Four days into the 2014 Australian Open in Melbourne Park, officials finally halted tennis competitions under the complaints of players and fans as the sizzling heat reached 109 degrees (43 Celsius).
The games were stopped at 1:52p.m. Thursday, by tournament referee Wayne McEwen and were suspended until evening when temperatures dropped slightly. Play resumed around 6:00p.m.
It was the first time the Australian Open had been stopped under the extreme heat policy since 2009.
According to the Associated Press, some players complained the tournament should have been stopped sooner, since the blistering heat began to rise on Tuesday up to 108 degrees, causing players to faint or hallucinate.
Reportedly, almost 1,000 fans were treated at a local hospital for dehydration and heat exhaustion. The heat practically emptied out stadium seats on Thursday. Other competitors suffered from nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps.
American Varvara Lepchenko required medical attention and icing during her match-up with Romanian Simona Halep.
“At first I didn’t understand what was going on but then my legs, my arms started to get heavier. I couldn’t focus at one point and started feeling dizzier and dizzier,” said Lepchenko.
Safety and health issues were of paramount concern to athletes expected to play for several hours in searing heat.
Serena Williams, the world’s number one player said Wednesday she was losing sleep over the fear of dehydration.
The Guardian reported that Canadian Frank Dancevic, who collapsed during his first round on Tuesday, criticized tournament officials for the “inhumane” conditions in which they were forced to compete.
Dancevic described the conditions as being too “dangerous” for the players. He recalled a hallucination: “I was dizzy from the middle of the first set and then I saw Snoopy and I thought, ‘Wow Snoopy, that’s weird. I think it’s inhumane, I don’t think it’s fair to anybody, to the players, to the fans, to the sport, when you see players pulling out of matches, passing out,” he added. “I’ve played five set matches all my life and being out there for a set and a half and passing out with heat stroke, it’s not normal.
And Britain’s Andy Murray, who has made the finals three out of four years in the Australian Open, also expressed concern.
“Whether it’s safe or not, I don’t know. You’ve just got to be very careful these days,” said Murray. “There’s been some issues in other sports with, you know, players having heart attacks.”
A few players shrugged off the heat, but they were in the minority. Grand Slam winner Roger Federer seemed unfazed.
“Just deal with it, because it’s the same for both (players),” said Federer.
Matches interrupted due to excessive heat were listed by the Sydney Morning Herald as Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s match against Thomaz Bellucci and Andreas Seppi’s match again Donald Young. The Tsonga-Bellucci match restarted when the roof was closed on Hisense Arena.
Australia’s decades-long drought continues to threaten agricultural productivity. Climate change impacts have broken numerous records for hottest days since temperature recordings first began in 1910, with 2013 being the hottest year with many consecutive days above 100 degrees.
The Australian city of Adelaide, was declared the hottest city in the world on Thursday by the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization as it reached close to 114F (46 Celsius).
Temperatures in Melbourne are anticipated to peak on Friday at 111F (44 Celsius), but should drop substantially on Saturday.
The Australian Open is expected to continue cautiously, with extended breaks in between matches.