Every year tennis players brace themselves for potentially oppressive weather at the Australian Open — but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with when the intense heat does arrive.
Just ask Gael Monfils.
Monfils suspected that he suffered a heat stroke in his outing against Novak Djokovic Thursday, when the thermometer — according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology — peaked at 39.9 degrees Celsius in Melbourne.
Commentators claimed temperatures on court were even higher, soaring to 60 degrees Celsius.
The Frenchman managed to see out his second-round match after a visit from the tournament doctor, but he lost to Djokovic 4-6 6-3 6-1 6-3 in another eventful encounter between the pair who have both recently been hampered by injuries.
“I got super dizzy,” said Monfils, who fell to his 15th straight defeat by the 12-time grand slam winner.
“I think I had a small heat stroke for 40 minutes. Couldn’t feel fresh.”
Monfils trained in the heat of Miami in the off-season — a base in the past for three-time grand slam champion Andy Murray — but said it was no match for what he encountered on Rod Laver Arena.
“Was pretty hot in Miami,” said Monfils. “I thought I was very good. I’m telling you, I was dying on the court for 40 minutes.”
Even six-time Australian Open champion Djokovic described the weather as “brutal.”
He has had his own issues with the heat, memorably at the 2009 Australian Open against Andy Roddick and 2014 US Open against Kei Nishikori.
“It was obvious that we both suffered today,” the Serb, playing his second official match after missing six months with an elbow problem, told on-court interviewer Jim Courier and the crowd.
“Really tough conditions, brutal, especially for the first hour and a half.
“I was coming into the match knowing it was going to be a big challenge for both of us. Just hanging in there, trying to use every single opportunity that is presented. Obviously he wasn’t at his best at the end of the second and the entire third set.”
Courier — the former No. 1 and Australian Open winner — told Djokovic he would limit his questions so the 30-year-old could escape the heat, prompting this reply: “You can ask me as many questions as you want in the locker room, ice bath.”
Rafael Nadal, who contests his third-round match Friday when the temperature is forecast to rise to 42 degrees Celsius, called for organizers to use the roof on the three courts that have cover at Melbourne Park — as much for the fans as players. That didn’t happen Thursday.
There was continuous play as the tournament’s extreme heat policy wasn’t implemented.
‘No shame in giving up’
Monfils spared a thought for those in action Friday.
“Good luck to them,” he said. “I think sometimes, yeah, we put our body at risk. Just be smart. If you have to give up, it’s not a shame.”
Monfils appeared to be the player most affected Thursday. No players retired and men’s fifth seed Dominic Thiem even engineered a two-set comeback, rallying against American Denis Kudla 6-7 (6-8) 3-6 6-3 6-2 6-3.
Two-time grand slam champion Garbine Muguruza and Briton Johanna Konta were upset in the open women’s draw but neither blamed the conditions, while Maria Sharapova set up a blockbuster clash with resurgent 2016 champion Angelique Kerber.
Wimbledon champion Muguruza suffered from full body cramps amid the heat in Brisbane earlier in January and withdrew mid-tournament in Sydney, foreshadowing a rocky Australian Open.
Sure enough, world No. 88 Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan defeated Muguruza 7-6 (7-1) 6-4, while twice grand slam semifinalist Konta — downed by Hsieh at the French Open last May — fell to lucky loser Bernarda Pera 6-4 7-5.
Kerber on a roll
Like Muguruza, Konta endured fitness concerns in the build up to the year’s first major, retiring in the Brisbane quarterfinals with a hip injury prior to a first-round exit in Sydney.
Kerber registered an 11th straight win to begin 2018 in beating Donna Vekic 6-4 6-1, with Sharapova getting the better of her conqueror at the US Open, Anastasija Sevastova, 6-1 7-6 (7-4).
Women’s No. 1 Simona Halep showed no ill-effects from the ankle injury she sustained in the first round, comfortably dispatching 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard 6-2 6-2 in the night session.
Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 US Open winner, overcame a medical timeout for a left leg injury to oust Karen Khachanov 6-4 7-6 (7-4) 6-7 (0-7) 6-4.
Argentine Del Potro is one of the danger men for Roger Federer in the Swiss’ quarter of the draw but another one, seventh seed David Goffin, was upset by veteran Julien Benneteau 1-6 7-6 (7-5) 6-1 7-6 (7-4).
Federer faces Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in Thursday’s second night match on Rod Laver Arena.