Two days in, and already you get the feeling Craig Tiley is going to remember his first year as Australian Open tournament director.
Monday: racial brawl. Tuesday: hallucinations, outrage and one player who thought his heart had stopped as the afternoon temperatures climbed into the silly zone. To think, it was only on Sunday we were all looking forward to the happy slam.
Generally speaking, Tiley and his staff have coped well with what this week has thrown at them.
Monday’s Serb-Croat stoush was the first violence many commentators remembered at a grand slam event, and it was handled quickly and efficiently. The swift ejection of those involved sent a zero-tolerance message for racial violence, and the promise of arrests shows that it is to be taken seriously.
Particularly admirable was the decision to escort the two groups away from Melbourne Park in different directions, a policy that seems to have prevented the clash simply carrying on in someone else’s backyard.
Yesterday was a different story. Anyone who watched Maria Sharapova’s mind melt, or heard Janko Tipsarevic’s account of the three hours 20 minutes he endured before forfeiting to David Nalbandian, will recognise that the afternoon session was a shambles.
The Open’s extreme heat policy has a hole in it large enough to drive a hearse through – namely that games begun once the heat policy is activated (basically once the air temperature clears 35 degrees and the humidity reaches a certain limit) must continue. No new matches begin because the conditions are deemed too dangerous, yet matches just underway continue, sometimes for three or four hours, in the same conditions.
Stadium roofs cannot be closed, because the players have backed a policy that says matches must be completed in the same conditions in which they started. Roger Federer supports this. After beating Max Mirnyi under cover during last year’s Australian Open, Federer said closing the roof mid-game “would be totally wrong. Either you do it all the way or you don’t.”
The obvious fallacy here is that mid-match roof closures regularly are accepted – when it rains.
So like Paul McNamee before him, Tiley’s hands are tied.
Heat exhaustion has long been accepted as a fact of life in Australian summer sport. It does not have to be.
But while the likes of Nalbandian bleat about the “disgusting” situation of playing when it’s hot, it’s worth remembering that the onus to change is on the players.