Boiling point at Australian Open

TENNIS

Almost 1000 tennis fans have been treated for heat exhaustion at the Australian Open as soaring temperatures forced the suspension of nearly all matches yesterday.

Tournament referee Wayne McEwen applied the extreme heat policy at Melbourne Park about 1.52pm, suspending all play on outdoor courts. Not long after 6pm, play was resuming on the outside courts.

Temperatures hit 43.3 degrees on day four of the grand slam and McEwen deemed the conditions unsafe for players.

It is the first time the extreme heat policy has been applied at the Australian Open since 2009, when the tournament was suspended on consecutive days with temperatures reaching as high as 45 degrees.

Victorian Emergency Services Minister Kim Wells said St John's Ambulance staff had treated 970 people for heat exhaustion at the tournament so far.

While players on the outside courts retreated to the shade once they had finished the sets under way, matches on Rod Laver Arena and Hisense Arena continued once the roofs on both courts had been closed.

This year the extreme heat policy was modified to give the tournament referee more discretion about stopping play when the temperature exceeded a predetermined threshold.

At the time the suspension was announced, No 3 seed Maria Sharapova and Italian Karin Knapp were locked in a tense final-set decider, having been on court for nearly three hours. They played for a further 50 minutes after the announcement before Sharapova eventually triumphed 10-8 in the third set.

Matches interrupted because of the extreme heat policy included Jo-Wilfried Tsonga v Thomaz Bellucci and Andreas Seppi v Donald Young. The Tsonga-Bellucci match restarted when the roof was closed on Hisense Arena.

Vanquished Brazilian Bellucci has called for a twilight start to the Australian Open on days when extremely hot conditions make it "impossible" for players to perform at their peak.

Open officials yesterday applied the extreme heat policy for the first time this week as temperatures soared above 40 degrees for the third day in a row.

But its implementation was of no use to Bellucci, who was forced to play on - albeit under a closed roof at Hisense Arena - after dropping the first set against French 10th seed Tsonga.

Bellucci, a qualifier who had already played four matches before his third-round encounter with Tsonga, eventually departed, physically spent, with a 7-6 (8-6) 6-4 6-4 loss.

"Every point I was thinking to give up," he said.

"But, anyway, I was fighting to at least end the match.

"When I lost the first set, it was very hard for me to win three more sets, so I was just playing, because I didn't want to retire.

"I was very tired and it was impossible to beat him in four or five sets."

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