandra G
    Sandra G January 17, 2014 at 4:18 pm |

    I was there watching yesterday , Friday 17 Jan, it was a disgrace they did not invoke the EHP. Firstly they new it was going to be 44 Celsius and northerly winds coming off 3 days of over 40C temps, and they DID NOT CLOSE THE ROOF??
    We were on Hisense arena in the shade and the heat from the northerlies kicked in and just got hotter. It peaked when Li NA was playing at 1 set all. Of course we ask the patron services if the roof is going to close and they say some SPIN like there are a lot of rules for that to come into play and we are told last!! But have now idea of who to complain to if you are thinking this is completely ridiculous conditions. Why do we have a roof, billions of dollars were just spent on upgrades of tax payers money, including Margaret Court(not yet completed), to get a roof but it can’t be used in extreme heat event, that has created bushfires all over Victoria. So it just got hotter and St Johns Ambulance was carting people away from heat exhaustion and were flat out with this. Down stairs in the foyer were hundreds of spectators watching the TV on the floor rather than in the stadium, is that why you pay for a reserved seat!!!! Disgraceful referee decisions, needs a recheck. So hundreds of spectators were downstairs ’til Berdich came on for his match, we went back up after 4.30 as a wall of heat for Li Na’s third set made it intolerable, as well as the smoke in the air(from Bush fires), there were stacks of people who had left by then and did not come back. We buy the reserved seat to get the roof shut in extreme heat. Why do we have roofs. The biggest baloney trotted out is the unfair advantage of those playing in the day with roof closed as to those on outside courts, well why on earth do we have night matches then! Everyone knows night matches are a lot less intense for heat. A scheduling bonanza for those on Hi sense and Rod Laver I would think!
    As for common sense, there are Work Health and Safety rules for workers outside, and usually they kick in at 38C, so why are the line umpires and ballkids (volunteers) subjected to this extreme heat which is abusive to children , as they clearly had their health put second here. Photographers, were out there to, but I assume freelance maybe can choose to go. Camera men , not sure about them from Channel 7, what would Worksafe think of that. Let alone that we have been told all week to stay out of the heat and keep cool by emergency services. WHY DID WE SPEND MONEY ON THE ROOFS?????

  7. Robert
    Robert January 19, 2014 at 10:59 pm |

    Why don’t they move the Australian Open back a month to late February? Would that effect the rest of the year’s tournaments that much?

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