Heat wave keeps fans away from Oz Open

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iol spt jan21 Aussie Open courts Reuters Attendance during last week's five-day record heat wave in Melbourne will be felt directly on the bottom line of the Australian Open. Picture: Reuters/Jason Reed

Melbourne – Attendance during last week's five-day record heat wave in Melbourne will be felt directly on the bottom line of the Australian Open.

Officials are said to have accepted the fact that crowds will be sharply down at this edition, with a decrease of almost 50,000 fans coming through the gates during the first week.

While total numbers in the 600,000 range have been the norm for the innovative major, there won't be any records set at this edition, with punters staying away to escape heat that cracked the sweltering 44 Celsius barrier at times during the first week.

Matches on outside courts were interrupted for four hours at one point under the Open's heat rule, and some showcourt contests had to be played under one of the two closed roofs available at Melbourne Park. The last time the rule sas put into effect was 2009.

With bean-counters already crunching the numbers, the figures do not make pleasant reading, with 46,833 less fans coming into the grounds.

While the heat began to be replaced by a cool change last Friday afternoon, numbers declined on the day by 13,000 and even cool temperatures on the middle weekend did not help that much, with fewer people around the grounds.

Retired Andy Roddick has tried to calm the hysteria over last week's Australian Open heat wave, with the former number one reminding that hot weather is an integral part of the allure and challenge of the first major of the season played in the Southern summer.

Speaking during a conference call for a senior event, the 31-year-old laid down his opinion: “Part of me finds it entertaining that every time we go down to Australia we act surprised that it's hot outside,” he Roddick.

“It's funny, the guys who have the reputation for being prepared aren't the guys keeling over. You're never going to see Roger outwardly showing heat. You're not going to see Rafa doing it. You're not going to see Novak anymore; you're not going to see him doing it.”

Roddick, who reached four semi-finals in Melbourne, said that he always preferred to play with the roof open no matter what the temperature.

“Frankly I hated it when they closed the roof. I felt like I was prepared.

“It was a different tennis tournament once they put it indoors. Do we need to make extreme things (closing the roof, shutting down play) because guys are struggling in the heat? I don't know.

“Personally I don't think so. I think as athletes we push our bodies to do things that aren't normal, and frankly that's what we get paid for. I can't feel it. When you play there, it's brutal. It feels like you're playing in a hairdryer, but that's all part of it.

“Each Slam presents its own unique set of challenges and you kind of have to attack it accordingly.”


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