NEW YORK – There were three or four days during the first week of the US Open that were unbearably hot and humid, right into the night.
There were retirements, cramping, see-through shorts, dripping ball caps and a new heat rule for the men after the third set.
After a brief respite, the heat wave has returned. And on Monday, during the fourth-round singles matches, it might have been even more humid.
Novak Djokovic managed to finish off Portugal’s Joao Sousa in straight sets. But he didn’t look very good. And he felt even worse.
“Yeah, heat was the – what do you call it – (adversary) today. It is what it is. I’ve experienced that in the first round. It’s tough, you know. It’s not easy to play in these kind of conditions,” Djokovic said. “At the same time, you can’t do anything but try to be tough and survive, you know, find a way to win.”
Once the shadow passed over Arthur Ashe and Louis Armstrong Stadiums and left the courts in shade, things were marginally better. Same on the Grandstand, where Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko looked for all the world as though she might pull the rip cord after losing the first set to Marketa Vondrousova.
But she didn’t. She hung in there until the court was in shade. And even if the air was just as unbreathable, at least the sun wasn’t beating down on her head. She prevailed, 67 (7) 75 2 in 2 1/2 hours that probably felt like four.
“I’m feeling much better. I’ve been into the ice bath. I think it was some type of heat illness or something like that. And I have to say that I’ve never felt so bad on court. … I usually handle any kind of weather without any problem. But today was one of the toughest matches in my life,” Tsurenko said afterwards.
“The worst for me is that I cannot control my body, so I start to do some easy mistakes. At some point I just thought that it’s over for me for today,” she said. “But then at the beginning of the second set, I could feel like a breeze, like a little wind, and it was cooler. Then I saw the shade, and I thought, ‘Okay, I will try’. I give myself some hope.”
Not as hot, but worse?
Tsurenko said it felt much hotter last Tuesday, for her first-round match. But she didn’t feel nearly as badly – dizzy, eyes unfocused, having trouble breathing – as she did Monday. That’s Slam pressure. And it’s also a cumulative thing after Tsuenko played singles on another steamy day, Thursday, and upset No. 2 seed Caroline Wozniacki.
Her opponent, Vondrousova, didn’t buy it, although she appeared on court as though she could fully relate to the struggle, and was having one of her own.
Vondrousova cut off Q about Tsurenko visibly struggling in #USOpen heat.
"I don't think she was struggling so much. She was just acting. She played normally; it was just acting."
She later added: "It's weird. She's like 30. Why can you do that? It's just weird. I don't get it."
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) September 3, 2018
Second (heat) wave
For four days last week, the players were dropping like flies. Among the retirements in the early rounds were Ricardas Berankis, Leonardo Mayer, Sam Querrey, Marius Copil, Stefano Travaglia, Mikhail Youzhny and more. Not all were because of the heat. But most were.
Players like Novak Djokovic and Fernando Verdasco hit the … ice bath during the new 10-minute heat break. Dripping shirts littered the courts. And it’s hard for a mere mortal to imagine what it feels like when you go and sit down in your chair every two games, and feel like you’re sitting in a puddle because you can only leave the court twice in a five-set match and your shorts, soaking wet, probably feel twice as heavy.
Canadian Vasek Pospisil – in the 95th percentile of perspiring players – even changed his shorts on court, under a towel.
Here are some shots from last week’s heat wave – those who survived, and those who are done.