The heat is on Down Under


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Complaining about the heat at the Australian Open is like moaning about the rain at Wimbledon.

It happens.

"In Perth," sniffed one journalist from Western Australia, "we don't use the word 'hot' until there's a '4' in front of it."

For those of you in Jamaica, Belize and a few other assorted countries including the U.S., 40 degrees Celsius is 104 degrees Fahrenheit. In Melbourne on Tuesday, Day 2 of the Australian Open, it was 105 at 1 p.m. local time with temperatures expected to reach 108. Forecasts call for 106, 109 and 108 the next three days.

The hottest Open on record was in 2009, when the average temperature was 34.7 degrees (94.46).

Of course, it's a dry heat here (as they say in Arizona), which means very little when people are sweating through their clothes and onto the person sitting next to them.

Hot is hot, especially on court, where the hard courts absorb the heat and can produce yet more extreme temperatures even after the air cools (it's predicted to be 68 on Saturday).

In the meantime, the Australian Open has an extreme heat policy in place, in which play can be halted by the tournament referee and retractable roofs on the Rod Laver and Hisense arenas can be closed before or during play (and the air conditioning turned on) as calculated by something called the "wet bulb global temperature reading" or WBGT (don't ask).

Players are also permitted longer breaks, consultations with trainers and are cautioned against over-drinking.

Yes, over-drinking.

"Look," said Dr. Tim Wood, the tournament's chief medical officer, "we have never had anybody die from dehydration on a tennis court. We have had players almost die from drinking too much."

The players, most of whom would sooner sit through a news conference than admit to any vulnerability, seem to be taking the heat in stride.

"It's the same for myself and my opponent," said four-time Open champ Novak Djokovic, who is considered one of the fittest players in the game but retired because of heat exhaustion against Andy Roddick in 2009. "So you have to adjust to it."

"I actually enjoy [it]," said two-time defending champ Victoria Azarenka. "I mean, not all the time probably, but it's nice to get some sun."

Still, there are exceptions.

Andy Murray said it helps that he has trained in Florida, but only to an extent.

"It helps, but the difference between [90 F] or whatever in Florida and [104 F], it's huge. It feels very different on the court. The court just gets so hot. The air is extremely, extremely hot as well. In Miami, there tends to be a breeze. Here when it's [104 F] degrees, it can be calm. The air feels warm in your face [and] your legs and feet burn. … You can't prepare for this heat."

Maria Sharapova was reminded of her three-set first-round victory over France's Camille Pin in 2007, after which she railed about the conditions.

"How could I forget?" Sharapova said. "I didn't feel too good after, no. It's tough. You're not really thinking so much about tennis as trying to really keep your mind focused on maybe keeping the points a little bit shorter. Obviously, the longer they go, the worse it is for both of you out there."

In the meantime, everyone is hot, but not everyone is moved.

"We had four straight days in December during the cricket [championships] at 41 [106 F]," said the Perth journalist. "We call it summer."