With the Australian Open qualifying just 10 days away, and the main event itself to begin in 17 days, the tournament announced a new heat policy Saturday.
As with the decision to end singles matches with 10-point tiebreaks, the tournament boasts of extensive consultation, research, etc. etc. – to a level NEVER BEFORE SEEN!
(Alexander Zverev and Rafa Nadal beg to differ on the former. But that’s a topic for another day).
They’re selling it as a “Grand Slam First”.
Which is big stuff for an extreme heat policy.
But if it’s an upgrade, they can market it however they want.
So … it is it?
Backing up their 2018 calls
There was plenty of fallout from the extreme heat during last year’s event – especially towards the end.
Notably, Simona Halep ended up in the hospital on an IV. And then, Roger Federer non-fans complained about preferential treatment as the roof was closed for his final against Marin Cilic.
And the conditions for Novak Djokovic vs. Gaël Monfils, notably, were off-the-charts inhuman.
But at the press conference where the “new” system was announced, tournament director Craig Tiley said the same decisions would have been made in 2018 under the new policy.
“One of the first things we did on the outcome of that data was to do an overlay of decisions that we’ve made over the past five years. It was aligned to all the decisions we made were correct under this new policy,” Tiley told the media in Melbourne Saturday.
As for Monfils vs. Djokovic? “On the (new) scale … the actions that were taken in that match would have been the same,” he said.
So how it is better, exactly?
Perhaps the tournament feels if the players are told it’s backed up by extreme science, they’ll feel … better about it?
“AO Heat Stress Scale”
They’re not telling us how they’re going to measure the new scale, exactly.
So that’s a minus. It’s all super top-secret. So we have to trust them.
You’d hope the expanded formula would take into consideration the actual temps on court. Those are typically quite a lot higher than the air temperature and, on some level, more indicative of what the players are dealing with.
But there’s no specific mention of that. Unless that’s what “radiant heat or the strength of the sun” means.
But, hey, they’ve rated the potential playing conditions from 1 to 5.
So let’s call it “Wet Bulb for Dummies”.
We’re guessing “cooling strategies” at DefCon 3 means ice towels.
When it’s a Mach “4”, the tournament will institute the 10-minute break after the second set for the women.
And, new this year – for equality’s sake – after the third set for the men.
The new system is the “result of cutting-edge research and testing into the specific effects of heat stress on tennis players” conducted by Tennis Australia’s medical personnel “in conjunction with the Thermal Ergonomics Laboratory at the University of Sydney.”
When the AO HSS hits “5”, they’ll suspend play, or not start matches.
Play will be stopped at an even number of games or at the conclusion of a tiebreak. On the roofed courts – Rod Laver, Hisense and Margaret Court – the same stoppage rules will apply.
At that point, they can close the roofs and resume play, even if it remains suspended on the outer courts.
Very scientific experiments
“The AO Heat Stress Scale takes advantage of the latest medical research into the effects of heat on the human body including the maximum heat stress an athlete can safely withstand, the sweat rate of that person and their core temperature,” Tennis Australia Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carolyn Broderick said in a press release.
“The scale also accounts for the physiological variances between adults, wheelchair and junior athletes while also taking into account the four climate factors – air temperature, radiant heat or the strength of the sun, humidity and wind speed – which affect a player’s ability to disperse heat from their body.”
Of course, every player has a different threshold in terms of withstanding heat. And every player sweats differently. And men and women are different, obviously. Not to mention they don’t play the same number of sets.
So it must be some sort of average or composite.
We don’t know. But it goes from “1” to “5”.
Tiley said the players will be able to benefit from seeing the “scale” go from 3 … to 4 … and perhaps to 5.
“I think what’s really important to note about this is that players can see the history of where the gauge is going on the continuum, and where is potentially would go so they can put their own (heat) strategies in place,” Tiley said. “Instead of one point in time when they’re told ‘We’re going to stop play’ or ‘We’re about to stop play’ .”
Not sure how logical that is, to be honest. The players already know when it’s hot. Really hot.
It’s not as though they can watch the arrow go from 4.1 to 4.2 to … 4.8 … and see that scary “5.0” number creeping up on them.
So when the scale that says “4” suddenly hits “5”, that’s EXACTLY what they’re going to hear. “We’re going to stop play.”
More measurements around the site
The tournament also will measure the conditions at more locations around the Melbourne Park site.
You hope they’ve also concocted some nifty little signage denoting the current conditions and HSS number. Maybe an arrow pointing to the relevant quadrant.
Perhaps a general alarm that goes off when the scale slides from 4.0 into danger territory at 5.0?
On the “making the best of it” side, the tournament is also adding more shaded areas.
And, for the kids, a 12-metre water slide along with a Super Soaker Blast and Misting tunnel. (Hopefully the grownups can partake as well).
When they get to five-Oh
It’s actually crazy when play gets suspended.
All of a sudden, some 60,000 people just disappear into thin air around the grounds. It becomes a veritable ghost town.
And then you see the players just itching to get back out on the practice courts as soon as the “all clear” is given. (Sometimes some of them cheat and sneak out there early).
Temperate temps for Week 1
We joke, but the heat in Australia is no laughing matter for the players or the fans.
It hasn’t been nearly as hot in the last few years – save a few days here and there – as it has been in the past.
The long-range forecast for the start of the tournament looks pretty doable.
The qualifying looks warm, but fine.
And the first week of the main draw – unless the humidity rises considerably – should be okay as well (per Accu-Weather).