Fears over the Melbourne heat increased on Wednesday when Ivan Dodig, one of the ATP Tour’s fiercest competitors, confessed he feared death after his Australian Open encounter with Damir Dzumhur of Bosnia.
Once again, temperatures peaked at over 40 degrees Celsius on Day 3 of the year’s opening Grand Slam, and Dodig was forced to retire from his match during the fourth set.
Half an hour later, he was unable to move, fearing that his body may cave in to dehydration.
Simon Briggs of the Telegraph provides the quotes:
Today, 30 minutes after the match I could not walk. There was 10 people around me. I was thinking I could maybe even die here.
I think we deserve that somebody listen to the voice of the players. You can make a gap for a couple of hours; lets say from 1 to 4pm. We have lights on the courts, TV can adapt a bit and it’s better for us if we play everybody on the night session.
Dodig’s claims come less than 24 hours after a series of heat-related episodes on Tuesday, which saw Peng Shuai vomit on court.
Two other individuals became faint in the intense heat, while Caroline Wozniacki gave her own account of how the conditions were affecting players:
Caroline Wozniacki on the Melbourne heat: "I put a bottle down on the court and the plastic started melting a little bit" #AustralianOpen— tennishead (@tennishead) January 14, 2014
England’s Andy Murray, who spent barely any time on court as he advanced beyond Go Soeda, expressed his own concerns at the risk posed to players:
Andy Murray is concerned that "something bad could happen to one of the players" if matches aren't suspended at #AusOpen due to extreme heat— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) January 14, 2014
Dodig’s words, though, will resonate strongest. The fear of death, from a renowned fighter like the Croatian, must surely spark concerns among tournament organisers.
The dilemma is a difficult one for those organisers. The logistics of delaying play—even for three hours, like Dodig suggests—would require a vast rearranging of staff, including on-site medics, security and ground officials.
Fans who have purchased tickets would also have to adjust their plans, while players would be forced to play later into the evening.
Extending the competition to play fewer matches per day is not an option, given that big Davis Cup ties are scheduled five days after the tournament final. For travel reasons alone, that gap in between is required.
Additionally, opinion is split over health risks to the players. Chief medical officer Tim Wood told ESPN there is little serious risk posed by the heat:
"A lot of people get hot and look distressed," Wood said. "The actual risk to the health is relatively small compared with other sports."
Mikhail Youzhny, who played five sets against Florian Mayer, commented via Briggs' Telegraph article: “It’s hot, but it’s okay. Everyone is out there playing.”
Should players be forced to play in the heat?
Ultimately, while medical advisors are not concerned, play will more than likely progress during the next two weeks.
Dodig’s fears of death will undoubtedly build pressure on organisers. However, without intent to disrespect the Croatian, his status within the sport is arguably not great enough to spark change.
Should Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer express similar fears, it will be interesting to see how quickly tournament officials are prompted to make an official statement.
Until that time, the show will go on.