FLUSHING MEADOWS, NY – What has been the hot topic of conversation (literally) at the US Open the last few days?
The weather – the heat and humidity and the brutal playing conditions for the athletes, and for the fans watching.
It’s like this is some new drama, with the level of “something MUST BE DONE IMMEDIATELY!!” off the charts. That’s sort of the instant-outrage world we’re living in these days.
Yes, the conditions have been brutal. Some of the matches have been absolutely attritional – not to mention recovery for the next match a huge challenge. And who knows what the long-term affects might be.
And, of course, the warming of the planet is an ongoing topic that concerns us all.
But so much of this is the rapidly-shrinking institutional memory, and our collective gnat-sized attention span.
Because here’s the thing: at the US Open, it is literally … an old story. It’s just that the noise is louder this time. Because everything is louder these days.
There’s generally always a period during every US Open when the heat and humidity goes off the charts for a few days. Very occasionally, it lasts longer than that. But it’s long been part of the challenge of winning the final Grand Slam tournament of the season.
And with all the talk about the roofs (it’s marginally better inside with them, but they cause other issues including increased humidity because Arthur Ashe Stadium is just an unmanageable barn in terms of climate control), just imagine what it’s like for those who don’t even have that option. That’s those out on … all the other courts where there aren’t, and will never be, roofs.
The big question, beyond the noise, is what people think they should DO about it? That’s the thornier one. Perhaps the unanswerable one.
Here are a few examples, from memory.
2021 – leaving it ALL on the court
It was the second round of qualifying, and Oscar Otte of Germany met Constant Lestienne in an absolute tussle that came down to the third-set tiebreak.
There were some interruptions, though; whether it was the technicolour yawn in the corner of the court (imagine continuing to play while a court attendant gingerly wipes up your vomit just feet away) or tossing your tennis cookies over the side of the fence, these two were really up against it.
In the end, Otte won the match – and won his third-round match in three sets the next day to make the US Open main draw for the first time in his career at age 28. Not only that, he went on to beat Sonego, Kudla, and Seppit before Matteo Berrettini beat him in the round of 16.
2018 – Just plain nasty
The early days of the 2018 US Open were filthy – in the sense that the players were fading out all over the place.
Six players retired from first-round matches on the first Tuesday, five of them with heat-related illness: Ricardas Berankis, Mikhail Youzhny, Stefano Travaglia, Filip Krajinovic and Leonardo Mayer.
It was the first time (crazily enough) that the US Open had implemented its heat policy for the men, which mosty involved a 15-minute set break during the match.
Click above for some incredible pics.
And here are some more, from Open Court.
Jaume Munar and Diego Schwartzman, playing a second-round match on the outside courts, had a pretty tough time.
2015 – Sock passes out
Eight years ago, another tough weather pass hit the US Open.
This edition featured Jack Sock (who retired at this year’s Open, at age 30) winning the first two sets against Belgian lefty Ruben Bemelmans before cramping up, badly.
Some 12 players retired in the first round of this tournament. And the WTA invoked its heat policy during the second round on Thursday. So at least the players got a 10-minute break between the second and third sets.
Mind-bogglingly, the ATP had no heat policy at that time, so they were out of luck.
2011 – Nadal cramps up in press
Remember this one? The infamous video of Rafael Nadal coming into his press conference, and slowly sliding down his chair and ending up on the floor because his hamstring and thigh cramped up.
He’d just finished a tough win over David Nalbandian. The two played in the high heat and they were already practically soaked through after the warmup.
Flavia Pennetta also had some big issues, dry-retching just before she served for the matchmatch against Peng Shuai. Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 champion, also couldn’t overcome the conditions.
There were nearly 20 retirements by the second week.
Here was Feliciano Lopez, after beating 21-year-old Vasek Pospisil (who had qualified in his first career US Open) in four tough sets in the second round, in really tough conditions.
Those are just a few of the notable examples, from memory.
But most years, it happens.