By JOHN PYE
MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova toiled in 43-degree Celsius (109 F) temperatures for more than 3 1/2 hours on Rod Laver Arena. Next up, Caroline Wozniacki played in what she considered “pleasant” and nearly room-temperature conditions under the roof on the same court at the Australian Open.
Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer also played later today — unusually simultaneously — in the more comfortable conditions after the tournament invoked its Extreme Heat Policy and the roofs on its two main arenas were closed. All matches on outside courts, meanwhile, were suspended for more than four hours until temperatures dropped.
For sure, the luck of the draw for today’s schedule of matches meant there were those who had to endure what some players referred to as “inhumane” conditions, and those who didn’t. Sharapova, Wozniacki, Nadal and Federer all won their matches, and certainly Sharapova’s was the most taxing.
Problems with the weather didn’t end after the temperatures subsided — thunderstorms, lightning and rain showers hit Melbourne Park during the early evening, forcing another hour-long suspension of play for matches on the outer courts.
That didn’t affect matches scheduled at Rod Laver Arena between defending champion Victoria Azarenka and Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, which was played under the roof, and No. 4 Andy Murray against Vincent Millot of France.
The roof was most definitely open to the gruesome elements several hours earlier when four-time major winner Sharapova was serving at 5-4 in the third set, 2 hours and 38 minutes into her second-round match against No. 44-ranked Karin Knapp.
The temperature was 39 C (102 F) when Sharapova’s match started just after 11 a.m. local time and increased to almost 43 C by the time she finished during the third straight day of a heat wave in sweltering Melbourne. At 3 hours and 28 minutes, it was the longest women’s match so far in the tournament.
“I wanted this match,” Sharapova said. “I didn’t play my best tennis; I didn’t do many things well … (but) I got through it, and sometimes that’s what’s important.”
At the height of the heat, Sharapova, dripping in sweat, wasted three match points on serve in the 10th game of the third set, and then had to save break points and serve to stay in the match.
She’ll next meet No. 25 Alize Cornet of France, who sobbed on court after beating Camila Giorgi of Italy 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 in 2 1/2 hours.
“I went really further than my limits. It was really hot, that’s why I’m so emotional,” Cornet said of the conditions.
Wozniacki had a 6-0, 1-6, 6-2 win over American Christina McHale. Federer played on the second show court at Melbourne Park for the first time in a decade, and raced to a 6-2, 6-1, 7-6 ( 4) win over Blaz Kavcic under the roof at Hisense Arena.
Federer said he didn’t mind the switch — he’d played 63 consecutive matches on Rod Laver since 2004.
“It was nice … it’s not really different to Rod Laver Arena really,” Federer said. “Dimensions feel the same, the crowds were really nice, great atmosphere. I was happy playing there.”
He was playing at the same time as Nadal for the first time in years at Melbourne Park. Nadal had no trouble in a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Australian wild-card entry Thanasi Kokkinakis under the roof on Rod Laver Arena.
In the only men’s match completed before the Extreme Heat Policy was invoked, No. 16 Kei Nishikori had a 6-1, 6-1, 7-6 (3) win over Dusan Lajovic. He will next play American Donald Young, who beat No. 24 Andreas Seppi 6-4, 2-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 in one of the matches suspended for nearly four hours due to the heat.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga started his match under the blazing sun and finished it with a roof over the court in beating Thomaz Bellucci 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-4 at Hisense Arena.
Wozniacki said she didn’t think the conditions would make it tougher next week for those who had to endure the worst part of the heat on Thursday.
“Obviously, it’s all about recovery, going into the ice baths, keeping cool, staying indoors as much as you can. I think all the players are very fit, so I’m sure they recover very well,” Wozniacki said.
Crowd numbers have been down compared with previous years at Melbourne Park, and hardy fans have had to be resourceful to keep cool, seeking shelter where ever they can. The concourse level at Rod Laver Arena, where tickets are not needed for entry, was crammed with hundreds of fans trying to escape the outside temperatures.