Melbourne – Maria Sharapova demanded more clarity from organisers on their heat policy Thursday after surviving a brutal three-hour marathon in scorching conditions at the Australian Open.
The third seed battled through a third set lasting nearly two hours to overcome Karin Knapp 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 in temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius.
The conditions were so tough that organisers suspended play at the tournament midway through the third set. However, under tournament rules, Sharapova and Knapp had to finish the set before coming off.
“There is no way getting around the fact that the conditions were extremely difficult, and have been for the last few days,” she said.
“I mean, I think the question I have is no one really knows what the limit is. Not the players; the trainers themselves, when you ask them when will the roof be closed?
“No one actually knows what that number is in comparison to humidity or the actual heat.
“Sometimes you wish you know, because it just depends on I'm not sure who, a referee or the meteorologist, and there are just a lot of questions in the air that maybe should be solved.”
France's Alize Cornet was also left wondering about the heat policy, noting that conditions were very similar on Tuesday when temperatures peaked at 42.2 Celsius.
“On Tuesday I wonder why they didn't stop play. It was like an oven,” she said. “The wind was scorching, and some people fainted. “They shouldn't go to such an extreme.
“Why today and not on Tuesday? The conditions are similar, it's maybe one degree more. It looks like their decision is made a bit on the fly, and that's a pity.”
The Australian Open has an extreme heat policy, introduced in 1998, which relies on the “wet bulb global temperature” – a complex calculation factoring air temperature, humidity, wind and sunlight.
The discretionary policy has only occasionally been invoked, with play halted and the roof on the main stadiums closed. The last time it was used was in 2009, the hottest Australian Open on record.
Sharapova claimed she had never received any official emails or warnings about the weather from the organisers, and said they owed it to players to be more open.
“I would love to know a bit more detail before – not even before I get on the court, but just in general it's good to know,” she said.
“I didn't even know there was no play when I left the court. I mean, I had no idea.
“But it seems a little strange that the WTA Tour trainers don't know what that (extreme heat policy) threshold is.”
While Sharapova came through Thursday's match unscathed, she still has vivid memories of 2007 when she played in searing heat at Melbourne against France's Camille Pin after which she said she was “so delusional I couldn't think”.
She suggested Thursday that organisers should shelve the current rule forcing players to finish their set when the extreme heat policy is invoked.
“I think in the third set for the women and the fifth set for the men, if you know that there is no tiebreaker, officials can't just rely on maybe the set will go fast and the set will be over and will we will be off court,” she said.
“Because we have no tiebreaker in that last set. So that's what you have to consider. I think our match was an example of that.”
The Russian four-time Grand Slam champion also said in extreme heat, officials should give players more time between points than the usual time of 20 seconds.
“I think it should be for the safety of the players, definitely.” – Sapa-AFP