Canadian Frank Dancevic slammed Australian Open organizers for forcing players to compete in “inhumane” conditions after he collapsed on court as temperatures rose to 41 degrees Celsius (108 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.
Dancevic, who collapsed during the second set of his first round match against France’s Benoit Paire on the uncovered court six at Melbourne Park and passed out for a minute, said conditions were plainly dangerous for the players.
“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 told reporters.
“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.
“Having players with so many problems and complaining to the tournament that it’s too hot to play, until somebody dies, they’re just keep going on with it and putting matches on in this heat.
“I personally don’t think it’s fair and I know a lot of players don’t think it’s fair.”
The tournament’s “extreme heat” contingency plan was put into force for women’s matches on Tuesday, allowing an extra 10-minute break between the second and third sets.
Under a change to the rules for this year, however, the decision on whether to stop matches at the tournament is now at the discretion of tournament director Wayne McKewen.
Rather than use the raw Celsius readings to assess the heat, organizers prefer to use the Wet Bulb Global Temperature composite, which also gauges humidity and wind to identify the perceived conditions.
Organizers said temperatures peaked at 42.2 degrees Celsius in the early evening on Tuesday and conditions had never reached the point where play would be stopped.
Officials have played down health risks, saying the majority of matches were completed without calls for medical attention.
“Of course there were a few players who experienced heat-related illness or discomfort, but none required significant medical intervention after they had completed their match,” Tim Wood, the tournament’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.
Dancevic, who said he had felt dizzy from the middle of the second set, resumed after medical attention but unsurprisingly ending up losing 7-6 6-3 6-4.
“I was really close to stopping completely,” he said. “I wasn’t really running too much towards the end. I wasn’t tired, I just felt my body temperature was too high.”
A ball boy had earlier required medical attention after collapsing during Milos Raonic’s 7-6(2) 6-1 4-6 6-2 victory over Daniel Gimeno-Traver on the equally exposed court eight.
A ball girl was treated for heat stress during a morning match, and the tournament shortened rotations for the ball kids to 45-minute shifts.
China’s Peng Shuai also said the heat had caused her to cramp up and vomit and she had to be helped from the court after her 7-5 4-6 6-3 defeat to Japan’s Kurumi Nara.
Players used metaphors and anecdotes to describe how hot it was.
“I put the (water) bottle down on the court and it started melting a little bit underneath — the plastic. So you know it was warm,” former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki said. “It felt like I was playing in a sauna.”
Wozniacki was luckier than most. She had a straight sets win in the morning when it was 38C (100F).
Sometimes a hot breeze stirred the air, making things worse, said No. 13-seeded John Isner, who retired from his first-round match with a right ankle injury.
“It was like an oven — when I open the oven and the potatoes are done. That’s what it’s like,” Isner said.
Two-time defending champion Victoria Azarenka agreed.
“It felt pretty hot, like you’re dancing in a frying pan or something like that,” she said after advancing to the second round.
Most competitors, though, followed Roger Federer’s line that, although conditions were tough, they were the same for both players.
“It’s just a mental thing,” the Swiss said, albeit before Dancevic collapsed. “If you’ve trained hard enough your entire life or the last few weeks and you believe you can do it and come through it, there’s no reason.
“If you can’t deal with it, you throw in the towel.”
“I don’t think it’s much to do with the shape the players are in, some players are used to the heat, their bodies can genetically handle the heat, and others can’t,” Dancevic said.
“Until somebody dies, they’re just going to keep playing matches in this heat.”
“It’s hazardous to be out there, it’s dangerous. It’s been an hour and a half after my match and I still can’t pee.”
(Files from the Associated Press were used in this report)