Sunday 15 December 2019

Monfils gets hot under collar over soaring temperatures

Gael Monfils speaks to an official during his match against Novak Djokovic. Photo: Reuters
Gael Monfils speaks to an official during his match against Novak Djokovic. Photo: Reuters

Simon Briggs

France's Gael Monfils warned Australian Open organisers that they were "taking a risk" by asking players to compete in a brutal Melbourne heatwave yesterday.

Monfils said that he had experienced "a small heat stroke" as he faced Novak Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena, where on-court temperatures were reported to have climbed to between 45C and 50C.

Although he eventually regrouped to complete this second-round match - which Djokovic won 3-6, 6-3, 6-1, 6-3 - Monfils looked like he might be forced to retire early on.

At the 4-3 changeover in the second set, he told chair umpire John Blom: "If I can't take longer than 25 seconds between points, I am going to collapse."

Later, in the interview room, Monfils expanded on his theme. He did not make any reference to the roof on Rod Laver Arena - although this could have been closed to keep temperatures down.

"It puts you under so much pressure with the heat," Monfils said. "Then you rush. Honestly, I played two sets on half a breath, for nothing, just to please the official. So, at the end, it's a bit risky."

The Australian Open has a heat rule which involves both heat and humidity, stating that "the referee will initiate the Extreme Heat Policy" - and thus suspend play - "once the ambient temperature exceeds 40C and the Wet Bulb index exceeds 32.5C".

But when Djokovic spoke to reporters after the match, he sounded unconvinced by the rule.

"I'm not so sure about that, to be honest," he said.

"There are certain days where you just have to, as a tournament supervisor, recognise that you might need to give players a few extra hours until it (the temperature) comes down.

"There is a limit - a level of tolerance between being fit and being in danger in terms of health. It was right at the limit."

Perhaps Djokovic deserved to benefit from his superior conditioning. But it was uncomfortable to watch the way Monfils, normally one of the best athletes on the tour, was doubling over in exhaustion and leaning on his racket after the longer rallies.

As Monfils received serve at 3-3 in the second set, he made no attempt to move towards the ball. Indeed, he looked disappointed when one of Djokovic's serves was called out, because he was already tottering towards his chair.

Broadcasting sources suggested that Djokovic had requested an afternoon slot when he had the option of playing in cooler conditions last night.

If so, the tactic was successful. Monfils might have produced the better tennis in the first set but he was unable to keep up with Djokovic's resilience.

After the match, he described his experience.

"I get super dizzy," Monfils said.

"I think I have a small heat stroke for 40 minutes. I try to cool down. But even with the ice towel, the water, I think my body was super warm. It was tough."

In a statement, the Australian Open said: "The health of our players is of paramount concern, but we need to be consistent with the outside courts so some don't get an unfair advantage."

Temperatures in Melbourne are expected to rise even further today, to 40C in the shade, which could be enough to trigger a suspension of play.

Irish Independent

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